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Granite Shoals city officials have determined that $3,450 of city funds were used to pay a consultant for zoning work after former City Manager Jeff Looney promised the City Council that an anonymous outside investor group would cover the costs. 

Interim City Manager Peggy Smith presented the investigation’s findings to the council during an Aug. 23 regular meeting that showed the city had paid consultant Travis Askey $3,450 for zoning and planning work. This was reportedly done without the council’s knowledge, which had been told by Looney that an anonymous investor group would cover the consultant’s fees.

The City Council rejected the original proposal from Looney on March 29, when he asked permission to hire a consultant to help with zoning and planning. The council offered harsh criticism, stating that Looney should be able to handle this on his own, especially after being given a $37,000 raise. The matter was tabled in a 5-1 vote.

Looney returned to the council on April 12 with the same proposal but a new offer from an anonymous developer group that would foot the bill.

Local business owner Steve Zbranek spoke during public comment in support of the development group, with which he had met at Looney’s invitation.

“There were people in that meeting that said, ‘Yeah, I’ll kick in $10,000 or $20,000,’” Zbranek told DailyTrib.com.

After Looney’s presentation, the council voted unanimously to bring on the consultant under the impression the position would be paid for by the anonymous donors.

Travis Askey, the former city manager of Bee Cave, performed consulting work for Granite Shoals over the course of five weeks. According to Interim City Manager Smith, Askey looked over the city’s zoning and planning ordinances and brought them up to date to streamline future development in Granite Shoals. The city eventually paid Askey $3,450 at the order of Looney after the anonymous donor group’s payment never materialized.

“I wasn’t in the meeting with the developers. All of my information is second hand,” Smith said. “One (source) from one of the developers and two from another person who was in the meeting, but there was never a full agreement for who was going to pay. Yes, Mr. Looney did make some false statements to City Council. I am sure he believed in his heart that that’s what was going to happen, but it just wasn’t there.”

Looney was fired on June 14 after months of controversy, discussion, and investigation by the council into his personal and professional conduct.

Smith said that after she took over as interim city manager on June 23, she looked into Askey’s payment and found it had already been taken care of by the city.

According to Zbranek, who attended the anonymous donor meetings, the parties involved were interested in large-scale development of apartments or planned subdivisions in Granite Shoals. 

Councilor Steve Hougen said in the meeting that Zbranek claimed at one time he was a participating member of the donor group. After playing a tape of Zbranek’s statements on April 12, the council determined he did not say that. Hougen made a public apology to Zbranek during the council’s regular meeting Sept. 12.

Smith told DailyTrib.com that the work Askey did was legitimate and needed by the city for future development.

“It may not be exactly what the council thought was going to happen, but it is not an amount that we cannot overcome,” Smith said.

dakota@thepicayune.com

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