By Graham B. Trask
If perception is reality, here’s reality. David Prichard’s ethics conflict and non-disclosure involving his wife’s employment at 303 Associates have destroyed the public’s trust in our local government.
Up until now, City Council has steadfastly supported Prichard and his boss, City Manager Bill Prokop. Prichard must be removed. Prokop also needs to go as he condoned and covered up Prichard’s behavior.
As lawsuit after lawsuit have since rained down on the City and alarm bells catalyze the National Parks Service to announce a National Historic Landmark District Study, Prichard and Prokop, supported by Bill Harvey, the City’s attorney, and condoned by City Council, appear intent on spending hundreds of thousands of the taxpayers’ dollars to fight in court for these three fundamentally flawed projects.
The obvious question is how did we end up here? The answer is clear: the Prichard’s household income depends upon it.
As stated by David Prichard himself, Vanessa Prichard was offered a job by 303 Associates upon the Prichards’ arrival in Beaufort in 2018. Vanessa Prichard’s previous employment, as listed in her LinkedIn profile, was as a teacher’s assistant. What in Vanessa Prichard’s background precipitated 303 Associates offering her a job?
Vanessa Prichard ultimately declined 303 Associates’ 2018 job offer because she said there was a “perceived conflict.” Nevertheless, Prokop said “no conflict existed.”
Fast forward to January 2021 when 303 Associates successfully hired Vanessa Prichard. At this juncture, David Prichard and the City became ethically and legally conflicted. This was when all three of the controversial 303 Associates projects came before the City’s regulatory boards. In lockstep, David Prichard and his staff presented favorable recommendations for all three projects.
Had it not been for a Facebook post several weeks ago from the 303 Associates’ Christmas party, the public never would have known that David Prichard and his wife were on “Dick Stewart’s team.” In the photo were Dick Stewart and the Prichards with the caption, “We enjoyed being able to gather together as a team at Spring Island to celebrate the season!” The photo was almost immediately removed. Prichard and Prokop need to be removed too.
According to the Beaufort Gazette, Stewart’s justification for the photo’s removal was “he did not want the employee celebration flaunted when there are people in the community with needs, especially during the holidays.” Stewart also praised Vanessa Prichard. “We’re happy to have her.”
Of course he’s happy to have her.
City spokeswoman Kathleen Williams said the city has no legal standing to tell the spouse of a city employee where she can work. Perhaps not, but the City certainly has legal standing to decide about David Prichard’s employment and about Prokop’s.
Williams continued, saying that Vanessa Prichard’s position at 303 has not caused any conflict of interest, “nor do we expect it to in the future.” David Prichard himself told the Gazette, “no one has cut them (303 Associates) any slack.”
This is patently absurd. Just for starters, Prichard has allegedly:
Allowed 303 Associates’ illegal demolition of 812 Port Republic Street, a building which the Historic District Review Board dictated could only be demolished once 303 Associates had a building permit for its replacement building. 303 still doesn’t have a building permit. Why was 812 Port Republic demolished?
Delayed the approval of the Historic District Review Board-endorsed revision of the demolition policy so as to preserve 303 Associates’ existing demolition permits.
Failed to enforce the City Code-mandated expiration dates of 303 Associates’ controversial projects’ preliminary approvals and allowed them to proceed to final approval.
Failed to enforce the City’s tree ordinance in respect to a tree that 303 Associates unnecessarily destroyed related to its demolition of 812 Port Republic Street.
Ignored the Beaufort City Code and the Beaufort Preservation Manual in promoting 303 Associates’ controversial projects to the City.
Williams has also asserted the conflict was known “for a few months” which means that David Prichard withheld this critical information from the City and the public for almost a year. Once made aware “a few months ago,” the City still took no action.
Finally, as a result of the public’s recent outcry, David Prichard’s ethics issue was sent to State Ethics Committee General Counsel Courtney Laster who immediately declared Prichard and the City had violated the State ethics code.
Has 303 Associates purchased influence in David Prichard’s department by hiring his wife?
Is it purely coincidental that Vanessa Prichard was a “must hire” for 303 Associates in 2018 and then again in early 2021, at the very same time that critical entitlement decisions for Mr. Stewart’s highly controversial hotel, parking garage, and apartment projects were pending before the City?
We need to rebuild trust in our City government. The removal of David Prichard and Prokop are the initial steps in that process, but only the initial steps.
Graham Trask is a Beaufort real estate developer and is trying to hold the City of Beaufort accountable for its own laws.