Council discussion sparks renewed debate of conflict measure

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Two Claremont officials decide in midst of review of garbage truck bids to try to implement Measure A.

Inland Valley Times

Almost a month after the City Council decided to ignore a new law restricting conflicts of interest for city officials, the debate over the controversial Measure A resurfaced when two council members changed their mind about implementing it.

Councilman Llewellyn Miller and Councilwoman Sandra Baldonado surprised their colleagues and a small, late-night audience at Tuesday’s City Council meeting when they changed their stance on the law approved by voters in March.

Until now the city has alternately threatened to challenge and ignored Measure A. The new ordinance forces city staff workers, council members and most commissioners to abide by several rules aimed at avoiding conflicts of interest.

Late Tuesday night, during a discussion on seeking bids on three garbage trucks, Miller opened a new debate on Measure A that met with stiff resistance from Councilman Algird Leiga.

Dean McHenry, dean of the Claremont Graduate University’s School of Politics and Economics, sparked the debate when he pressed city officials on the fact that they would violate Measure A by not telling bidders about the new law.

The law bans campaign contributions and gifts to city officials from people or organizations that have benefited by more than $25,000 from an official’s action. The benefits could include a contract, a tax break or a zoning change. The law also requires the city to include a mention of the law when it requests a bid for something.

“I think Dean McHenry made a good point,” Miller said Wednesday. “This is something that has been bothering me for a while, but there hasn’t been a reason to act until he pointed it out.”

The garbage truck bid requests wouldn’t have included any mention of the new law so Miller voted down the request, and was joined by Baldonado. Baldonado paused for several seconds before she voted, but she didn’t speak during the debate. She did not return messages left at her office and home Wednesday.

Mayor Paul Held and Leiga voted to seek the bids as is. The 2-2 vote delayed the truck bid for now. Councilwoman Karen Rosenthal wasn’t at Tuesday’s meeting.

Leiga was especially annoyed at what he said was an attempt to implement Measure A “through the back door.”

Following the trash truck vote, the council decided they will continue discussing the issue at their next meeting June 12. Held voted along with a 3-1 majority to continue discussing whether to add Measure A to bid requests. Leiga cast the lone no vote.

On Wednesday, Leiga said he doesn’t mind debating the issue further, but he doesn’t think it’s necessary to add Measure A to requests for bids.

“It may be harmless,” he said. “I didn’t think it was necessary but we’ll take a look at it.”

The city has faced strong criticism for ignoring a law that was approved by 55% of voters. But officials have said the law violates the constitution and enforcing it could open the city up to lawsuits. Baldonado has said in the past that the measure violates people’s rights guaranteed under the 1st Amendment by prohibiting some people from making campaign contributions.

A similar law passed in five other California cities. Pasadena and Santa Monica have taken the same attitude as Claremont, refusing to implement it. Santa Monica is considering a legal challenge to the law but on Tuesday night pushed back a decision until next month.

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