The Mayor’s office paid for Judge Schofield to investigate the Ethics issues surrounding Steven Turley.
I’m not related to Steven Turley and have no financial interest in any of his dealings. I’m not a Mormon and not involved in Provo politics, but I do have a lot of experience in local politics. I’m well aware that in local politics not all facts are as they seem. As I read the Mayor’s Report I expected to find some interesting details on the upcoming criminal case against Steven Turley, former Provo council member. Instead, I’ve become almost indignant at Mayor’s report – I’m not lawyer, but I’ve lived long enough to know what’s fair or not and been involved in dozens of multi-million dollar deals. The report is grossly unfair to Steven Turley and here is why -
The mayor and council called for Steven Turley’s resignation. When they were refused the Mayor retains the Judge for a “independent ethics investigation”. With no offense to the Mayor when you call for an elected officials resignation and then are refused – and so you immediately pay for an “independent” investigation – you’ve already lost your supposed independence. The Mayor should have left the judgement to the courts and voters.
The first bit of meat in the report starts on page 6. Judge Scofield agrees that Ethics Act violations he is supposed to investigate does not include dishonesty. The Ethics Act is about making public decisions that benefit you privately. Yet, still the Judge proceeds to go beyond his mandate and give his opinion on Steven’s “dishonesty”. Now please note how he brings up the issue – in just 2 paragraphs Judge Schofield makes statements like “dishonest and deceitful”, then Turley, then “dishonest, misrepresented, or lied”, then Turley, then “misrepresentation or lying”, then Turley, and again “misrepresentations or lies”. What pray tell is the difference between dishonest, deceitful, misrepresented, or lied? You might think this is a minor detail. But my real job is in marketing and when I see mindless repetition (a negative value | person’s name | a negative value) like this I think of a con job. It is called word association and it is the oldest trick in the book by propagandists.
First Issue (page 7): Steven Turley’s company filed a general plan amendment in Dec 2004. Even though it is a public record Steve Turley informs the Mayor that he is involved in the application on May 19, 2005. Mr. Turley states that he has no ownership interest in the property. Judge Schofield finds that Mr. Turley statements are true.
Turley acquired an interest in the property around Sept 2006 over a year later.
But then comes the twist, the Judge claims that Turley was obligated to disclose that he was interested in the property before he actually bought it. Really! That is utter nonsense. I’m confident that a real estate developer is interested in each and every property over a wide area if said developer can get a good deal. The Judge grossly misinterprets the meaning of the phrase “potential conflict”.
A potential conflict of interest means any action or any decision or recommendation by a person acting in a capacity as a public official, the effect of which could be to the private pecuniary benefit or detriment of the person or the person’s relative, or a business with which the person or the person’s relative is associated.
So let’s review – there is nothing in the above legal definition that states that a public official is required to detail future plans. And this is for good reason. Suppose a public official approves a rezone for a new housing development and at a future date decides to purchase a home in the development. According to Judge Schofield’s definition of “potential”, our public official would be in violation of a “potential conflict of interest” retroactively. Potential conflicts of interests are not to be applied retro-actively. A public official is more than welcome to take advantage of public decisions after the decision has been made.
The current Provo council members might in the future be a part of land development or and dozens of activities on which they vote this year – they might even talk about a future desire to be a part of something they vote on. But if there is no contract, no legal entity, no ownership that is tied directly to their bank account or their relatives bank account then their is no potential conflict of interest.
The Judge’s first major complaint finding is that Mr. Turley did not disclose that he might be doing something in the future! And therefore, not disclosing future plans is a violation of the Ethics Act. Unbelievable!
Issue 2: The next violation is on page 8 and 9 of the report with respect to Brand X Hamburger property acquired by Mr. Turley on April 2007. On July 17th 2007 the council voted on the sale of a scrappy 10 acre adjacent property with the idea that it would be turned into a small business park. Judge Schofield finds Turley again in violation of the Ethics Act because he fails to disclose that he owned the nearby Brand X property. This investigation by the Judge gets even more unbelievable. The Judge uses Turley’s own disclosure about 1 month later in Sept AGAINST Turley. On Sept 2007, out of an abundance of caution Turley discloses that the City’s plans for the business park may affect his adjacent property. Therefore, the Judge points out that if Turley thinks it was necessary to disclose in September, then he should have disclosed it before a vote in July. The Judge doesn’t address perhaps the most important questions. Why did Turley disclose in September? When did the real business park plans become known? Did the sale vote impact Turley’s interest? – you can’t have a conflict of interest or even a potential conflict of interest if there is no interest in the first place.
While a potential conflict of interest disclosure on a nearby property is questionable at best, let’s also remember what was going on in 2007 …
The entire real estate world was starting to collapse in mid 2007 with a complete melt down on the last day in July. Homeowners, developers, bankers, real estate professionals were in a complete panic about their very financial survival and millions did lose their jobs as credit froze around the world. I’m quite sure that 10 scrappy acres that you don’t even own in North Springville was very far from the minds of real estate folks including Steven Turley at that moment in time. Here is where I get ticked off.
Using Mr. Turley’s abundance of caution disclosure in September against him is just sad. The Biblical reference of straining at a gnat while swallowing a camel comes to mind. There was no conflict or potential conflict that required disclosure in September – and the Judge doesn’t state if he felt the disclosure was even necessary, he just assumes it should be required because Mr. Turley disclosed it in September. Simply owning a small lot next to a small business park is not a conflict or potential conflict and so Steven had no obligation to disclose and using his abundance of caution disclosure against him is very petty.
So let’s review … so far we’ve had a judge grossly misinterpret the meaning of “potential conflict of interest” to including things you might do in the future even though Turley had already disclosed that the general plan AND now a disclosure that was unnecessary in the first place is used against Mr. Turley because his unnecessary disclosure was 1 month late in the worst 6 week period of the biggest real estate financial melt down in our lifetime.
Oh, and by the way did Mr. Turley make any money off of this. Knowing the market conditions in late 2007. I’ll bet Mr. Turley lost badly on this deal and that lost had nothing to do with the nearby 10 acre property which appears undeveloped today. Of course Judge Schofield doesn’t bother to mention this fact.
Issue 3: Now it gets even more outrageous. The next issue is about the Thorn Gravel Pit. Judge Schofield again claims Mr.Turley violated the Ethics Act. Mr. Turley had apparently discussed a possible business deal with the gravel pit operator. The Gravel Pit operator filed a for a grading permit at some point after this discussion. Of course it begs the question why all these developers always have to seek permission for using their own land, but that is an argument for another day. Judge Schofield using his extremely broad definition of “potential conflicts” which includes potential future deals states that Mr. Turley should have disclosed his business ideas with the Gravel operation. Judge Schofield fails to mention that all other council members also had the potential to make a deal with the gravel operator even the mayor had the potential to make a deal. Mr. Turley is found in violation even though he had zero authority over the issuance of a grading permit and had NO signed contract with the operator. Even worse, Judge Schofield types out the statute in his investigation report – Schofield’s writting exonerates Mr. Turley even though Judge Schofield finds the exact opposite.
“Mr Turley has the duty to disclose if he will or agree to receive compensation …” AND at the same time the Judge agrees that Mr. Turley had not agreed to compensation and that no contract was executed so there is NO “will or agree to receive”. Judge Schofield please read your own writing! Think man, why are you being so petty and seeking to destroy someone?
So now Judge Schofield now has an even broader definition of “potential conflict of interest” that includes not only potential future deals, but also past conversations.
… that’s all for tonight.