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City council appointments to paid boards are challenged

February 14, 2012 |  1:42 pm

The state ethics agency has received citizen complaints alleging that city council members in nine Orange County municipalities have voted on their own appointments to represent their cities on paid public boards in possible violation of conflict-of-interest rules.

The complaints were filed against 19 council members in Anaheim, Dana Point, Irvine, La Palma, Newport Beach, San Clemente, Tustin, Villa Park and Yorba Linda.

The Fair Political Practices Commission’s enforcement staff is taking the position that council members cannot vote on their appointments to paid boards, according to Ash Pirayou, an attorney for the council members.

The staff has offered to resolve several of the complaints with just a warning and no penalty, Pirayou said. But he is asking the commission to instead dismiss all the complaints and explicitly exempt such actions by a city council member from conflict-of-interest restrictions.

"We respectfully request that all enforcement matters be dismissed and that the commission immediately conduct a thorough evaluation of its regulations as applied to decisions to appoint council members to appointed boards,’’ Pirayou wrote in his petition, which the panel has agreed to consider at its March 15 meeting.

Pirayou provided a heavily redacted copy of one of the complaints, from a Tustin resident named Matthew Delaney. It says a council member "voted and participated" on a board appointment that pays $212 for each meeting.

Delaney has filed complaints against Tustin Mayor Jerry Amante and Mayor Pro Tem John Nielsen, according to a letter by Tustin City Attorney David E. Kendig, who said local rules require council members to sit on the paid boards in question as representatives of the city. He argued that the stipends to be received in the paid appointments "are expressly excluded from the definition of 'income' for purposes of the Political Reform Act."

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-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

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