Longview City Councilman Mike Wallin is facing conflict of interest accusations regarding business banners hung at the Crafted Brew Festival in a city park over the weekend, although the city attorney says the banners were legal.
Wallin, who is running for re-election this year, sponsored the festival’s live music with his real estate partner, Sheri Evald. Together they paid $2,000 for the sponsorship.
In exchange for the sponsorship, two large banners for their real estate firm, Keller Williams, with photos of Wallin and Evald hung from the new gazebo in R.A. Long Park during Saturday’s festivities.
By Tuesday morning, the banners had been taken down.
Some said the banners were tantamount to a city councilman campaigning at a city event, but Wallin was adamant that there was no political motivation for the sponsorship. Instead, he said Tuesday, these allegations were “election year politics” and “dirty tricks from the left.”
“I didn’t campaign there. I didn’t have a campaign sign there. Other people want to make everything about politics,” Wallin said. “This was a great event. ... Why would they want to spin it so negative? If they’re concerned, maybe they should sponsor community events. I would welcome more sponsors to these events.”
John Steppert had emailed city officials about the banners on Friday, saying, “The same picture of Mike is on the banner, and his campaign yard signs. The gazebo, plaza, and civic circle are all public property, and not Mike’s personal ‘billboard.’ … This is obviously a ‘manipulative effort’ by Mike to promote his business and candidacy at a public event. City Council members should certainly know that this is a conflict of interest that involves exploiting a public event for personal gain.”
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In response, City Attorney Jim McNamara said, “It is my understanding that Mr. Wallin’s business was a sponsor of the recent Crafted event that took place in the Civic Circle park. As such, his business, as well as other sponsors, were allowed to place their banner, in recognition of their sponsorship.”
“The banner was not a political banner, and I am told made no mention of his candidacy in the upcoming election,” McNamara continued. “Therefore I do not believe there was any impropriety in the posting of this banner, and that there was no conflict of interest or use of a city facility for political purposes.”
Steppert responded that even though the signs were not a conflict, they appeared to be a conflict for many of Saturday’s attendees.
“I believe city employees and members of council should hold themselves to high ethical, moral, personal, and professional standards when it comes to ‘an appearance of a conflict,’ as they go about in performing their personal, business, professional, and elected duties. That is the way integrity and public trust are built. Sad to say, ‘integrity and public trust,’ took a hit on Saturday,” Steppert said.
Without sponsors like himself and others, Wallin said, community events would not be possible.
“This is election-year skulduggery politics because they don’t want to talk about issues” like street maintenance, firefighters and the budget, Wallin said. “This event was about some beer tasting, some food tasting, live music and having a good time in a city park. There was no politicking.”