SAN MARCOS, Texas -- The relationship between two public officials and a multi-million dollar development in San Marcos has some residents concerned about a conflict of interest at city hall.
Highway drivers passing by San Marcos have likely noticed a bold new project going up along the Interstate 35 frontage road. A high-end apartment complex called "Uptown Square" has been under construction since October 2014.
"Casey Development" signage is prominently displayed at every entrance, but what's not so visible is the name of the project's contractors: Wood and Thomason Construction. Permit information lists two San Marcos public officials, City Councilman Ryan Thomason and Planning and Zoning Commissioner Christopher Wood as the owners of that business.
That association, presumably, is what prompted Thomason to recuse himself from a city council vote earlier this week.
Casey Development asked council to approve an additional two floors to a 13-story project already approved on Concho Street, between downtown San Marcos and the Texas State University campus. Developers have yet to begin construction on 300-unit student apartment complex and retail space.
Thomason told the council Tuesday he still had unanswered questions about a potential conflict of interest and wanted to exclude himself from the vote on Concho Commons "pending further exploration."
The developer's request to make Concho Commons a 15-story building failed to pass city council by a one vote.
However, Thomason's business partner, Wood, did not recuse himself from a similar vote, prompting one local resident to allege a conflict of interest. Records show Wood voted on Dec. 9 in favor of allowing Casey Development to add the extra floors to Concho Commons, a project that was just three stories high when it gained initial approval in 2008. The decision paved the way for the measure for 15 floors to be considered before council.
Tyler Sibley of Casey Development told KVUE that Wood and Thomason had no affiliation with the Concho Commons project, but Concho Commons did not confirm that information. KVUE tried repeatedly to reach both public officials for comment via email, phone call and in person over the course of three days. Neither man responded to the request for comment.
Resident Forrest Fulkerson said he's worried city hall is being "bought" by developers and intends to file an ethics complaint against Wood.
"It means that the developer owns one of the city council members," said Fulkerson. "In my opinion, it looks bad."
Permit information reveals Casey Development's current San Marcos project, Uptown Apartments, is valued at least $24.6 million. The developers paid about $187,000 to the city in permitting fees. It's unclear from the permits how Wood and Thomason are making from their work on that project, but Fulkerson said it's surely enough to give the appearance of impropriety.
"It means that the community feels like when they see these people up there and working for the developer that the developers own the city council members," he said.
It's not clear whether Wood's vote on Concho Commons was tantamount to an ethics violation.
KVUE's contacted the city attorney for comment on the matter, but we did not receive an answer by air time.
That ambiguity is why Fulkerson said he wants to see the San Marcos code of ethics refined to clarify lines, which he said Wood's vote has blurred.