Leander City Council obligates taxpayers in risky development

The Leander City Council recently committed Leander taxpayers to back $15,225,000.00 in Certificates of Obligation for the construction of infrastructure improvements related to the Northline Project. Northline is a development of Tynberg LLC, Alex Tynberg, Principal.

The authorization was the next step resulting from an earlier commitment by then-mayor Christopher Fielder and four current council members obligating Leander taxpayers to backstop funds for the private TIRZ development.

The original vote to move forward with the arrangement took place on June 7, 2018 during a time of transition when Leander residents were deciding on a new mayor.  Two new city council members had just been elected a month earlier due, in part, to their opposition of putting taxpayers on the hook for the risky private development.  They followed through on their commitment with a ‘No’ vote, even though they were the minority.

There was also false speculation on the part of voters that a third city council candidate who won re-election might be persuaded to withdraw support for the financial arrangement.  Had the three-way mayoral race been decided with a 50+% vote on May 5 rather than being pushed out to a June 16 run-off,  the leading mayoral candidate, who was also not in favor of the financing structure, would have been presiding over the June 5th  meeting and vote.

Mayor Fielder could have postponed the agenda item a few weeks until a new mayor was elected and took the oath of office. But he and the majority of the Leander City Council plowed ahead, determined to beat the headwinds before the new mayor could be seated and cast doubt on the deal.

This did not set well with Leander citizens. Voter turnout for the June 16th mayoral run-off was even higher than the original May 5th election. Residents made their statement at the voting booth.  Well over 700 of those who voted in the run-off had not voted in the preliminary round, making it referendum against city staff and elected officials who turn a deaf ear to citizen concerns.

Veteran election administrators could not recall a run-off election in which the turn-out rate was higher than the first election. The Northline financial package was a significant motivator in that turnout.  Voters will remember.

Mayor Fielder became Former Mayor Christopher Fielder upon the swearing in of his replacement on July 5, 2018.  Mr. Fielder immediately became subject to the City of Leander’s Code of Ethics, Article 9.05, Sec. 9.05.005(b):

(b)     Subsequent representation.

(1)     Representation by a former member of a city body. For the purpose of this section, “city body” is intended to be the city council or any commission or board created by the city council. A person who was a member of any city body shall not represent for pay, profit, compensation, financial gain or benefit, any person, group or entity, other than himself or herself, his or her immediate family members, or the city, for a period of one (1) year after the termination of his or her official duties, except by permission of the city council:

(A)     Before that body;

(B)     Before city staff having responsibility for making recommendations to, or taking any action on behalf of, that body, unless the body in question is only advisory in nature; or

(C)     Before any other city body, or any state or federal agency, court or entity that has appellate jurisdiction over the body of which the former member served, if any issue relates to his or her former duties. 

(Ordinance 16-006-00, art. 4, adopted 1/7/16)

 

Documents obtained through a Public Records Request show that on Thursday, June 28, 2018, Mr. Tynberg sent an email to the office of Williamson County Precinct 2 Commissioner Cynthia Long, a TIRZ board member, requesting Commissioner Long to meet with him and Leander Mayor Chris Fielder on either July 2, 2018 or July 3, 2018 to discuss TIRZ projects that would be brought before the TIRZ board (Northline is a TIRZ project) These suggested dates were 3 and 2 days respectively before the swearing-in of Leander’s new mayor.

Calendar and travel conflicts forced the meeting to be scheduled for the afternoon of Tuesday, July 24, 2018, almost three weeks following Mr. Fielder relinquishing the mayor’s seat. The meeting attendees included Commissioner Long, Alex Tynberg, Principal, Tynberg LLC, and former Mayor Christopher Fielder. Public records show that meeting occurred from 3:30PM to 4:30PM on the scheduled date.

City of Leander’s Code of Ethics, Article 9.05, Sec. 9.05.009 Financial disclosure states:

(f)     Disclosure by persons appearing before a city body. Any person who appears before any city body who has had business dealings within the preceding twelve (12) month period involving one or more transactions of five hundred dollars ($500.00) or more each quarter, or for a total of twenty-five hundred dollars ($2,500.00) or more, within the preceding 12-month period with a council member, commissioner, or business entity in which a council member or commissioner has a substantial interest, shall disclose such business dealings at the time of the appearance. Any person who shall intentionally or knowingly fail to make the aforesaid disclosure shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be fined in accordance with this article.

(Ordinance 16-006-00, art. 8, adopted 1/7/16)

 

Due to the unusual use of taxpayer-backed funds to finance the Northline infrastructure development, it was imperative that Leander residents and taxpayers have full assurance that all parties involved, including Mr. Tynberg and all former City of Leander officeholders and staff, were in full compliance with the above referenced ordinances before the City Council’s October 4th vote on the bonds.

A concerned citizen submitted a letter to City Manager Kent Cagle, the City Council and City Attorney suggesting that all involved parties, including Mr. Alex Tynberg and all former City of Leander officeholders and staff, should be required to complete an Affidavit attesting to their compliance with the City of Leander’s Code of Ethics, specifically, Section 9.05.005 and Section 9.05.009.

It was further suggested that in the event all involved parties could not be available to complete and sign an Affidavit prior to the vote on October 4, the Council should reschedule to a later date allowing sufficient time to secure all signed Affidavits.

The vote to authorize the issuance of the Certificates of Obligation proceeded as scheduled without the City Manager or Council heeding or publicly acknowledging the Affidavit request.  As of this date, the City Manager and Council has been unresponsive to the concerns raised.

The citizens of Leander expect and deserve full transparency and financial accountability. The soon-arriving property tax statements will be a tangible reminder. So will the voting booth.

 

Copyright © 2018 Don Stroud