Merriam vets mayor’s familial tie to employee of firm working on community center project

McCarthy Building Companies was selected to manage the design process for the Merriam community center.

After conducting a review requested by City Administrator Chris Engel, Merriam’s city attorney Nicole Proulx Aiken has determined that the uncle-nephew relationship between Mayor Ken Sissom and a McCarthy Building Companies employee who will be a day-to-day contact on the community center project does not violate Merriam’s code of ethics or Kansas conflict of interest laws.

Engel requested the review after learning that Andrew Masters, the project manager for McCarthy who helped present the company’s bid for the community center contract, was the son of Sissom’s wife’s sister.

Eleven companies responded to the city’s request for proposal for the design and management of the new $30 million community center, approved by city voters last year. McCarthy was shortlisted for the contract after a review of the submissions. The city’s selection committee ultimately chose the company for the contract, and Engel advanced the recommendation to the city council for approval at its Jan. 22 meeting.

Before the vote, however, Engel disclosed that the administration had been made aware of the familial relationship between Sissom and one of the applicants during the vetting process. Masters is not a principal at McCarthy or a part of the company’s leadership team, and he will be just one of 14 people working on the project for the company. But city administrators wanted to ensure there were no conflicts and that there was not any appearance of nepotism.

Here’s summary from a draft of the minutes from the Jan. 22 meeting with Engel’s account of the timeline:

Mayor Sissom commented that at Ray Masters funeral he saw his nephew. At that time, the mayor had not seen his nephew for quite some time, as he was living in Florida with his family. Andrew did comment at the funeral that his company was submitting a proposal for this project. The Mayor did not know which company he worked for. No one on the committee knew that Andrew was related to the Mayor, Andrew did not state to the committee that he was related to the Mayor and as a professional, should not have notified the selection committee as he did not want that information to sway the committee for or against the selection of McCarthy. It allowed the selection committee to make their decision based on the merits of the company alone.

Engel said he asked the city attorney, Nicole Proulx Aiken, to review any potential conflict of interest or code of ethics violations out of an abundance of caution, but that he believed strongly McCarthy and Masters were the best fit for the job.

“While we didn’t know of the relationship to Mayor [when the application first came in], we did know Andrew was related to other Merriam families, and that was a plus,” Engel said via email. “The fact the team has Merriam connections was viewed as a plus because we want something uniquely Merriam and not having to explain in-detail what that means is important.  Simply put, we chose McCarthy because they are the best firm (bigger than JE Dunn) to bring our project in on time and on budget, and they have an inclusive process that will create a final product Merriam residents are proud of for years to come.”

The city council unanimously approved moving forward to award the contract to McCarthy after the open discussion about the city attorney’s review at the Jan. 22 meeting.

Proulx Aiken’s memo on the matter is below:

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