Former Austin permit reviewer admits conflict of interest

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by ANDY PIERROTTI / KVUE News and photojournalist DEREK RASOR

Bio | Email | Follow: @AndyP_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on June 10, 2013 at 10:26 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jun 11 at 11:47 AM

A KVUE Defenders investigation uncovers a former city of Austin employee accused of accepting payments to approve building permit applications ahead of others. KVUE Defender Andy Pierrotti spoke exclusively with the man at the center of the investigation.

David Davison needs cutting edge tools to keep up with Austin’s building boom. "Austin's market never hit the bottom like a lot of other areas in the country did,” explains the owner of Realty Restoration. He’s also the former president of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

Despite the demand, building permits nearly came to a stop in Austin last year. The city didn't have enough building reviewers to do the work, causing applications to take months, instead of days to approve.

Davison says the delays caused builders, like him, to lose business. “I had some of our smaller builders, members of our association with tears in their eyes, basically, saying I can't feed my family," recalls Davison.

A KVUE Defenders investigation uncovered during the backlog, the city found one of its former employees WHO took cash multiple times to allegedly move permit applications ahead of others.

"In no place, no jurisdiction, should anybody ever offer to pay an employee to do their job," contends Donald Birkner, the city's assistant director of planning & development.

In November 2012, Birkner wrote a six page memo, claiming former permit reviewer Edward
Vigil accepted money to move permit applications ahead of others and approve them.

The memo states the city found "seven cases where it appeared that vigil had completed the applications and done all or a significant portion of the drawings”

The memo also states “two of three permit applicants said they paid Edward $200.

"There were some cases that were approved in a day or two, and wasn't normal at that time," explains Birkner.

Vigil sat down exclusively with the KVUE Defenders to tell his side of the story.  "The truth is, I was just trying to start a part-time business to earn extra income completely outside the city of Austin,” argues Vigil in an interview Monday afternoon.

Vigil says while working with the city, he started a consulting job on his own time to help applicants fill out permits and design building plans.

That also meant, he would have the ability to approve the same plans customers paid him to submit to the city.

"There were a few that I reviewed and approved, yes," said Vigil. He now says he understands why that could be seen as a conflict of interest. "Today, going back and looking at how it could be perceived, yes I do think it was a conflict of interest," Vigil explained.

Vigil says his intentions were never malicious, but he does admit he never got permission from his supervisors to work as a consultant.

"No. I did not and that's part of the mistake that I made due to my lack of experience," contends Vigil.

The city says it put in a system to identify questionable fast-moving building permits in the future.

A Travis County grand jury is scheduled to meet Tuesday to decide whether charges will be filed against Vigil.

Vigil says Austin Police told him he could face what's called a "gifts to public servant" charge, which is a class A misdemeanor.

It's unclear by the city how much money vigil may have accepted.

Count on KVUE to let you know what happens.

 

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