City loses court decision on anti-corruption measure

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Pasadena Star-News (Pasadena, CA)

PASADENA, CA — A conflict of interest measure passed by voters in 2001, over the vehement objections of city leaders, is once again the law in Pasadena.

The state Court of Appeals on Friday dismissed a lower court ruling that found the Taxpayer Protection Amendment, known as Measure B, was unconstitutional.

The 55-page ruling does not answer whether the measure passes constitutional muster. Instead, the appeals court found that Pasadena’s legal challenge was premature.

The appeals court also ordered the city of Pasadena to pay attorneys fees to activist Rene Amy and the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, the initiative’s sponsor.

“Pasadena politicians spent the last four years trying to nullify the voters’ will at the ballot,’ Carmen Balber, a consumer advocate with FTCR, said. “They should be held personally responsible for the tens of thousands in tax dollars they spent to unsuccessfully fight this conflict of interest reform.’

She estimated the fees will total well over $35,000.

“Pasadena’s City Council and mayor are going to have a lot to answer for when all the legal bills come due,’ Amy said. He filed the original lawsuit to force the city to certify the vote on Measure B.

Pasadena argued it did not have to certify the vote because the measure is unconstitutional, an argument the appeals court ultimately rejected.

The city has spent about $140,000 fighting the measure on the grounds that it places an unfair burden on city officials and robs them of their First Amendment rights to raise campaign funds and seek employment.

“My feelings about the measure are the same, but it would appear that we are nevertheless required to comply with it,’ Mayor Bill Bogaard said Tuesday.

Pasadena City Attorney Michele Bagneris sent a memo to the City Council and top administrators alerting them to the decision.

“I did give them a brief memo which basically gives some of my thoughts,’ Bagneris said. She plans to hold a closed session meeting next Monday to discuss a possible appeal to the California Supreme Court.

The initiative’s backers were elated with the decision and called on Pasadena, and the two other cities that passed nearly identical measures, to stop the legal wrangling and simply let the anti-corruption rules take effect.

Voters in San Francisco, Santa Monica and Claremont passed the same measure in 2001. San Francisco implemented the rules, and later modified them through a subsequent ballot measure.

Santa Monica filed a lawsuit to overturn the measure that was also shot down Friday by the appeals court. Claremont adopted an ordinance indemnifying all city officials covered by the rules.

Emboldened by the court’s decision, Balber said her group will likely push for a similar ballot measure in the city of Los Angeles, where “pay-to-play’ scandals have become a major issue in this year’s mayor race.

Under the measure, elected city officials and top administrators are prohibited from taking jobs, gifts or campaign contributions from any person or entity that benefits financially from a city decision.

The prohibition is in effect for five years after the decision is made if the city official remains in office, or one year after leaving office. The benefit has to total $25,000 or more over the course of a year.

Pasadena Councilman Victor Gordo said he is unclear whether he has violated those provisions in his campaign for re- election this March.

“I’ve made a lot of decisions,’ Gordo explained, “that have benefited my constituents. Those same constituents are helping me and contributing to my campaign.’

Among the decisions he cited were his votes to make Washington Park a landmark district and spend over $1 million to cover the Belvedere storm channel.

“Landmark districts apparently improve property values upwards of $25,000,’ Gordo noted. And residents living along the storm drain were each deeded the land that was adjacent to their homes.

“Some of those people, at least two, have contributed to my campaign’ to the tune of about $125, Gordo said.

He also has received a $250 donation from Esteban “Steve’ Lizardo, who is married to Vannia de la Cuba, Gordo’s field representative.

Gordo’s disclosures could trip a lawsuit that will finally test the measure’s constitutionality.

The rules can only be enforced by citizens, who are given the right to file a civil lawsuit if they believe a city official is in violation. No lawsuit has been filed in any of the cities where the measure exists.

“I think the (measure’s) proponents are searching for problems that don’t exist,’ Gordo said. “And while they may be well-intentioned, they are very misguided.’

Balber countered that the rules are designed not only to weed out true corruption but end the mere appearance of conflict, which she says has had a corrosive effect on the democratic process.
Gary Scott can be reached at (626) 578-6300, Ext. 4458, or by e-mail at [email protected]

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