Newsmonger: DiGiovanni ethics breakdown, War on Planned Parenthood hurt family planning in Texas, Radioactive waste en route from Vermont to Texas
Published: October 3, 2012
DiGiovanni ethics breakdown
Did Deputy City Manager Pat DiGiovanni grease the wheels at City Hall for a developer who just helped him land a new job? According to City Manager Sheryl Sculley, Mayor Julián Castro, and a department staffer who spoke before Council to ease their worries last month: no. But the circumstances leading up to the long-anticipated $305 million contract to expand the Convention Center, the city's largest ever construction project, briefly clouded discussions at City Hall when Council moved to approve Hunt-Zachry, a partnership between national builders Hunt Construction and local Zachry Corp, as contractor for the multimillion-dollar project.
As Deputy City Manger, DiGiovanni spearheaded the city's search committee that eventually picked Zachry for the project. During that process this summer, DiGiovanni was also approached by Centro Partnership, a public-private partnership dedicated to boosting downtown development, to be the nonprofit's new CEO, the Express-News first reported. As vice chairman of Centro, construction firm owner David Zachry played a central role in negotiating and approving DiGiovanni's new job with the nonprofit. The week after DiGiovanni sealed the deal with Centro, his committee named Hunt-Zachry the chosen firm for the Convention Center deal.
Not only does it not pass the smell test, it would seem DiGiovanni broke the city's ethics rules when, instead of stepping aside, he stayed on the Convention Center search committee. The city's ethics rules dictate when a city employee should step aside from the decision-making table in order to avoid the "appearance and risk of impropriety" — including whenever a city employee has sought or been offered a job from someone or some business with a financial stake in that employee's actions at City Hall. DiGiovanni obviously failed to do that. Since being outed, DiGiovanni has toed the line between regretful and defensive, saying publicly he's sorry for the mistake. But he argues in an eight-page letter he sent to the city's Ethics Review Board last week that he did nothing wrong. "The line between me, Centro, Mr. Zachry, Zachry Corp., and the Hunt/Zachry team is too attenuated to support an expectation of misconduct, except in persons inclined to find one," DiGiovanni wrote. "Likewise, the line is too faint to support an inference that I knew my participation on the evaluation committee was reasonably certain to result in some unspecified influence on my job with Centro." (Emphasis his.)
"With government it's always important to maintain the appearance of propriety," said St. Mary's law professor Gerald Reamey, who studies government ethics policies. "The fact that there's the appearance of impropriety and that people wonder what really happened is strong indication the process failed this time. … It could make bidders for government contract work feel there's no point in trying to obtain contracts because there's unfair competition. That's bad for all of us."