Pasadena Star-News (Pasadena, CA)
PASADENA, CA — The California Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal from the city of Pasadena aimed at overturning a local anti-corruption initiative passed by voters in 2001.
The court decision became final late last week, leaving the Pasadena City Council with no choice but to begin implementing the measure.
“Pasadena does now have to accept what the voters said in 2001: That city officials shouldn’t be able to take money from people they award public benefits,’ said Carmen Balber, consumer advocate for the initiative’s sponsor, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.
The city of Pasadena spent $162,000 in legal fees fighting the measure. The city also will have to pay the legal fees the foundation spent defending the measure.
Council members maintain the prohibitions codified in the measure violate their First Amendment rights to solicit campaign contributions and seek employment. But after four years of unsuccessful court battles, the council grudgingly decided to begin complying with the provisions.
“I accept the outcome of the court,’ said Mayor Bill Bogaard, a staunch opponent of the measure.
“It has been mentioned many times that this ordinance is a solution in search of a problem,’ Bogaard added somewhat defiantly. “Pasadena is strongly committed to ethical conduct.’
The initiative received 60 percent of the vote in 2001. During the campaign, Bogaard and his colleagues on the council roundly criticized the measure as unconstitutional, and when it passed they initially refused to certify the vote.
That brought a lawsuit from Pasadena Unified School District watchdog Rene Amy to force the city’s hand.
“My concern there was making sure the city followed the law, followed the process and listened to the will of the people,’ Amy said. He won the case in 2002 and the city was ordered to pay his attorney fees, which were under $10,000.
Balber argues the measure, dubbed the Taxpayer Protection Amendment, has been in effect since then.
City Attorney Michele Beal Bagneris disagreed, saying there was a trial court ruling that found the measure did not pass constitutional muster. Therefore, the provisions took effect only this week, she said.
The City Attorney’s Office is in the process of adding language to city documents notifying anyone with substantial business before the city of the rules.
Generally speaking, the measure bans City Council members and city managers from taking gifts, campaign contributions or jobs from any group that benefits from a city decision.
The benefit must be valued at $25,000 or more, and the prohibition only applies to city officials who approve the benefit.
“In awarding the benefit, you can’t take the reward,’ Balber said.
A look at campaign reports for the seven council members and mayor since 2002 show several donations that would have violated the Taxpayer Protection Amendment had it been in effect.
For instance, council members Steve Haderlein, Chris Holden and Joyce Streator have all received contributions from AJB Enterprises, the company that owns the Raymond Theatre, after voting to approve a redevelopment project there.
Because the council acted in early 2002, before the vote on the measure was certified, the measure probably does not cover these contributions, Balber said.
Councilman Steve Madison took $100 from Altrio Communications in 2003, two years after voting to approve the company’s cable franchise agreement.
Again, the vote came before the measure was law, Balber said.
And several members have taken thousands from local labor unions over the three-year period. Balber said union donations are exempt from the rules, even though the council must approve union contracts.
The Taxpayer Protection Amendment is enforced through civil action. Anyone who suspects a violation can bring a lawsuit against the city officials. If proven, the official would face a fine and possible misdemeanor prosecution.
Gary Scott can be reached at 626-578-6300, Ext. 4458, or by e-mail at [email protected]