In denying wrongdoing, Ms. Lewis claims she and her husband "... followed every rule, every regulation ... every approval process" prior to the project's being signed off by the building department in March 2006.
Unfortunately, the traditional paper trail of the approval process for the home is no longer available to the public or the mayor, which makes Ms. Lewis' claims sound hollow, since at this point, she has shared little evidence that could back them up.
Critics of the Lewis construction project, which was completed long before she was elected to the City Council, strongly suggest that the home did not go through the legally required permit process. Now Mayor Kathy McKeithen, largely seen as a supporter of former finance director John Johns — who recently was awarded $225,000 in a wrongful termination settlement with the town — is rightly calling for an outside investigation of the process that led to approval of the home.
It is no surprise that Ms. McKeithen, who with Mr. Johns spearheaded an investigation of the building department in 2006-07, is now taking a hard line on Ms. Lewis' house, which was approved when Mike Hood was the top building department official. Mr. Hood abruptly resigned and left the state in 2006, taking much of the department's institutional memory with him and perhaps damaging the ability of investigators to find out what really happened.
In a story last week, The Almanac provided some details of the home's path through the building department, but also found that most department records of the home's approval process are no longer in the files and are only available on microfiche, which cannot be copied or removed from the office.
When Ms. McKeithen requested planning and building department records from the Lewis project, she received only one document, from 2003, a pitiful result for records of decisions made less than five years ago. It does nothing for the town's credibility when such records, especially in a high-profile case, have gone missing.
City Manager Jerry Gruber and City Attorney Wynne Furth say they believe the town can conduct its own investigation into the matter, despite the obvious conflict of interest that might entail. Atherton has a small staff, so an in-house investigation could mean that friends are investigating friends, which would not be the best way to conduct an unbiased assessment of this matter.
If planning and building department records of the Lewis project are not readily available, as they should be, it makes sense to bring in an outside investigator to determine if proper procedures were followed in approving the Lewis home. That will provide the best outcome for the town, and for Ms. Lewis.