Developer of Hyatt and Hilton helped interview candidates for city jobs overseeing business, planning.
The Orange County Register (California)
A developer with major investments in Huntington Beach was recently invited to interview candidates for top city posts overseeing planning and economic development, an arrangement several observers labeled as improper.
Executives from Newport Beach-based Robert Mayer Corp., the lead developer on such projects as the Hilton Waterfront and Hyatt Regency, were added to interview panels for the recently-hired economic development director and deputy city administrator.
Economic development officials look to attract business projects; the deputy city administrator oversees economic development as well as the Planning Department, which ensures new developments meet city environmental standards.
Robert Mayer Corp. officials simply were chosen to lend pri vate industry insight, said Chuck Thomas, acting deputy city administrator .
“It absolutely would have nothing to do with Robert Mayer; it would be the generic perspective of a developer,” Thomas said. “When I put the panel together, I was very comfortable the integrity of the process was not being compromised.”
With the exception of Robert Mayer Corp. executives, the panels were
comprised almost entirely of city employees. One panel also included the president of the Huntington Beach Chamber of Commerce and a member of the city Community Services Commission, which reviews beach and park issues. The other panel included Robert Mayer Corp., city employees and a Community Participation Advisory Board member.
Allowing a corporation to have a voice in selecting employees who oversee development creates “the possibility that the new hire feels indebted to the company in some way for getting their position,” said Carmen Balber, a political reform expert at the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights in Santa Monica.
“It’s not the place of private corporations to choose or to have in a hand in selecting public officials,” Balber said.
Robert Mayer Corp. President Steve Bone and Vice President Shawn Millbern, along with the other members of the panels, were asked to interview candidates and offer recommendations, Thomas said.
Thomas said that Bone was also chosen because of his past experience with the Huntington Beach Conference and Visitors Bureau. Millbern was a last-minute replacement for one panel, Thomas said.
In addition to its hotels, the company developed the multi-million-dollar SeaCove and SeaColony residential projects. In March, it gained City Council approval for timeshares along the coast.
Millbern said he “simply responded to an invitation and was happy to help” with the interviews. He declined to say whether a developer should be involved in choosing city employees who oversee development.
Some observers agreed with Thomas that having a private company on the panel was not a sign of impropriety, and could actually be beneficial. The problem, they said, was a lack of balance.
“I think it’s a wise thing to have outsiders… private industry can offer valuable input,” said Robert M. Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles and former general counsel for the state Fair Political Practices Commission. “But you need a balanced panel, that’s the bottom line.”
Large-scale development in Huntington Beach has often pitted business and environmental interests against one another. For years, the sides tussled over whether to develop or preserve the Bolsa Chica wetlands. When the Hyatt was proposed, several activists worried the project would result in the paving over of a nearby patch of wetland.
For that reason, an independent resident or environmental group should have served on the panels, said David Guido, president of Huntington Beach Tomorrow, an organization that lobbies for open space preservation.
“I don’t mind having a developer on a board that is looking for someone that is going to be overseeing (development),” Guido said. “(But) I would think they would want to have as wide and as diverse a collection of people as they could get.”
Thomas stressed that Robert Mayer Corp. has no “history of trying to use any
undue influence,” but said he would consider broadening the committee in the
“I’m always receptive to input,” Thomas said. “I’m not perfect. I can look
at the mirror at the end of the day and say I didn’t do anything to compromise
my integrity, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make improvements.”
THE INTERVIEW PANELS:
For Deputy City Administrator: Robert Mayer Corp. President Steve Bone;
Huntington Beach Chamber of Commerce President Joyce Riddell; Fire Chief Duane
Olson; City Attorney Jennifer McGrath; Building and Saftey Director Ross
Cranmer; Community Services Commission Chairman Dominick Tomaino.
For Economic Development Director: Robert Mayer Corp. Vice President Shawn
Millbern; Acting Public Works Director Paul Emery; Police Chief Ken Small;
Economic Development Consultant Michael Hennessey; Community Participation
Advisory Board Chairperson Jerry Lipson; Laguna Woods City Manager Leslie Keane;
Chino Redevelopment Director Earl Nelson; Acting Deputy City Administrator Chuck
Contact the author at: (714) 445-6683 or [email protected]