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Board rules DiGiovanni violated ethics code

October 10, 2012

On Tuesday night, the city’s Ethics Review Board issued a gentle admonishment against Deputy City Manager Pat DiGiovanni, ruling that he broke the city’s ethics code but failing to lay out any punishment.

DiGiovanni had sought the ERB’s opinion on whether he violated ethics rules when he: 1) Stayed on a selection committee this summer for the $300 million Convention Center expansion contract awarded to Zachry Corp (the largest capital project in city history), and 2) simultaneously negotiated with construction-firm head David Zachry over a new job as CEO for the nonprofit Centro Partnership, where Zachry sat on the executive board tasked with vetting and hiring DiGiovanni.

At the hearing, DiGiovanni was apologetic and highlighted that it was he who asked the board to examine the issue.

“I’m embarassed by this,” DiGiovanni said. “I’ve been in this profession for 30 years. I’ve never had my ethics questioned.” Perhaps his ethics haven’t been questioned until now, but DiGiovanni’s no stranger to controversy. As Plaza De Armas pointed out last week (behind paywall), DiGiovanni resigned as city manager of Kalamazoo, Michigan when an internal investigation there revealed someone in his office skipped the proper bid and approval process when awarding a property lease contract for a public safety substation.

District 3 Board member Michael Ariens had his share of questions Tuesday night. 

“‘He had no reason to know,’” Ariens said, reading from DiGiovanni’s own letter to the Board, “‘that a recommendation for Zachry Corp would necessarily benefit Mr. Zachry’s economic interest.’ Why is that the case?”

“I’m not a lawyer,” DiGiovanni replied. “I don’t know what ‘economic interest’ is.”

“Did you not see the name Zachry?” asked District 10 Board member Robert Piatt. “Did it not register as the same Zachry?”

“I never connected the two,” DiGiovanni said.

The audience was not impressed. Deanna Lee, one of the few residents who attended the hearing, did not seem to buy into DiGiovanni’s apologetic claims of ignorance.

“He is one of the smartest guys around,” Lee said. “He should absolutely be held to a higher standard.”

There seemed to be little confidence he would be, however. Most of the board members sat through the meeting in silence (reminds us of the board’s last hearing on allegations against former Councilwoman Jennifer Ramos). After testifying, DiGiovanni didn’t stick around. He left to attend his wedding rehearsal. 

When the board returned from thirty minutes of deliberation in executive session, they unanimously ruled that DiGiovanni had a conflict of interest, though it was not a knowing violation.

“Because of the fact that Zachry had a proposal before the city, Zachry could profit,” said District 9 board member Arthur Downey. “There was an indirect link between the job offer with Centro and the contract with Zachry.”

“There should have been a recusal,” Downey added.

There would be no further action, however. The request for an opinion was not an official complaint, the board said. The board found no violation of city codes regarding unfair advancement of private interests or conflicting outside employment.

Without even a slap on the wrist, the board seemed to have merely shrugged.

“The purpose of our board,” Ariens told reporters, “is to be an educative body.”

So was this the system at work?

“I hope so,” Ariens replied. — Andrew Oxford

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