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More potential conflicts of interest in Atlanta Gulch deal possible

Members of the Fulton County Commission on Wednesday pointed out other potential conflicts of interest related to a multi-billion-dollar deal to redevelop the Gulch.

Last month, ethics watchdogs and two local elected officials questioned whether Alvin Kendall, who runs the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority’s daily operations as a consultant, might encounter conflicts of interest. Kendall, an attorney, was also hired by the city to help negotiate the deal to develop the Gulch.

The city and the recreation authority own land in the downtown area that a California developer is looking to turn into offices, retail and hotels.

Fulton County Commissioner Marvin Arrington, left, speaks as Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority Chairman William K. Whitner and Fulton Commissioner Bob Ellis listen during a meeting of the authority’s board in August 2018. Arrington and Ellis, who are also members of the recreation authority board, debated potential conflicts of interest involving the authority and Gulch redevelopment Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018, during a county commission hearing. J. Scott Trubey/STRUBEY@AJC.COM (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

If those concerns are valid, Fulton County Commissioner Marvin Arrington said, the law firm that represents the recreation authority should also be scrutinized.

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The firm, once known as Hunton & Williams but now called Hunton Andrews Kurth, made about $1.4 million representing the city 2017 and 2018, according to Atlanta’s new online spending portal, Open Checkbook. The spending appears to be connected largely to Department of Watershed Management, airport and litigation matters.

It’s unclear how much of that work was billed by Doug Selby, the recreation authority’s attorney. Selby’s name also appears on a list of individuals doing legal work on the Gulch project for the city.

>> AJC FLASHBACK PHOTOS: Atlanta’s Gulch and viaducts

In August, in an article in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, some raised questions about whether Kendall’s dual role could result in a conflict of interest.

Arrington, who is also a member of the recreation authority board, said he thought Kendall was “being picked on” by the newspaper, because Selby has potential conflicts, as well.

“The same behavior was going on,” Arrington said. “No one mentioned that there are other companies representing multiple sides in the potential Gulch deal.”

Selby said the city and recreation authority are aware of the legal work he performs for both government entities. He deferred to those agencies for comment.

Alvin Kendall, left, an Atlanta area attorney, is a consultant who runs the daily operations of the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority. Kendall also serves as special counsel for the city of Atlanta on the Gulch redevelopment. Ethics watchdogs say the roles could present a conflict of interest. Other conflicts with the project are also possible. J. SCOTT TRUBEY/STRUBEY@AJC.COM AJC FILE PHOTO (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

In a statement, an Atlanta spokesperson said Selby and his firm have done work for the city on several matters over the past decade, but that the city “does not believe that a conflict exists in terms of Mr. Selby’s work” at this time.

“Mr. Selby is an experienced, well-credentialed attorney who is well aware of his professional obligations in this regard and would provide notice of any conflict or potential conflict, as is the case with any other attorney or firm that does work for the city,” the statement said.

It went on to say that the city is also unaware of any conflicts with Kendall’s work on behalf of both the recreation authority and the city.

“The interests of the two parties are not in conflict, at this point,” it said. “Should a conflict become apparent, we are confident Mr. Kendall would provide the appropriate notifications and seek the requisite waivers.”

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At a recreation authority meeting last month, Selby told members that his firm represented other entities in the Gulch deal, Arrington said. But Bob Ellis, vice chairman of the Fulton County Commission and a member of the recreation authority, said Selby’s work in Atlanta had not been disclosed until issues with Kendall were raised.

“There was no disclosure to the rec authority board that he did work for the city, as well,” Ellis said. “I think both should disclose, for the record.”

A rendering from developer CIM Group shows the California-based company’s vision for downtown Atlanta’s Gulch, stretching from Mercedes-Benz Stadium, right, to the Five Points MARTA station. (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Arrington said because Kendall was working as a consultant, he had no obligation to disclose his other work. Kendall has billed the recreation authority nearly $300,000 in consulting fees since late 2015. He has billed the city more than $48,000 for his work on the Gulch deal.

Selby, on the other hand, “has an affirmative duty to disclose potential conflicts” while working on the recreation authority’s behalf, Arrington said.

Arrington said he assumes that there are other big firms representing multiple sides in the Gulch deal, as well.

“These are big deals; there are a lot of moving parts,” Arrington said. “I assume because of the size of the deal, there are likely, potentially others.”

In the AJC article last month, open government advocates also noted Gulch developer CIM Group is represented by Robert Highsmith, a partner at high-powered law firm Holland & Knight. Highsmith has represented the city as a lawyer and lobbyist. The city has said no conflict exists.

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