If something is legal does it make it right? – Part 1

In our efforts to learn how the LPA views a project, how their votes affect a City Commission hearing, and what had been done to date specific to the Kanner CPUD where the Costco is proposed to go, we collectively used our resources to ask as many questions as we could to learn how the process really worked.

Research was done to learn who was doing business in Martin County and the City of Stuart where we came across a company owned by Kevin Freeman, Development Director for the City of Stuart as of July 2018.

On March 11, 2021, an email was sent to a community member on the Martin County transportation board about the concern regarding Mr. Freeman’s private company with a link to Mr. Freeman’s company registration on Sunbiz and a link to their company’s website. It was expressed that there was a concern that a City employee was receiving a salary while also possibly profiting from a private consulting company that *could* also be working with developers bringing forth projects for consideration to the City of Stuart.

Screenshot from Counterplan homepage https://counterplan.com – March 2021 – All information on the site has since been removed.

The response received was not of concern that there might be a conflict of interest but instead that such a concern could affect someone’s livelihood. An email was then sent to the City Administrator, Dave Dyess, to better understand how someone could have a private company that, according to its own website, performs the same tasks as their tax-payer provided job. It was asked if there was there a conflict of interest on file with the City of Stuart specific to Mr. Freeman having a company that explicitly stated its purpose is the same as what he does for the City of Stuart.

We were provided a handwritten list that was given to Mr. Dyess from Mr. Freeman in a response from Mr. Dyess along with this comment.

When Kevin first came here he did file an employment conflict notification for DNA which was a UK only consulting business. I approved that business but was not aware that a new one was formed. I required Kevin to remove himself from the company, provide all projects worked on from company inception (none of which have conflicts) and provide conflict notice for any future work the company may do in Stuart. I did authorize a second company for UK work only and he was issued a letter of reprimand.

Dave Dyess to Robin Cartwright, March 22, 2021
Mr. Freeman’s LinkedIn profile – March 2, 2021 – It has since been updated to remove Counterplan.

Here is the timeline of Mr. Freeman’s activities in the time leading up to and since he began working again as a City of Stuart employee:

Screenshot from Counterplan website https://counterplan.com – March 2021 – All information on the site has since been removed.

As we understand it, there is still no conflict of interest on file, only a requirement that Mr. Freeman provide a notice as to any future work. Based on emails with the City Administrator in March 2021, the City sees no issue with Mr. Freeman having a private company as long as he advises the City as to what projects he accepts and none can be within the City of Stuart.

Is there an issue with Mr. Freeman having owned and operated a company? No. Is there an issue with Mr. Freeman having owned and operated a company that specialized in Martin County Planning, Planned Unit Developments, Comprehensive Plan Amendments, Rezoning, Text Changes, and Entitlements?

There is as there is no way to know if Mr. Freeman’s private company that clearly stated on his website specialized in “the complexities of the Martin County Land Development Regulations and Comprehensive Growth Management Plan” worked with any of the developers for projects recently annexed in to and/or approved by the City of Stuart.

Most cities, towns, and counties have an expressed statement in their policies and procedures, employee handbooks, and overall guidelines that states conflicts of interests are not allowed. It may be legal for Mr. Freeman to have had a company that is a mirror of his tax-payer provided job, that doesn’t make it right.