Columbia officials have requested a ruling from federal housing officials on whether a company whose vice president is married to a City Council member is eligible to receive city funds.
Community Assistance Provider has requested $327,250 from Columbia's loan committee to purchase some property at 7311 Patterson Road. The company's vice president, Jamie Devine, is a Richland 1 school board member and husband of Columbia City Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine.
The State Ethics Commission staff already has issued an informal opinion, saying there is no conflict because the loan is approved by a committee that is not appointed by City Council. But city officials said they want a blessing from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development before they make a decision about the application.
City officials did not ask HUD's permission earlier this year when the committee approved a $280,000 loan to Veronica Isaac, Tameika Isaac Devine's mother. Isaac used the money to purchase an office building, which now houses her daughter's law firm.
In that instance, Tameika Isaac Devine had an informal opinion from the State Ethics Commission staff saying the loan to Tameika Isaac Devine's mother was not an ethics violation.
But HUD officials said the loan violated federal regulations because it did not create jobs. Moving Tameika Isaac Devine's already existing law firm into the office building was a "business relocation," which HUD officials do not permit.
The result was a lengthy back and forth between city and HUD officials that was widely reported in local media.
"In light of the controversy, (Jamie) and I talked about it and said we need to get an official (ruling)," Tameika Isaac Devine said. "(Columbia Community Development director) Tony Lawton wanted to make sure HUD was OK with it. He didn't want anything crazy to come up with it later."
Attempts to reach Lawton and HUD officials Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Tameika Isaac Devine has asked for and received an informal opinion from the staff of the State Ethics Commission saying the company is eligible to receive money from the city.
"It is my opinion that the Ethics Reform Act would not prohibit your husband's employer from contracting with the City of Columbia, since City Council has no official role in the awarding of the contract," wrote Cathy Hazelwood, deputy director and general counsel for the State Ethics Commission.
Informal opinions are delivered by the commission's staff and are based on the commission's prior published opinions.
Community Assistance Provider wants to use the money to purchase an apartment building at 7311 Patterson Road, off Garners Ferry Road, and turn it into affordable housing, according to Veronica Rodriguez, Community Assistance Provider's president.
The project would be financed using the city's loan, a $94,000 bank loan from BB&T, $70,000 from the state Department of Commerce, and $18,385 of Community Assistance Providers' money.
"I want to be sure no one sees a conflict of interest. We're just trying to provide housing to folks," Rodriguez said. "HUD doesn't always see things exactly the way we see them."
But an extended delay in awarding the money could cost the organization some of its other funding, which would kill the project, Rodriguez said.
Jamie Devine said this is the first time the couple have encountered ethical questions involving their office-holding or their occupations.