Simon raises question about Sanders, Foster business ties
by David Crowder
Posted on July 1, 2008
Complicated already, a proposal to give $12 million in tax breaks to a Paul Foster-Regency Centers venture to develop the former Farah Manufacturing site could be made thornier still by the disclosure of William “Bill” Sanders’ ties to Foster and to Regency.
Sanders, the father in law of South-West city Rep. Beto O’Rourke and an instrumental figure behind the city’s Downtown redevelopment plan, sits on Foster’s Western Refining board.
Sanders is also the founder and co-chairman of the Verde Group, a national development company involved in Santa Teresa, N.M., as well as elsewhere on the U.S.-Mexico border. [ verde group]
Verde Group’s other co-chairman is Ronald Blankenship, who also happens to sit on the Regency Centers Corp.’s board of directors.
The disclosures came from Simon Properties, which owns Cielo Vista and Sunland Park Mall and which strongly opposes tax breaks for Foster-Regency. [npt: simon correspondence, june 18] [npt: council sets conditions, june 24]
Simon Properties’ public relations agent in El Paso, Teresa Montoya, said Simon received an anonymous letter last week that revealed the connections.
The letter, a document really, is a copy of a Forbes.com web resource page containing information about Blankenship along with writing and underlining in red ink with more information linking Sanders, Blankenship and Verde to Foster, Regency and the Farah proposal.
Simon Properties Vice President Rod Vosper said the connections are not evidence of a conflict, but "it just raises the suspicion of a conflict of interest and all we're trying to do is have some transparency in this situation. … It's something that needs to be explored further."
"We're not certain of all the facts of the matter and would like to reserve judgment until we understand better," he said. "We're surprised at the connections out there and I don't think we fully understand all the connections at this point."
Simon Properties sent a letter to City Council members -- excluding O’Rourke -- that had apparently been hand delivered to Foster and Blankenship, addressing Blankenship as a Regency director but in care of Verde Group.
Blankenship, who is co-chairman with Sanders of Verde Group, has been on Regency’s board of directors since 2001.
That and the fact that Sanders sits on the board of Western Refining, of which Foster is chief executive officer, might be seen by some as a conflict of interest for O’Rourke that should keep him from voting on the Foster-Regency proposal.
O’Rourke has been dogged by assertions that his connection to Sanders, his wife’s father, is a conflict of interest that should prevent him from voting on matters that might benefit Sanders Downtown.
Both O’Rourke and Blankenship say that while there may appear to be connections on a casual level, they are not ties that bind or that constitute a legal conflict of interest for anyone.
“While I appreciate that people have views and develop opinions on things, my role with Regency is that of a director and only that,” Blankenship said.
Blankenship said Verde Group is not involved in the Downtown plan, though Sanders, individually, is.
“I have nothing to do with any of the development planned Downtown,” Blankenship said.
Nor, Blankenship said, is he or Verde involved with Foster and Western Refining, though, again, Sanders is.
O’Rourke said he was unaware of Blankenship’s position on Regency’s board. [Editor's note: The preceding sentence was corrected July 1, 2008. O'Rourke was incorrectly quoted as saying he did not know of Sanders' position on the Western Refining board.]
But Sanders, O’Rourke said, would have to be in line to make money off a possible Foster-Regency deal with the city before he -- O’Rourke -- could have a conflict of interest.
“How does Bill stand to gain from any of this?” O’Rourke asked. “What would I do in my position on the City Council to further Bill’s personal interest by voting one way or the other.
“By the way, we haven’t even voted on this yet. There has yet to be a vote, except to postpone it.”
O’Rourke said he objects to Simon’s actions because that company had wanted to be Foster’s development partner and would have asked for the same kinds of tax breaks.
“What concerns me right now is that Simon doing their best to sink a deal that they don’t like,” O’Rourke said. “I think they have some valid reasons for not liking the deal, and they’ve raised some good public policy questions for us to consider.
“But then resorting to this. I have absolutely no way to personally gain from this, and Bill Sanders has no way to personally gain from this. Yet, the insinuation is made because he serves on the board at Western Refining and because someone he works with at Verde is on the board at Regency.”
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