Treasurer strict on housing panel policies
Columbia Daily TribuneTerry Ganey
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
State housing commission members have no business doing business with developers or anyone else who has an interest with the state agency.
That's the opinion of state Treasurer Clint Zweifel, the newly elected chairman of the Missouri Housing Development Commission. Zweifel said today it was unacceptable that after two years the commission hasn't adopted a stronger standards of conduct policy that prohibits conflicts of interest among its members and staff.
"I think the failure that I see in this issue is the failure of leadership at the commission level to stand up and take the lead on this issue instead of simply trying to sweep it aside," Zweifel said. "As a chair, you have a special responsibility to help move that reform forward."
Zweifel said commissioners and staff should have no personal financial relationships with anyone receiving benefits from MHDC. The commission issues millions of dollars of subsidies in the form of tax credits and low-interest loans to build housing for seniors and low- and moderate-income people. Some developers get wealthy in the process.
Pete Ramsel, the executive director of the commission, has been interviewed more than once by FBI agents conducting an investigation, Zweifel said. The exact nature of the investigation or whether it is ongoing is not known.
The Tribune reported May 27, 2007, that Bill Luetkenhaus, then a commission member, was paid $1.7 million by Columbia developer Jeff Smith for a piece of property Luetkenhaus had purchased two months earlier for $932,000. Since the disclosure, the commission has discussed but taken no action on revising its standards of conduct policy.
"We should never have a repeat of a situation where a commissioner does business with or has a financial interest in any way with a developer who then comes before the commission to do business," Zweifel said. He said in the event there was a financial relationship between a commissioner and a developer, the commission member should remove himself or herself from any vote.
The commission has 10 members, including four statewide elected officials and six members appointed by the governor. Some people have raised the issue that since many developers give large campaign contributions to statewide elected officials who are commission members, that is a conflict as well.
Zweifel said he supports campaign contribution limits and that for now he wants to focus the agency's ethics policy on business relationships.
Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a member of the commission, generally supports Zweifel's recommendations, said Gary McElyea, a spokesman for Kinder's office. "He believes proper safeguards need to be in place to prohibit conflicts of interest," McElyea said.
Zweifel said he wants to move MHDC forward on affordable housing projects and job creation but that it cannot be accomplished "without accountable, transparent reforms."
"The first priority is developing a strong, accountable standards of conduct policy that respects taxpayers," Zweifel said.