Although the Roanoke City Council has yet to define a process for appointing a successor to former Councilman John Garland, who resigned last week, several candidates already have inquired about the open seat.

The council met behind closed doors Monday to discuss the process, but Mayor Sherman Lea said it would take at least one more meeting to finalize a timeline for filling the seat.

In the meantime, Lea said, five or six people contacted council members about the seat. He invited others interested to leave their names with the city clerk.

Garland himself suggested Trish White-Boyd, a Democrat he narrowly defeated to win his seat in May 2016.

At Monday’s council meeting, two speakers urged the council to consider Bob Clement, the city’s former neighborhoods coordinator who has said he intends to seek a council seat in 2020.

Under state law and the city charter, because less than two years remains in Garland’s vacated term, the council must appoint a new member, but it has just 30 days to make an appointment.

The clock started running Wednesday, when Garland’s resignation was effective.

Garland, an independent, resigned abruptly, citing a need to avoid intensifying conflicts of interest due to his work as a developer.

While Garland, a developer and landlord, has recused himself from matters before council numerous times, the issue that led him to leave office involved the Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

The issues are spelled out in a Dec. 21 letter from RRHA attorney Mark Loftis to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development regarding “self-reporting of potential conflict of interest transactions.”

Garland confirmed the series of events described in the letter, which Loftis made available to The Roanoke Times.

Garland said he first raised concerns of conflict of interest regarding the housing authority in October when the authority’s resident’s council sought to lease office space in a building Garland owns on 11th Street Northwest.

The group is HUD-funded and is part of the housing authority, whose board is appointed by the city council.

Garland wondered if funds from HUD paid to him as landlord would constitute a conflict.

The residents’ council ultimately withdrew its interest in leasing from Garland, but Garland said he “tongue in cheek” asked City Attorney Dan Callaghan if having tenants with Section 8 Housing Vouchers living in his buildings was a conflict.

Callghan asked Loftis, and Loftis said it did.

In his letter, Loftis describes five separate cases of Section 8 tenants living in Garland-owned buildings.

In two of those cases, the contracts that allow the tenants to use housing subsidy vouchers pre-date ownership of the buildings by limited liability companies in which Garland is an owner. In one case, the agreement was signed after Garland was elected but before he took office. In the remaining two cases, the contracts were signed while Garland was a city council member.

“No information was supplied about the owners or members” of the LLCs, Loftis wrote, “and RRHA did not know that Council Member Garland … had an ownership interest.”

The contracts signed by a representative of the limited liability companies, however, included a certification that the owners were not a “public official, member of a governing body, or State or local legislator, who exercises functions or responsibilities with respect to the program,” according to the letter.

“That contract is nothing I ever saw or had anything to do with or even knew there was such a thing. I never even knew we had section 8 housing tenants,” Garland said in an interview.

“They [RRHA] had to ask me who owns the LLCs,” Garland said. “If it’s so important … it looks like they would know who the owners are and not offer a contract to one who they feel shouldn’t have one because of conflict of interest.”

Loftis informed HUD that about $45,000 in HUD funds had been paid to Garland’s companies via the Section 8 program, and that the authority was acting to move the tenants out of Garland’s properties as a cure for the conflict.

In the meantime, about $4,000 in rent was paid to Garland’s companies from non-federal funds.

Garland said he didn’t want to see the tenants inconvenienced when they had done nothing wrong.

Garland said he could have divested from the properties involved or the companies selling the properties altogether, which could take months.

Loftis ultimately forced his hand on resigning from council, Garland said.

“When I saw they weren’t going to wait and they weren’t going to change their position, I knew I didn’t have a choice,” he said.

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Matt Chittum covers Roanoke City. A Roanoke native, he’s been at the Roanoke Times for more than two decades, having overcome an inauspicious start with a part-time clerical job.

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