Draper City has purchased more than $7,000 worth of food over the last five years from a local Mexican restaurant called Guadalahonky’s — a company that’s owned by City Councilman Alan Summerhays, but that hasn’t always been disclosed on his annual conflict-of-interest forms.
The spending of taxpayer money for the council meals and snacks, which was verified through an open records request and confirmed on the state’s public transparency website, has spurred questions from some about whether Summerhays has used his public office for private profit, which is expressly prohibited by state law.
“He’s making money off of the City Council; that’s a gain if it’s $5 or $7,000,” said Draper resident Tony Nelson. “If we’re not going to enforce it at the smallest level, then how do we expect to enforce it at the larger level? That’s the only thing the citizens have to ensure, that there’s oversight of these guys.”
Nelson and another resident filed a complaint against Summerhays last year with the state’s Political Subdivisions Ethics Commission over his failure to disclose the business on some of his conflict-of-interest forms.
Brooke Harkness, executive director of the commission, said she was not able to provide information about the complaint — and would not confirm one had even been filed — because the process is confidential. But Summerhays and others familiar with the process said the committee dismissed the matter after the councilman offered a general apology and went back and filled out new forms.
Summerhays, who has served three terms on the council, told The Salt Lake Tribune that he had unintentionally “mismarked” the form.
“And then I just amended it,” he said.
The councilman listed Guadalahonky’s on at least four of his seven conflict-of-interest forms on file with the city, which date back to 2008 and were provided to The Tribune through an open records request.
His 2016 form does not list the name of his business but does indicate that he was part of an organization that could reasonably be expected to have business dealings with the city, but he did not explain that interest as prompted on the disclosure. Summerhays also indicated that he did not have a financial interest in an organization regulated by the city that year, while his 2017 form indicated that he did but again did not explain that interest.
Summerhays’ 2014 disclosure is the only one that clearly indicates Guadalahonky’s had been providing dinners for City Council meetings.
In an interview, the councilman dismissed the idea that his profits from the city were unethical, arguing that the complaint itself was political.
“My God, I did it what, twice last year?” he said. “Why shouldn’t I as a businessman or my daughter that’s running the restaurant, why shouldn’t she get the piece of the pie? Because they were going out to Sandy [for food] for Pete’s sake.”
Descriptions of the payments to Guadalahonky’s, which date from July 2014 to as recently as March 4 of this year, mostly indicate the food was provided for council meals or snacks. But the company has also served meals for the planning commission, the police youth academy and the parks department.
A records request for payments from the city to the councilman’s other businesses — Donkey Tails Cantina, Kristine Ann Properties, LLC and Summerhays Properties, LLC — showed none was made.
Maridene Alexander, a spokeswoman for the city, noted that the city attempts to solely use Draper-owned businesses for catering, of which there are only so many businesses. Vendors provide services on a rotating schedule and the city has a “really fair” process to determine which companies are used, she said.
A Google query of Draper restaurants lists more than 55.
The Utah Municipal Officers and Employees’ Ethics Act states that city council members are prohibited from using or attempting to use their official position to “further substantially” their “personal economic interest.”
David Irvine, a practicing lawyer and a member of the government watchdog group Utahns for Ethical Government, said the payments likely don’t reach that level.
“If he was the only one who was providing meals to the city, that might be one thing,” he said. “But if there are multiple restaurateurs who are providing that service and getting paid for it, that’s not a whole lot of money over a five-year period.”
Irvine did note, however, that Summerhays should have been disclosing his business interest “every year that he’s sitting on that council.”
That’s required by state law.
Draper Mayor Troy Walker said he hadn’t seen the complaint against Summerhays and noted that the city had taken no disciplinary action against him as a result.
“I don’t see it as a problem,” he said. “I don’t know how often each restaurant caters, but I’ve never noticed it being inordinately his or anybody else’s, quite frankly.”
This isn’t the first time Summerhays has faced scrutiny over conflict-of-interest questions. Earlier this year, the Draper City Council hired an outside attorney to look into allegations that he and another council member may have been swayed by favors from a developer looking to build a controversial housing project. Summerhays and Councilwoman Michele Weeks were the only votes on the council in favor of the project when the body narrowly defeated it last summer.
That investigative report, which became public last month, did not find Summerhays had violated any ethics rules but stated that developer Shaun Michel had put the councilman in an “awkward position” that ultimately constituted a conflict of interest over his connection to a Sandy rehabilitation clinic called Neuroworx, where Michel is listed as a member of the board of directors.
It also determined Weeks — who has been embroiled in a handful of other ethics controversies raised by colleagues in public meetings — violated the city’s code of ethics amid the developer’s heavy lobbying.
Nelson, who volunteered for Weeks’ unsuccessful state House campaign last year, said he wanted to publicize the investigation into Summerhays because he sees a discrepancy in the city’s treatment of Weeks when she is faced with ethical questions versus its actions when others are.
“There is no fairness at all,” he said. “If you don’t subscribe to the good old boy network, you’re going to get investigated. You’re going to get run out of office.”
Weeks also questioned why Summerhays’ conduct had never been discussed in a public meeting, though a case against her that was ultimately dismissed at the state Ethics Commission had become publicized and the council had hired a private investigator to look further into the claims.
“If I don’t disclose that my son goes fishing for 20 minutes, I get a full investigation on me,” she said of a separate case. “But [Summerhays] can supply food at a discounted rate to City Hall, you know, and the council doesn’t care? It’s kind of interesting. And he’s been doing this for years. … It’s just such a double standard.”