Prichard resigns from development role with the City of Beaufort

By Tony Kukulich

David Prichard, Beaufort’s director of Community and Economic Development, tendered his resignation last week.

Beaufort City Manager William Prokop announced the resignation in a Feb. 16 email to city staff in which he stated that Prichard will be leaving his position at the end of the month.

“David Prichard, Director of Community and Economic Development, has given notice that he will be leaving our employ so that he may pursue his desire to further his education by obtaining a Ph.D. degree and explore other career opportunities,” Prokop wrote in his email.

Prichard, who started with the city in November 2018, was the subject of a recent South Carolina Ethics Commission opinion. It was prompted after it was revealed late last year that Prichard’s wife was employed by 303 Associates, a real estate development company with a number of projects pending before the city. Her position with 303 Associates was reportedly not related to the firm’s development efforts. The Department of Community and Economic Development considers all development projects in the city.

An informal opinion from the ethics commission was requested by Beaufort City Attorney William Harvey on Dec. 30 of last year. The inquiry was intended to determine if Prichard’s connection to 303 Associates constituted a conflict of interest for the city when considering that company’s initiatives.

The ethics commission released its informal opinion on Jan. 4 indicating that Prichard must recuse himself from any matters involving 303 Associates.

“Here, Mr. Prichard’s spouse is an employee of 303 Associates,” wrote Ethics Commission Counsel Courtney Laster. “Therefore, 303 Associates is a ‘business with which Mr. Prichard is associated’ for purposes of recusal. Mrs. Prichard’s job duties or title at 303 Associates is immaterial – as long as she is an employee of 303 Associates, then 303 Associates is a business with which Mr. Prichard is associated. Accordingly, when Mr. Prichard is required to take an action in which 303 Associates has an economic interest, he must recuse himself in writing.”

With the issuance of that opinion, architects contracted by the city to write staff reports on projects from 303 Associates were directed to report to Prokop in place of Prichard.

“Transparency is important to us, which is why we asked for the opinion,” Prokop said. “We will make this change to ensure that there is no conflict.”

In an email to The Island News, Prokop said the ethics commission’s opinion was not the motivation behind Prichard’s decision to leave his position with the city.

“No, this was not a factor and never had any basis in the work he did,” Prokop said. “David has a goal to obtain his Ph.D., and we wish him well in this endeavor.”

Developer Graham Trask, who has been a vocal opponent to a number of projects spearheaded by 303 Associates, has been critical of Prichard. After the ethics commission opinion was made public, Trask ran an ad in The Island News calling for Prichard’s removal from city government. At the same time, he also advocated for Prokop’s removal.

Trask takes particular issue with the city’s handling of three projects initiated by 303 Associates including an apartment building planned for 211 Charles Street, the Beaufort Inn Hotel planned for 812 Port Republic Street, and a parking structure intended for 918 Craven Street.

“This is a welcome victory for transparency in city government,” Trask said in an email to The Island News referring to Prichard’s resignation. “Nevertheless, David’s departure will not undo all the favorable decisions that he and his department made, while conflicted, which have led to the approval of 303 Associates’ projects which appear in violation of The Beaufort City Code. Under the circumstances, the city should make null and void all the 303 Associates decisions which were handled during David’s tenure. Instead, the city has decided to stand by David’s decisions at great expense to its credibility.”

Trask has filed a suit against the city for violating its own codes and processes. Additionally, he has filed appeals contesting the approvals related to all three projects. Those matters are all pending.

Dick Stewart of 303 Associates said he expects little to change in the wake of Prichard’s departure.

“As it relates to projects in the Historic District, our projects have been reviewed by the city architects, and we would expect that that would continue,” Stewart said. “So, we don’t see any changes there. We have some projects that we’re working on outside the Historic District. We’re concerned that the city may be understaffed for planning people and that may slow everybody down, which would affect us, too.”

Before coming to Beaufort, Prichard was the director of Development in Maryville, Tenn., where he oversaw that city’s Planning and Code Enforcement departments. Prior to that, he worked in Shalimar, Fla., where he was involved with the planning for projects related to Eglin Air Force Base.

“We will begin our search for a new director immediately and in the interim, we will be using consultants to assist us with guidance and review of projects and staff reports for technical correctness whenever necessary,” Prokop said. “Reece Bertholf, Deputy City Manager, and I will be working closely with the staff and consultants to ensure the continued high level of customer service to all applicants and citizens.”

Tony Kukulich is a recent transplant to the Lowcountry. A native of Wilmington, Del., he comes to The Island News from the San Francisco Bay Area where he spent seven years as a reporter and photographer for several publications. He and his wife enjoy exploring their new home state. He can also frequently be found playing bass guitar with a couple of local bands. He can be reached at tony.theislandnews@gmail.com.

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