Business park spat

Councilman raises conflict of interest possibility
Dec. 06, 2012 @ 03:13 PM

The dispute over a proposed new business park on the northern edge of High Point took a legal twist before City Council Thursday.
Councilman Foster Douglas raised an issue about whether Smith Moore Leatherwood, which represents the developers of the controversial project, might have a conflict of interest because the firm has performed legal business for the city. The Greensboro-based legal firm is representing the developer of High Point North Industrial Center, which would become the city’s second-largest business park on 431 acres. The park, publicly announced last month, is bordered roughly by Interstate 40, S. Bunker Hill Road, Sandy Ridge Road and Boylston Road.
Residents who live near the proposed park object to plans by the city to annex the property to allow the project to go forward. The residents, who continued their campaign against the park at Monday’s council meeting, say business growth would bring unwanted traffic congestion to nearby farms and homes and disrupt the long-time rural way of life in the area of southwest Guilford County.
At Thursday’s meeting, Douglas asked if there’s a potential conflict between the City Council possibly approving a controversial proposal in which the developer is represented by a law firm that’s received business from the city. Smith Moore Leatherwood has handled a variety of legal matters for High Point in past years.
New Mayor Bernita Sims, presiding at her first council meeting as the city’s top elected official, said that she doesn’t perceive a conflict of interest. But because of the high-profile nature of the proposed business park, Sims asked that the School of Government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill provide a third-party, neutral opinion on the matter.
City Manager Strib Boynton said the city’s legal staff already examined Smith Moore Leatherwood’s role and found no conflict of interest. Smith Moore Leatherwood has to meet professional standards, such as those set by the N.C. Bar Association, in its legal dealings.
Tom Terrell, the Smith Moore Leatherwood attorney for the High Point North Industrial Center developer, said there’s no conflict of interest between his representation of a client with a matter before council and separate legal work that the firm did for the city on other matters. Terrell, who wasn’t at Thursday’s council meeting, responded to a question from The High Point Enterprise.
In a recent letter to Terrell, Boynton indicates that he doesn’t see any conflict of interest with Smith Moore Leatherwood.
“As you and I and our legal team have discussed many times over the years, the city does not consider Smith Moore Leatherwood’s representation of the city as outside counsel to create a conflict of interest with you ... handling routine land use matters before the City Council,” Boynton indicates in the letter. “This applies to your current representation of 350 South (business park developer).”
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