Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Real estate agent on D-49 board a conflict?

By Debbie Kelley Published: November 8, 2013 0

A claim of conflict of interest again is rearing its head in Falcon School District 49.

Kevin Butcher, who won a seat on D-49's school board in Tuesday's election, is part owner of Cameron Butcher Commercial Real Estate, which holds the lease for the Tutt Commercial Center, where D-49's central enrollment office is located.

A clear conflict of interest, says D-49 parent Dana Palmer, chairwoman of the district's accountability and advisory committee.

Butcher doesn't agree, and he's got the backing of D-49's legal counsel and district administrators.

Butcher said before he decided to run for the board, he consulted with D-49 attorney Brad Miller.

Miller said he saw no reason why Butcher could not serve on the board.

"He can't have vioalated any policies yet, because he hasn't ever served on the board yet," he said.

That doesn't sit well with Palmer.

"This is not new for D-49 to be dealing with controversy," she said. "And a lot of it has been because of the good-old-boy network - people behind the scenes doing things that are not transparent to the community."

Pending state verification of the election results, Butcher and two other candidates who were elected Nov. 5 , Tammy Harold and David Moore, will be sworn into office Nov. 20.

District officials said they don't intend to terminate their lease because of Butcher's victory.

"The lease agreement was signed over a year ago," said Stephanie Wurtz, D-49 spokeswoman, "and there isn't a conflict of interest in that agreement."

The contract was signed July 24, 2012, took effect Aug. 1, 2012 and expires on July 31, 2014. It includes five, two-year options to renew.

D-49 is paying $32,600 a year for the office space at 4029 Tutt Blvd., according to the lease, which the district's board of directors approved. That's about $20 per square foot.

Miller said Butcher will have to recuse himself and abstain from voting on board decisions relating to his real estate transactions.

"It's not unusual," Miller said. "If people were disqualified by virtue of the fact that they do business within a geographic area of the district, it would be a pretty high threshold for public office."

Palmer said it's unethical to have a board member profit from district money.

"It's certainly a conflict of interest to have a board member serving while he is being paid by the district for the lease," she said.

Butcher has owned his company for 10 years and has been managing partner of Tutt Commercial Center since it was built in 2006.

Butcher said he's had other real estate dealings with the district, but doesn't "perceive anything in the future."

He also was the transaction broker on a lease for the building Falcon Virtual Academy occupies, at 6113 Constitution Ave. The agreement, dated Nov. 18, 2011, is with Eastern Colorado Bank. Butcher said he no longer has any connection with that lease.

Palmer said she's concerned about transparency and that Butcher did not disclose his business dealings until she filed open records requests to obtain the information from D-49.

Butcher said there has been no wrong-doing.

"All the decisions were made in the past, and everything was done in a public meeting by the school board," he said. "Our district has to grow beyond petty politics."

D-49's board revised its code of ethics and conflict of interest statement for members on Jan. 12, 2012, after the board hired a public relations firm owned by the wife of the board president in September 2011, and outgoing board member Chris Wright wanted to open a vocational school through his business, an automotive repair shop in Falcon.

According to guidelines from the Colorado Association of School Boards: "Public office is not to be used for the profit, gain or private interest of any individual. To maintain public confidence in the office and to prevent the use of public office for private gain, it is important for members of the board of education to publicly disclose any potential conflict of interest."

Butcher said he does not intend to violate any of the rules pertaining to ethics and conflicts of interest.

"I'm volunteering at the cost of people beating up my integrity," he said.

"Here we go again," Palmer said.

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