Mayor Dan Snarr says he hopes a recent conflict of interest disclosure by his chief of staff, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, has defused a potential controversy that threatened to cast a cloud over development of the old smelter site in downtown Murray.
And Snarr made it clear during a City Council meeting Tuesday night his top aide will remain fully involved in the cleanup and development of the site.The potential conflict has surfaced because Pignanelli's husband, Frank, is a partner in a public-affairs firm that represents one of the key site developers, Johansen-Thackeray.
Foxley, Pignanelli, Lyon and Evans is also a high-powered lobbying firm with two ex-legislators - Frank Pignanelli and Nancy Lyon - plus veteran lobbyist Doug Foxley and Charlie Evans, who has run several high-profile Republican political campaigns.
Some residents and council members became concerned when Frank Pignanelli attended a couple of meetings in Murray City Hall involving the project.
D'Arcy Pignanelli has filed a conflict-of-interest statement with the city in compliance with the state Municipal Officers and Employees Ethics Act, and also sent council members a personal letter March 25 giving a them detailed explanation of her husband's relationship to the developers.
The letter also pledged that "my husband will not be part of any direct efforts" between the developer and the mayor's office and assured the council that she and Frank would not discuss aspects of the project that could be construed as "insider" information.
In an April 3 follow-up letter to the council, Pignanelli further noted her husband "will not represent his clients . . . to any Murray City elected or appointed official" and will not attend any city-sponsored meeting involving smelter site development.
Snarr also obtained an opinion from acting city attorney Randy Hart indicating Pignanelli is on firm legal footing because she filed the appropriate conflict of interest disclosure in a timely fashion.
"As far as D'Arcy's relationship, we knew it was a sensitive thing," Snarr said. "But I don't think there should be any flak, because she doesn't have anything to do with the funding of the project."
Not all council members are comfortable with the arrangement.
Council Chairman Leon Robertson raised the issue at council meeting Tuesday night, telling the mayor "it might not be appropriate to have your assistant involved."
But Snarr said he thinks the arrangement is legal and necessary.
"Frank is no longer going to represent Johansen-Thackeray at any of the meetings," he said.
"That wasn't quite what I was looking for," said Robertson, who had previously suggested Snarr might want to have his chief of staff step aside on smelter development matters."But I guess that's what I'm going to get."
After the meeting, Robertson observed the letter "only says he (Frank) won't be attending the meetings. . . . It doesn't say he won't have anything to do with it."
Councilman Wendell Coombs said he would prefer the city avoid anything that looks like it might have an appearance of conflict.
"It may be all legal and aboveboard," he said, "but I'm just concerned that it doesn't look good."
Councilman John Rush said he privately discussed some concerns with the mayor but believes Snarr has resolved the matter.
"It's public knowledge now," he said. "I don't think it will become an issue . . . but we will pay attention to it as this project goes along."
Councilman Gary Ferrero said he doesn't have a problem with how the issue is being handled.
"She's made a complete disclosure," he said, "and I think taking Frank out of any dealings with the city . . . is a legitimate fix."
"I feel like they've been up front about disclosing it," added Councilman John Ward. "I'm OK with it at this point."