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Village Fair raises conflict disclosure question

By Kevin Elliott

An effort to provide a day of fun for those in need at the annual Birmingham Village Fair ended with questions about a potential conflict of interest involving a city commission member at the commission meeting on Monday, September 20.

The issue came up when commissioner Clinton Baller requested Birmingham Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce’s permit application be pulled from the consent agenda to discuss a special sponsorship opportunity.

Baller said the return of the Village Fair brings with it a sponsorship opportunity for a person or organization to provide a pre-party day at the fair on June 1, the day prior to the public opening of the fair. Baller said the day could be used to provide access to those in need. The idea is similar to the Troy Daze fair, which provides special early access to special needs children.

Chamber President Joe Bauman said the day had been used in the past by United Shore Mortgage as an employee appreciation day. More recently the Young Presidents Club used the opportunity.

The discussion prompted fellow commissioner Stuart Sherman to ask whether Baller has a financial relationship with the chamber, and whether that had been disclosed.

“I didn’t even think of that,” Baller said.

Commissioners have traditionally recused themselves from voting or weighing in on matters in which they have a potential conflict of interest.

Baller explained he runs a credit card processing business and has been a vendor of the chamber for many years. While he said the chamber is a customer, he said he didn’t consider it a conflict because he said he pays more in fees than he makes on the account.

Bauman said the chamber pre-sells wristbands to the fair, and that patrons may use credit cards to make those payments.

“It goes more in the other direction because the fees I pay for membership far more offset the fees we derive from the sale of some wristbands,” Baller said. “You’re talking pennies.”

While Baller maintained there is no financial gain on his part from the event, he abstained from voting on the fair permit.

Birmingham City Manager Tom Markus said the matter will be looked at outside of the public meeting.

“This matter is referred to the city attorney to make that decision, not to do it on the fly when she doesn’t have the opportunity to query what the engagement is, how much it amounts to and if there is any financial transactions,” Markus said. “Don’t push the answer at this meeting; let her review the facts and come back with a finding. That’s the point. Now that we are aware of it, we have to pursue it, and we will.”

Commissioners approved the permit for the fair by a vote of 6-0, with Baller abstaining.


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