Weekly Recap Ethics News and Trends – January 13, 2014

by Best Best & Krieger LLP

Public servants with the utmost integrity also need to be aware of what is happening ethically around the state. In today’s climate, every public agency’s image is impacted by the missteps or misconduct of others. Below you’ll find a sample of recent news stories about ethical principles, values and ethics laws. One of the best practices available to all of us is to learn from the mistakes of others.

Pleasant Hill City Clerk Goes a Year Without Producing Council Minutes

By Lisa P. White (@lisa_p_white), Contra Costa Times, January 7

Which is more transparent: tweets or minutes? For the last year, the elected Pleasant Hill City Clerk has focused on producing tweets during meetings rather than actual City Council minutes.

This city’s elected clerk has sent a stream of tweets to her 300-plus followers over the past year, offering her insights on the council meetings she is responsible for recording. What she hasn’t done is produce any official minutes of those meetings — an apparent violation of state law.

Summary of California’s Outstanding Debts

By SF Gate, January 9

This chart estimates that the State of California owes $355 billion in debts and unfunded liabilities for benefits promised to former and current state employees. This financial reality continues to impact state fiscal priorities.

The chart below summarizes the debts and liabilities, as estimated by the Department of Finance:


Congress is Now Mostly a Millionaires’ Club

By Andrew Katz (@katz), TIME, January 9

The financial realities between part-time legislators and full time Congress members is only growing. Could this be part of the reason local government is having a hard time having its concerns heard at the federal level?

Congress is loaded, if you weren’t already aware. The Center for Responsive Politics analyzed the personal financial disclosure data from 2012 of the 534 current members of Congress and found that, for the first time, more than half had an average net worth of $1 million or more: 268 to be exact, up from 257 the year earlier. The median for congressional Democrats was $1.04 million and, for Republicans, $1 million even.

Open-Government Issues High on State Legislature’s 2014 Agenda

By Tracy Wood (@TracyVOC), Voice of OC, January 5

Certain state-funded mandates regarding the Brown Act and Public Records Act are heading to the ballot which could result in the financial burden being switched to local governments. Transparency advocates are worried.

In June, California voters will have the opportunity to amend the state constitution so local governments will be required to bear the costs of making their meetings and records open to the public.


Santa Ana’s New City Manager Under Scrutiny for Raking in $800K in Pay, Benefits This Year

By CBS Local News, January 8

Executive compensation is in the news again.

Watch the video on the CBS Los Angeles website >>

Santa Ana’s new city manager is under scrutiny for allegedly making nearly $800,000 in pay, perks and pension this year. Residents accuse him of gaming the system.

Government Code Section 1090:

New 1090 AG Opinion Re “Public Generally Exception” (Released in December 2013)

The Attorney General concludes that the “public generally exception” permits a mayor who sits on a city council, and another city council member, to participate in a city program that provides funds to residents to make home improvements designed to mitigate the effects of aircraft noise. For those agencies with city funded programs, it will be important to understand when this opinion actually applies and when it does not.

Ralph M. Brown Act:

Inglewood Flouts the Law: Locked Doors, Elevators Keep Citizens From Council Meeting

By Randall Fleming, PublicCEO.com, January 8

Locked doors and limited access for a city council meeting are almost never a good sign.

The City Council Meeting slated for 10 a.m. today was held in a city hall behind locked doors and with elevators accessible only to city employees with an RFID card.

County Argues Secret Meeting was Proper

By Dennis L. Taylor, The Californian, January 10

Nature of closed session discussion under scrutiny.

Water officials and the Monterey County counsel’s office declined a records request from The Salinas Californian asking for documentation surrounding a closed session meeting in which the county water district’s general manager reportedly was directed to begin discussions with California American Water Co. about selling water from the Salinas River to the privately held utility.

Political Reform Act:

Dark Money Scheme: Interlocking Nonprofits “Launder” Radical Right Political Contributions

By California Teachers Association, January 8

A new investigation by the Washington Post and the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics has traced a network of tax-exempt organizations connected to the Koch brothers, radical right wing billionaires, that funneled more than $400 million to political causes during 2012 alone.

The Players in the Koch-Backed $400 Million Political Donor Network

By Matea Gold (@mateagold), the Washington Post, January 5

Until addressed, increasing numbers of hidden networks of “dark money” will impact both Republicans and Democrats.

The Washington Post and the Center for Responsive Politics identified a coalition of allied conservative groups active in the 2012 elections that together raised at least $407 million, backed by a donor network organized by the industrialists Charles and David Koch. Most of the funds originated with two groups, the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce and TC4 Trust, both of which routed some of the money through a Phoenix-based nonprofit group called the Center to Protect Patient Rights (CPPR).

Capitol Alert: FPPC Investigating Roger Hernandez Campaign for Money Laundering

By Laurel Rosenhall (@LaurelRosenhall), The Tribune, January 8

“Hiding the identity of a donor by passing the money through someone else amounts to political money laundering and violates state law.”

California’s political watchdog agency is investigating whether money laundering took place during Assemblyman Roger Hernandez’s 2010 campaign and is fighting with his lawyer to get access to bank records, according to a filing this week in Los Angeles Superior Court.

State Fines Ex-Maywood Water Company Head in Money-Laundering Case

By Hector Becerra (@hbecerraLATimes), Los Angeles Times, January 6

Gary Winuk, chief of the FPPC’s enforcement division, said “campaign money laundering is a serious problem because it obscures the true source of political money.”

The former head of a small water company in Maywood was fined $4,500 by the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission on Monday for campaign money laundering involving a cash-for-check exchange that benefited a southeast Los Angeles County political action committee.

Public Records Act:

Judge Orders County Officials to Release Bustamante Records

By Tracy Wood (@TracyVOC), Voice of OC, January 6

Public documents which may shed light on how allegations of sexual assault were handled ordered released.

An Orange County Superior Court judge has ordered the county to make public more than two dozen sets of documents that shed some light on how officials handled allegations that former Public Works executive Carlos Bustamante sexually assaulted women who worked for him.

DWP Union Chief Snubs Auditors Tracking $40 Million in Spending

By Jack Dolan (@jackdolanLAT), Los Angeles Times, January 8

Brian D’Arcy, leader of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s largest union, failed to appear at a meeting Wednesday morning to begin explaining how more than $40 million in ratepayer money was spent by two nonprofits he co-manages.

DWP Chief Ron Nichols Resigns Amid Controversies

By Jack Dolan (@jackdolanLAT), Los Angeles Times, January 9

Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Chief Ron Nichols submits resignation given growing questions about how two secretive nonprofit trusts have spent more than $40 million in ratepayer money over the last decade. Meanwhile, the leader of the DWP’s largest union fails to attend meeting with auditors and is served with subpoena to disclose the spending records of the two nonprofits: the Joint Training Institute and the Joint Safety Institute.

Watch the video on latimes.com >>

Ron Nichols announced his resignation Thursday as general manager of the Los  Angeles Department of Water and Power, which is struggling through a pair of  public-relations debacles. Despite repeated demands from elected officials, Nichols has been unable to  produce records showing how two nonprofit trusts created to help improve  relations with the utility’s largest union have spent  more than $40 million in ratepayer money over the last  decade.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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