The city of Brookhaven has canceled a $13,865 contract with an engineering company working on the Ashford Dunwoody Road multi-use path project due to what the city manager says is a conflict of interest.

The city of Brookhaven hired Arcadis, an international engineering firm, in June while the company’s vice president, Michael Diaz, was serving on the Brookhaven Planning Commission.

City Manager Christian Sigman canceled the contract after the connection between Diaz and Brookhaven was “brought to his attention,” he said. Sigman claims it interferes with the city’s ethics code, but Diaz says there is no conflict of interest.

Michael Diaz

Arcadis was hired by Brookhaven to mark the right of way, construction easements and driveways along the multi-use path construction site. The job was scheduled to take about two weeks. Arcadis previously completed the design and engineering for one segment of the path, hired by Perimeter CID.

At the Sept. 26 City Council meeting, Sigman said if the city knew Diaz worked for Arcadis, “we wouldn’t have awarded [the contract]. But we didn’t know at that time.”

City Attorney Jeremy Berry said the city’s ethics code applies to council members, staff and political appointees, referring to City Code 2-376, 4.1

“The issue is whether the appointee should have been wearing two hats,” said Berry. “On the flip side, as an appointee of the city, acting in their capacity with a private organization receiving the benefit of compensation from the city contract without … making that involvement known or aware. That’s the issue here.”

Diaz was appointed to the Brookhaven Planning Commission by Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst in 2016. He left the commission in September to focus on his campaign for City Council.  

Diaz is not directly involved in the Arcadis project. There is no conflict, he said.

“It feels a little bit like mud slinging because it’s really not a conflict. When we start every project, one of the first things we do is a conflict of interest check just to make sure that there’s not really going to be any issues,” said Diaz, adding that Arcadis is a multi-national firm with 5,000 U.S. employees.

“The administration had no knowledge of the Planning Commission member’s employment to know there would have been a conflict, so we don’t even think to check on something like that,” said Sigman.

Sigman said it is incumbent upon all city appointees to regularly check for conflicts on the City Council agenda and vendor lists.

City Council member John Funny said he served on Planning Commission for eight years and has “done zero business with the city of Brookhaven because of what’s in the [city code].”

Diaz is now running for District 1 City Council seat against incumbent Linley Jones. Jones recused herself from the discussion.

Ann Hanlon, executive director of the Perimeter CID, said: “I was not aware of this at all and I do not know Michael Diaz, although I’m aware that he is running for City Council.”

Logan C. Ritchie writes features and covers Brookhaven for Rough Draft Atlanta.