Opposition Grows to City-Controlled Task Force Designed To Overturn Conflict of Interest Reform
Santa Monica, CA -- The first politician to comply with a good government ballot initiative approved by Pasadena voters returned a campaign donation accepted in violation of the measure's conflict of interest protections, according to a letter sent today to the former Pasadena mayor who has challenged several current councilmembers for violating the law.
The initiative, passed by 60% of Pasadena voters as Measure B in 2001, bars city officials from accepting campaign cash, gifts or a job from any person they award a public benefit, such as a city contract, a lucrative franchise or the purchase of property. Councilmember Paul Little stated he has returned $250 from Maguire Partners, a developer that gave several contributions after receiving council approvals to demolish an old building in downtown Pasadena and make way for an office building complex, over the objections of other city officials.
Former Pasadena Mayor Bill Paparian sent demand letters to four councilmembers and the mayor, demanding the return of campaign contributions taken from companies that received a public benefit approved by the members. The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) called on the rest of the council to comply with Measure B and return the donations, abandon the attempt to use a task force to overturn the measure, and move forward with the implementation plan initiated in August.
"We urge the remaining councilmembers to comply with the will of the voters and return any and all campaign cash they took in violation of voter-approved conflict of interest laws," said Carmen Balber, consumer advocate with FTCR.
The City Council voted to create a task force last month in an effort to turn over the conflict of interest measure. Little and a second councilmember broke ranks and opposed the council's move against the measure at this week's council meeting. Councilmember Haderlein voted against the task force he deemed "tightly controlled by the council" and reversed a five-year position on Measure B, saying it is not "as burdensome as we all thought."
"Measure B is narrowly tailored to prevent specific conflicts of interest that the voters felt could be so harmful they must be prohibited. We applaud Councilmember Haderlein for recognizing the council's mistake, and urge the other members to abandon the costly task force and quickly implement the initiative's good government reform," said Balber.
Councilmember Haderlein took the council to task for using its power to overrule a voter initiative: "I'm just very uncomfortable with this council writing its own rules. 'We are going to select its members, select its chair, we've heard a debate on what we expect them to do. We have the possibility of having council members serve on this. When the work product comes back, the product is one for the council to accept or amend or reject, before going to the voters. It is not an independent group and that makes me uncomfortable."
Haderlein seemed to express an opinion that the measure was deliberately written and not overly restrictive, contrary to previous assertions. Responding to research into Measure B violations conducted by former mayor Paparian, he said: "We first feared that they would be very difficult to live with. And I shared those fears. For me, it was a single donation that [Paparian] took exception to over five years. One donation in five years. I just don't think it has been as burdensome as we all thought."
And the Councilman cautioned the council against overruling the will of the voters: "Lastly, I do think this sets a bad precedent. If a future council decides they don't like the rules, well, what's the process? You appoint a task force, you tell them what to come back with, and go to the voters. I'm just uncomfortable with that process."
The council is scheduled to appoint six members and vote on a charge for the task force next Monday, but discussion this week indicated that agreement on the group's mission will not be reached easily. A chair was appointed and the budget approved on a 6-2 vote.
The City Council lost a three-year legal challenge to the initiative in April when the California Supreme Court rejected the city's request to reopen its failed lawsuit against the measure.
Pasadena spent three years and hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars fighting the political reform initiative in court.
The city of Pasadena attempted to invalidate the law by refusing to report the election results to the Secretary of State. A Pasadena citizen and the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights were forced to bring suit to compel the city to put the election results, and the initiative, on the books. The city responded by suing FTCR to try and overturn the initiative. The Court of Appeal ruled that Pasadena had violated FTCR's first amendment rights by suing to overturn the initiative and threw out a superior court judge's ruling against it.
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