in Houston, Texas

Trophy Club utility district official has conflict of interest in tech contract, complaint alleges

Tuesday, Jun 26, 2012, 11:28AM CST
By Steve Miller
computer

Leaders of a municipal utility district in Trophy Club will consider today an allegation that the town’s former mayor voted on handing over a tech contract to his own company.

Nick Sanders, who served as mayor of the wealthy enclave of 8,400 northeast of Fort Worth from 2005 to 2009, is now president of the board of Trophy Club Municipal Utility District No. 1.

The accusation comes from an individual who was defeated in a May election by Sanders, flavoring the complaint with sour grapes.

Sanders has already twice been fined by the Texas Ethics Commission for unrelated election issues and acknowledges that he may be forced from office by the charges brought by former fire chief Jim Budarf.

“I will recuse myself in the vote considering this action, and it will be three members of the board hearing the complaint, “ Sanders said. “They have three choices; one is to censure me, one is to reprimand me, and the third is to kick me off the board.”

In a 149-page attachment to the MUD’s agenda backup, Budarf claims that Sanders voted on budgets while on the MUD board that included payments to a technology firm, Combined Computer Resources, of which Sanders is CEO and president. Budarf claims the votes are a conflict of interest.

Sanders acknowledged voting for the budgets but says the service his firm is providing is to the town of Trophy Club, not the MUD. His company, in fact, has been providing service on a computer system that allowed public records to be available online for a number of years.

“Yes, I gave the software to the town in 2003,” Sanders said. He wanted to see the town board minutes and other items online for the public, he said. His company was paid an annual retainer of $1,200 for servicing the system. When he became mayor, he said, he filed the appropriate conflict of interest form.

When he left his position as mayor, he didn’t feel he needed to file anything, since the bill for services was going to the town.

Nick SandersNick Sanders

“My company didn’t bill the MUD,” he said. But the MUD is housed in the same building as the town, and the bills are paid out of there. Auditors last year noted that the MUD uses the same software as the town. Therefore, the MUD uses a service provided by his company, Budarf contends.

“My point is, I don’t bill [the MUD],” Sanders said. “I don’t feel I violated any statutes.”

Budarf alleges Sanders is confusing the truth and needs to be removed from the board for unethical behavior. He took this complaint first to the Texas Ethics Commission, which said it had no jurisdiction. Ditto the state Attorney General’s office, which referred him to the local prosecutor’s office in Denton County. That office claimed it cannot make a determination.

So today, the issue will be decided one way or another.

“He cannot discuss or vote or make a motion on these things he has a personal interest in,” Budarf maintains. “But he has.”

Budarf filed campaign-related complaints against Sanders in 2009 and 2010 with the Texas Ethics Commission.

The first ended with a $100 penalty for violations involving use of a city newsletter for political purposes.

The second resulted in a $200 fine for a campaign filing violation.

Still, Budarf claims no personal animosity for Sanders.

“He’s a nice guy, but he needs to be held accountable,”  Budarf said.

***
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

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Photo of computer by flickr user pat7047, used via a Creative Commons license.

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