Orange County Transit Officials are under fire for taking gifts from contractors, though they claim most were legal.
The report, done by the Orange County Register, showed that officials at the Orange County Transportation Authority accepted hundreds of dollars in free dinners, baseball tickets and other gifts.
The newspaper poured through hundreds of pages of OCTA disclosures for 2008 and offers a database on its Web site showing the recipient, the value and the source of the donation.
According to the article, some of these gifts violate federal law.
The issue calls to mind a piece we ran on PublicCEO back in April by Lance Howland, “City officials find guidance for possible conflict-of-interest gift receiving.”
A brief outline of the article includes:
“City, county and municipal agency decision-makers file potential conflict-of-interest forms with the state and wondering just what needs to be included.
For the cognoscenti, that’s Form 700 of the California Fair Political Practices Commission.
“The law keeps getting a little more complicated each year,” said Michael Martello, the Mountain View city attorney. Martello chairs the City Attorneys FPPC Committee of the California League of Cities.
There are about 100,000 officials for municipal agencies in California who are required by law and regulation to file Form 700.“
PublicCEO also ran an editorial on the topic awhile back, “Public disclosure at the forefront when reporting gifts.”
The editorial reads:
“The reporting of gifts is always difficult.
Did that person buy lunch because you were college roommates, because you were the best man in his wedding or because you are now an Assistant City Manager?
Some of these decisions are always going to be difficult. So as obvious or unapparent as it may be, check off every potential conflict of interest.
What we saw recently in San Bernardino County with James Erwin was not a difficult judgement. If anyone gives the gift of a $13,000 Rolex watch, it’s clear that public official has an obligation to consider exactly what the circumstances are.
If it’s unclear, ask questions.”
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom was recently a guest on the Thom Hartmann radio show. The following are brief excerpts of Newsome discussing San Francisco’s public health care plan.
Thom Hartmann: The website for the San Francisco government SFgov.org. I’ve often talked about how San Francisco, one of the first cities in the country – major cities in the country – to have instant runoff voting is a shining city on the hill. You also are, if I have this right, the first city in the country to have a genuine public plan.
Gavin Newsom: We have a public option. Imagine that, Thom. The sky has not fallen in, the world did not come to an end, bureaucracy has not run amok and we have not replaced our beautiful American flag with the Canadian flag in San Francisco. We have a public option that’s providing real choice, and more importantly, competition. We have not raised general taxes, people have real choice within that plan, and it’s making a difference for at least 75% of those San Franciscans that years ago had no basic health care and now are fully enrolled in this universal health care plan.
Thom Hartmann: That’s remarkable, and it’s working well for you in San Francisco?
Gavin Newsom: I mean – objective minds – we just did an analysis that showed that we’re providing comprehensive quality health care regardless of preexisting conditions, and dare I say this, regardless of your immigration status, and I recognize the controversy around that, but those are the facts …
Thom Hartmann: Yeah. It won’t play well in Orange County…
Gavin Newsom: No, I assure you it doesn’t. I was just down there coincidentally yesterday, but we’re providing it for roughly $279, the equivalent of $279 a month.
Thom Hartmann: Wow.
Gavin Newsom: If you had the ability to go out and find insurance, and you had no preexisting conditions, the least expensive plan we can find out there that provides equivalent care is north of $380. And for a real plan, that’s more comprehensive, a Blue Cross-type plan, it’s over $619. So we’re providing something that provides the same quality care with the same public/private choice, within this public option for substantially less money, reducing, ultimately, the cost to the taxpayers and putting pressure on the insurance companies – so much so, Thom, that Kaiser, one of the largest HMO’s in the country, has just joined our public plan on July 1 and now are partnering with San Francisco’s public option.
Thom Hartmann: That’s great. In fact, Kaiser started in San Francisco, didn’t it?
Gavin Newsom: And that’s why we hoped that we could get them, but it took them two years to really analyze it, and I think fundamentally they realized that if they didn’t enroll in this plan, the competitive nature of the plan was such that they could start losing customers. And this is the big idea. This is why it’s absolutely right and principled, especially if you’re a free marketer and believe that we need to create competition with some of these larger private sector entities – that we’ve got to hold them honest and we’ve got to bring down the cost of care, which is critical if we believe in reform. And that’s why it’s so important this public option remain in the national debate.
To read more of the interview, visit the Thom Hartmann Web site.
Public administrators in California, I’d love to hear your take on this. Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted Aug. 7, 2009
In the good news category: PublicCEO.com had it’s second biggest traffic day on Thursday. We’re continuing to grow and it’s been fun to watch.
Posted Aug. 5, 2009
You can’t make this stuff up.
A summer lemonade stand to help eight-year-old Daniela Earnest earn a trip to Disneyland was shut down by a code enforcement officer who claimed there is no wiggle room in a Tulare city ordinance.
Citing that the lemonade stand requires proper license, the code enforcement officer told the Visalia Times-Delta, “Everybody needs to be in compliance.”
The code enforcement officer, Richard Garcia, was busy responding to a complaint in the same area regarding the unauthorized sale of tetherballs when he came across the lemonade stand.
The tetherball pusher was never found.
Even Tulare Fire Chief Michael Threlkeld said a permit must be required, no matter what the intention.
To obtain a permit for the lemonade stand would cost $44 plus insurance.
Unfortunately for 8-year-old Daniela, she had already used the $50 of her birthday money as her investment to start her business.
More interesting notes for the blog? E-mail James Spencer at email@example.com
Stepping in horse manure is one thing, having it contaminate your water is another.
In an effort to protect the environment and the health of its residents, the city of Santa Clarita has partnered with Waste Management in a program to properly recycle horse manure.
Through this program, the city protects against harmful urban run-off contamination and local groundwater pollution.
The program works with a mandate at the state and local level to recycle 50 percent of all generated greenwaste.
Protestors Rally in Support of Prayer at City Council Meetings
The Lodi City Council begins each of its weekly meetings with a prayer. But in May that tradition became controversial, when the Freedom from Religion Foundation claimed that those prayers need to stop.
A rally will be held on Thursday to support the Council’s continuing of prayer. More than 5300 have signed an online petition to the Mayor and City Council of Lodi to keep the use of prayer in meetings.
Video can be seen here:
Joan Phillipe Talks About Leaving Position of City Manager
We broke news last week about Joan Phillipe leaving as the City Manager of Colfax. She’ll be replaced be former Placer County Supervisor Bruce Kranz who will serve as Interim City Manager.
After announcing in March that the city would not renew Phillipe’s contract as it was written, the two sides agreed last week to end contract negotiations.
In an e-mail exchange, Phillipe told me it was a mutual decision. On her experiences with the small city outside of Sacramento, she said she was pleased with her accomplishments including the construction of a new wastewater treatment plant.
Phillipe said she didn’t have anything lined up for her personal future at the moment, but is looking at several options.
She said of Kranz: “Bruce brings to the city a tremendous amount of background and knowledge of the community having been the Placer County Supervisor for this area. His contacts at the state and federal level and throughout the area will be an asset that will serve the city well.“
Even Barn Cats Are Looking for Work …
As if there wasn’t already enough competition to find work in this current economy.
Santa Barbara County Animal Services is seeking homes for feral cats, which they claim will work as rodent control in barns or safe ranch habitats.
Interesting tidbits for the blog? E-mail James Spencer at firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday’s posting of a video of a young women making a fool of herself at a Santa Cruz City Council meeting was incredibly popular with our readers.
Inspired by that popularity, enjoy more public comment bloopers in these videos.
This one includes our favorite young lady once again, but includes a deeper montage of recent public comment at Santa Cruz City Council and the County Board of Supervisors. Pay particular attention to the guy at the 2:01 mark of the video.
This great montage of City Council meetings includes a dental hygiene section.
If you missed this video in our “It Could be Worse” section, check it out here:
The small community is dealing with a dispute on the spending of taxpayers’ money.
Posted July 25, 2009
One of our writers here at PublicCEO.com passed along this diamond in the rough. The following is a great example of what City Council members and County Supervisors have to deal with on a consistent basis.
It’s video from the public comment portion of a Santa Cruz City Council meeting in May of 2008. This evokes great memories of Miss South Carolina in the Miss Teen USA Contest in 2007.
She makes so many great points. It’s amazing the Council didn’t think of this before.
Alex Leo’s piece about the video on The Huffington Post picked out some favorite quotes from the young lady in the video, including this gem:
“I think that we should make a perfect pesticide for the crops but it’s good for people and healthy and keeps the crops preserved too because we need the food because it’s food and stuff.“
The “thanks, now go away please” style response from the City Council is a nice little highlight as well.
See things like this? Please e-mail email@example.com
Posted July 24, 2009
The Sacramento Bee posted just after 3 p.m. that state lawmakers have approved budget fixes.
The plan will borrow heavily from local governments. Local Governments have vowed to sue over parts of the plan they call illegal.
Posted July 24, 2009
A brief AP News Alert went out Friday morning just after 6 a.m. that the California Senate has approved the budget plan to close the state’s $26 billion deficit. Now, legislation goes to state Assembly.
PublicCEO.com ran an editorial on Thursday, calling for Legislature to vote no on the budget. Looks like it’s too late.
We’ll continue watching this throughout the day and keep you updated on the local government fallout.
Posted July 23, 2009
A sign displayed at City Hall in Pittsburg reads, “Wanted: For Grand Theft of $17.5 Million and Extortion of HUTA Funds.”
The blog also notes the “Big Five” is refered to as the “Gang of Five” around Pittsburg City Hall.
The blog note in the Political Blotter section of the Contra Costa Times can be read here.
Posted July 22, 2009
Only Hollywood Roosters Shine in LA
Roosters … they’re so Hollywood.
The Los Angeles City Council approved an ordinance earlier this week that will allow just one rooster per property.
Of course, exceptions have been made for film-star roosters. Yes, those leading role roosters continue to get it all.
Thanks to famous rooster superstars such as Foghorn Leghorn and the cast of Chicken Run, a golden road has been paved for all rooster stars.
According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, Hollywood-bound birds – roosters used for film and television – are spared the limit with a permit.
The goal of the public safety ordinance is to address nuisance complaints, the spread of disease and to battle cockfighting. Fines are $50 for the first offense, $100 for the second offense and $250 for the third offense.
“Little Jerry” from Seinfeld, was unavailable for comment.
Oakland to Make Money Off Green?
The City of Oakland continues to be acknowledged for “Going Green.” So it may not come as a surprise that the city will be the first in the United States to have a business tax category for marijuana merchants.
Voting closed on Tuesday to pass Measure F, which will impose a special tax on sales of medical marijuana in local dispensaries.
Time to Figure it Out: Just Delete the E-mail
Back in March, PublicCEO ran an editorial about the poor decision-making of former Los Alamitos mayor, Dean Grose, who sent a racially derogatory e-mail depicting the White House lawn planted with watermelons.
He made a colossal misjudgment and paid for it with his job.
Now, another prominent city official has disgraced his position. Atwater City Councilman Gary Frago sent e-mail to city staff and members of the community containing racist jokes aimed at Presdent Barack Obama.
Frago told the Modesto Bee that he has no regrets sending out the e-mails and didn’t mean them to show any disrespect or cause any harm.
But the bottom line is this: If you are a leader, act like it.
Fargo isn’t racist, but he shows terrible judgment. As a public official, you simply need to be smarter than that. That’s what is scary.
To read more about public officials acting out of line, click here.
This sounds like more of a California thing. The “Naked Cowboy” of New York’s Time Square is setting his sights on the position of New York City’s mayor.
No news if Michael Bloomberg has any interest in stripping down and playing guitar. Stayed tuned.
James Spencer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org