Anita Lee is a champ as she and Karen Nelson tag team the next installment of as The Land Trust Turns. In what turns out to be a weird cosmic twist of fate, I too spoke with Melanie Allen with the Land Trust in her capacity as an individual board member not speaking for the Entire Board of Directors or organization. The information she conveyed to me greatly enhanced my understanding of the events surrounding the purchase of Scott Walker’s lot by the Land Trust, acting in the role of financial intermediary for DMR at the behest of CIAP Administrator Tina Shumate, also on the Land Trust Board of Directors. There was one question that Ms Allen could not answer for me but before I get to that I want to emphasize the Land Trust Board is taking this very seriously and have engaged the issues the transaction has brought to the fore.
That said it is also true the same board still contain a cancerous element because the people at the top of the Land Trust have/had financial relationships with DMR. Let’s start with the comment I just left on Anita’s story:
Absolutely these financial relationships were ignored in their decision making. The majority of the board allowed themselves to be led down the primrose path by people with a financial stake at DMR. And there is no doubt they had to know the connection between the seller and DMR.
The question they should have asked themselves is, if the money were not being provided to do this deal, would we buy this parcel over the lot next door that was still relatively pristine? The money being provided to make the deal work was a red flag.
And that perception dates back to the fact set I highlighted back on day 99:
A reader that knows the lay of the land at the Land Trust sent me a few of the connections to Walker on the Land Trust’s Board of Directors as the reasons for the organization conspiring with Walker to allegedly perpetrate a crime comes into sharper focus:
Laura Bowie – Board President; works in an office in the DMR Bolton building at the pleasure of Bill Walker. She is paid by a different group.
In that same office is one of Bill’s long time best friends Phil Bass. Bass retired from the state and went to work for the EPA Gulf of Mexico Program. He is on loan from them.
John Bowie – Advisory Committee member, Laura’s husband. Works for the EPA.
Grant Larson – worked for Tina Shumate at the DMR
William Corky Perrett – worked for Bill at the DMR
On Corky Perret, Anita explains the relationship:
Bill Walker hired Perret as a DMR contract worker in 2009, state records show. The contract positions, Walker has said, are not advertised. Perret had retired from the agency as deputy director a few months earlier.
Perret has earned about $59,000 a year for representing the DMR at the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council and the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission meeting, the contract records say.
Perret could not be reached to comment.
Gee, I wonder why? As long as these people are on the Board of the Land Trust there is no basis for the public to place any trust in the mission of the organization beyond self enrichment for the politically connected. It is just that simple.
It should be lost on no one Michael Newsom reported Friday that Scott Walker’s house had been searched by investigators with the Office of the State Auditor. This transaction and Shumate’s with her parents reek of illegality and to the extent federal funds were used insure we’ve not heard the last of it. This brings me to my takeaway from the conversation I had with Ms Allen.
First I’m very happy to report Anita and I got the same message as an inconsistency there would be major. As an added bonus she scored comments from Land Trust Board Prez Buck Lawrence as well. Allen described the transaction to both of us as “unique” in that the money was brought with the proposal to purchase. It is also clear the Board considered several factors associated with the transaction which gives evidence some level of due diligence was being performed on the transaction. Removing Walker from the equation in its entirety, the land the Land Trust purchased does qualify for conservation. Here is what appeared to be the sticking point for the board in their deliberations per Anita:
“We did not think it was a normal transaction that a state agency would be expending state money for relatives of people, particularly management-level people, within the agency,” Lawrence said. “So we wanted assurances that, according to their policies and procedures, at their highest level, those people at that organization knew what was being brought to the table, what was being offered to us.”
So the board recognized the conflict of interest. How did they resolve it?
Steckler said she did not remember the board’s questions in detail. She did ask Shumate to check with Walker on the funding source. Shumate had previously told Steckler the money would come from an account Walker controlled that held private donations from Hurricane Katrina, Steckler said.
The board approved the purchase June 3. According to its minutes, the board by this time thought money for the land would come from federal Heritage funds and a “private donor.”
Yep, they threw it back on DMR. What is interesting to me is the Board seemed to fixate on the funding source rather than the conflict of interest they immediately recognized. The conflict was the real issue and where the risk to the Land Trust is derived. This is why I mentioned the primrose path in the comment I left on the Sun Herald. Even worse, there was no due diligence on the answer they received from Shumate on Heritage Funding being used as the funding source as Heritage Funds can’t fund real property acquisitions, a common federal grant restriction. I mention this because within 10 seconds of typing in “national park service heritage funds” in Google I landed on the National Park Service web page describing the program. Within 30 seconds of typing in “national park service heritage funds grant restrictions” in Google I landed on the CFDA page for the program complete with an email address to the person responsible for the program at the National Park Service.
Due Diligence \ˈdü\ \ˈdi-lə-jən(t)s\ research and analysis of a company or organization done in preparation for a business transaction (as a corporate merger or purchase of securities).
In criminal law, due diligence is the only available defense to a crime that is one of strict liability (i.e., a crime that only requires an actus reus and no mens rea). Once the criminal offence is proven, the defendant must prove on balance that they did everything possible to prevent the act from happening. It is not enough that they took the normal standard of care in their industry – they must show that they took every reasonable precaution.
I would submit the board was led astray and throwing Tina Shumate under the bus does not absolve the Land Trust of its role in the Scott Walker transaction. There is far more to the proper discharge of fiduciary duty that comes with being a member of a Board of Directors than being spoon fed information by management and this brings me to the one question Ms Allen could not answer in the inconsistency between the early statements Land Trust Executive Director Judy Steckler gave the Sun Herald and the emergent facts of the Walker transaction as highlighted by Karen Nelson back in January. It reeks.
As I indicated on day 99, I am not that easy and hopefully this drill down on Anita’s drill down explains why. Certainly, with the benefit of hindsight the Land Trust Board would have done things differently. What worries me are the people with a personal financial interest in minimizing the damage to themselves that still associate with the entity.