Suffolk councilman trades $157,000 city landscaping contract for a $15,000 City Council seat
SUFFOLK, VA. (WAVY) – A newly elected Suffolk city council has just lost a lucrative $ 157,000 landscaping contract with the city of Suffolk.
Alderman LeOtis Williams wants the council to allow him to keep the contract – but he wants to continue serving on the council. The rest of the city council may not go that route.
Suffolk tax dollars will be used to pay Williams’ business, LW’s Lawn Service, $ 157,000 for the design of several urban properties, including Suffolk City Hall, the Riddicks Folley site next door at the Suffolk Visitors Center and the Pavilion. The company also looks after 12 other townhouses and some cemeteries.
Everything was fine – until Williams was elected to a city council seat, which raised the possibility of a conflict of interest between his position on the city council and the money the city paid for his business.
The city says it won’t renew the contract with LW’s Lawn Service, so Williams lost a contract for $ 157,000.
Review of Potential Conflicts of Interest in Suffolk City Council: How the process works
Suffolk Mayor Mike Duman is concerned about potential conflicts of interest, as is the council.
“Many council members in these circumstances are concerned about conflicts of interest and what is being perceived by citizens,” said Duman.
Williams sought the opinion of the Richmond-based Advisory Board on Conflicts of Interest and Ethics in Virginia.
“It’s not a conflict of interest. So why should we be punished for choosing a position?” Williams said at a press conference Thursday while he was standing with his staff
Williams believes that some city council members are making politics with his contract and don’t want him to have the contract. During the press conference, he referred to the issues as “personal” political issues.
However, the ethics committee reminded Williams in an email that “councilors are prohibited from having a personal interest in a contract with their own governing body.”
However, the email also mentions four exceptions to this rule, including when “there is a written resolution that it is in the public’s best interest for Mr. Williams to bid on these contracts”.
Above: An email with a statement from the Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council
One of the reasons Williams thinks it’s important to restore the contract is because it is a minority owned company and employs a number of people who rely on its business.
However, it appears that there was not enough support from Suffolk City Council to pass a resolution that would have made this contract renewal possible.
Without this support, Suffolk buyer Williams announced on January 21 that the city would not renew the contract.
Williams said he wanted them to reconsider.
“I want the buyer and city officials to review, rethink, and do the right thing about this decision,” said Williams.
Duman, the mayor, had also previously been questioned about a possible conflict of interest, but the Ethics Council told him in December that he was clear in certain circumstances.
Duman owns a building at 139 E. Washington Street and is the landlord of Suffolk Transit, which was formed with Virginia Regional Transit to serve the city and receive taxpayers’ money to operate. The offices of this agency are inside.
The Circumstances allow Duman to continue to be the landlord of Suffolk Transit if:
- His personal interest in Suffolk Transit is based only on income
- He cannot participate in any contractual process
- Or he has to exclude himself from negotiating and approving the contract
For Williams’ case, however, Duman is not sure there is support for a resolution that will allow Williams to bid again for the treaty, and Councilor Roger Fawcett agrees.
“At this point I am against any decision to support him because of a conflict of interest,” said Fawcett.
If the Council approves this re-application resolution, Duman is in favor of
“If his filing is actually made under exactly the same circumstances to find out which is best for Suffolk, he should get the contract,” said Duman.
Williams worries that many of his employees may soon be unemployed.
“Will you suffer because I was elected to a position, a position that will help you not to hurt you?” Williams said.
Williams could step down, but there is no guarantee he would win the contract back.