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Where's the conflict of interest actual, perceived or otherwise?

by Gary Groman aka The Ole Seagull
published: May 4, 2008

Ever since he took office in April of 2007, Alderman Stephen Marshall has been accused of a conflict of interest every time he mentions or questions the operations of the Branson Convention Center. The alleged conflict arises because of his employment as the General Manager of the Chateau on the Lake, a resort and convention center complex owned by John Q. Hammonds.

Recently, an anonymous poster to a web site the Ole Seagull posts to, , brought the issue up again. Among other things, the anonymous poster, calling themselves BransonMoTiger, posted that at the April 22 work session of the Branson Board of Aldermen “The city attorney and Mr. Marshall had a discussion about the concerns raised about whether he has conflicts of interest and the city attorney pointed out that when an alderman has a conflict which would create the appearance of impropriety, then it would be appropriate for him or her to recuse from voting. Specifically, the city attorney and Mr. Marshall talked about his involvement on the Board related to Hilton, who is his employer's competitor in the convention business.”

In fact, as reported in this newspaper earlier this week, the discussion came up as part of a discussion of the broader topic of the city developing a more current set of ethic and conflict of interest guidelines for city officials and employees. Specifically, during those discussions, Marshall pointed out the fact that some people in the community are saying that when it comes to the convention center that he is in a conflict of interest position and asked, “What conflict of interest?” City Attorney Paul D. Link replied, “Stephen, I don’t know that there is a direct financial conflict. I think what they are arguing there is more of that secondary thing I talked about.”

Conflict of interest can be defined as “A term used to describe the situation in which a public official who, contrary to the obligation and absolute duty to act for the benefit of the public, exploits the relationship for personal benefit, typically pecuniary.” In terms of the definition of what a conflict of interest is, the Ole Seagull just has to believe that the most reasonable interpretation of what Link said was there is no conflict of interest in Marshall’s situation.

As Link continued, he explained the “secondary thing” he had talked about, the perception of conflict of interest. He said, “Some people have a perceived conflict. I’m not saying that there is one or there isn’t one. I think that the argument that I’ve heard is that they view you as if you say anything negative about the convention center or the Hilton Hotel that you are basically trying to rundown your competition because they are the chief competition in this area for your hotel.”

Attempts to create the illusion and manifestations of BransonMoTiger, to the contrary, Link, in his conversation with Marshall never said anything that could be remotely construed to say that he advised Marshall to recuse himself because of any conflict of interest actual, perceived, or otherwise. Incredibly, what Link did do was cite third party mutterings about a perceived conflict of interest all the while saying “I’m not saying that there is one or there isn’t one.”

An Ole Seagull is perplexed why any attorney, let alone one who has just been asked “What conflict of interest?,” would regurgitate the inane mutterings he did without pointing out that they are unsupported conclusions that fall far short of meeting the legal definition of a conflict of interest. For what it’s worth, in all the meetings he has attended, the Ole Seagull has never heard Marshall ask a question about the operation of the Branson Convention Center that was not consistent with his obligations and absolute duty to act for the benefit of the city of Branson. Has anyone else heard differently?


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