The Sandy City Redevelopment Agency fired its attorney this week because of an apparent conflict of interest he had in the purchase of RDA land at about 10400 S. State.
William Oswald represented and advised the city during negotiations for the land between Lake Hills Cemetery and the new Jordan High School site. After months of work, he revealed in a Sept. 9 letter to the City Council, which serves as the Redevelopment Agency, that he also works for the Utah Transit Authority, a potential purchaser of the land."The council debated, after reading his letter, at great length," said City Council Director Phil Glenn. "He had outlined several options to deal with (the conflict)."
One option Oswald suggested was a simple acknowledgment of the conflict and a continuation of the relationship. Another option was his termination.
In its meeting Tuesday, the council voted, 4-3, for the latter.
It all started when Health Benefits America, a Murray-based business, entered into negotiations to buy the RDA land. While it was negotiating, however, UTA purchased a right of first refusal and made its own offer for the land as a light-rail station.
Sandy stands to receive substantial property tax revenue if the owner of the land, Richard Merrill, accepts Health Benefits' offer. If UTA's offer is accepted, Sandy will lose that revenue since UTA is a public entity and thus tax-exempt.
Yet Oswald represented both Sandy and UTA.
The council members who voted to fire Oswald expressed anger that he had not revealed the conflict sooner, and some even called for him to return some of his wages.
Those who voted not to fire him said the action was premature. Oswald was poised to advise the council regarding whether to designate the land as a tax increment area after having studied the issue close to a year.
"It was extremely foolish and short-sighted," Council Member Dennis Tenney said. "This was supposed to be our last RDA meeting before listening to Mr. Oswald give his summations and recommendations. . . . It's like being in a football game, you're in the fourth quarter, three minutes to go, and the university officials fire the coach because of some perceived misdeed."
Tenney said he would have had no problem letting Oswald go after hearing his advice, assuming the conflict of interest was proved.
"RDA law is a complex issue, and Mr. Oswald is extremely knowledgeable," he said. "For us not to allow (him to give his conclusions) is just stupid."
Nevertheless, after more than 15 years of representing the Sandy RDA, Oswald is gone, and the council will have to struggle along on its own.
Merrill, the landowner, has not yet decided who to sell the land to.