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2005-04-20
Helotes, TX. Wal-Mart Debate Stirs Conflict Of Interest Charges

They say there are two things you should not watch being made: sausage and legislation. But add a third: zoning decisions. In Helotes, Texas, citizens started off fighting a Wal-Mart, but now have been distracted by the somewhat blatant bias and conflict of interest charges of local officials. Here's an update from citizens in Helotes: "Conflict of interest charges filed on April 12th against Wal-Mart attorney Ken Brown and two citizen complaints against Helotes City Councilman Charles James for conflicts of interest are clouding closed-door negotiations between the Helotes City administration and Wal-Mart planners to create a development agreement for a SuperCenter at the intersection of Scenic Loop and Bandera Road. A bar grievance was filed yesterday by John Eakin of the Helotes Heritage Association with the Chief Disciplinary Counsel of the State Bar of Texas against Attorney Kenneth Brown because of his work for both the City of Helotes and Wal-Mart within a 24-month period. The charges were filed after HHA obtained a copy of a letter from Helotes Mayor Steve Hodges to Ken Brown, dated Nov. 29th 2004, which stated, “I am concerned that a conflict of interest may exist in your current representation of Wal-Mart in this instance, and, therefore, I am requesting that you not represent Wal-Mart before any appointed or elected officials.” Two citizen complaints against Councilman Charles James were filed following the release of a traffic study commissioned by the Helotes City Council in mid-March which revealed that the Wal-Mart plans included a second mall that would include land owned by the Councilman. One complaint was brought by land-owner Myfe Moore to the Helotes Police Department and another was brought by John Eakin to Bexar County District Attorney Cliff Herberg. James has acted as the spokesperson for the Wal-Mart project and has worked closely with attorney Ken Brown in fighting opposition to the SuperCenter. The complaints against James have reportedly prompted a preliminary investigation by Texas Ranger Maria Garcia. Despite these controversies and recent legal presentations before the city’s Planning and Zoning Board that Helotes has the legal power to stop Wal-Mart from building, Mayor Hodges is continuing with closed-door negotiations with Wal-Mart to create a development agreement.

What you can do: Its sometimes hard to distinguish who is betraying local residents more: Wal-Mart or their local elected officials. The money trail here leads back to a city councilman who should have recused himself long ago, and an attorney who was asked by the Mayor to back off the case. The Mayor has no public purpose in meeting secretly with Wal-Mart tod discuss a development agreement. All those negotiations should be public. No wonder the residents in Helotes feel that local officials have sold them out. The battle is far from over, but it is clear that some on the Wal-Mart side are motivated by their own financial gain, and not much else. For local contacts in Helotes, email info@sprawl-busters.com










 
 
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