A new councilman’s push for the city’s Conflict of Interest Code be expanded beyond the scope of one year after an elected official or city staffer leaves the city died in a 2-2 vote, a procedural denial, last week.
As required by the state, the code is intended to prevent employees and elected officials from financially benefitting from a project or contract with the city. Condit wants to see former city managers and city councilmembers banned, for a period of eight years, from certain business dealings with the city. During a Dec. 14 discussion, Condit failed to convince the council that an eight-year ban is warranted; but members seemed okay with doubling the one-year period while the state only requires one year.
City Attorney Tom Hallinan suggested that Condit’s motion should be brought back as a separate policy matter rather than be placed in the Conflict of Interest Code. That caused Councilman Bret Silveira to suggest that the council had no right to even talk about the change on Dec. 14 because it wasn’t on the published agenda. The Brown Act forbids a governing body from deciding or discussing matters unless they are on the agenda. Condit brought up the changes during a consent agenda item relating to taking off specific employee categories off the Conflict of Interest Code list.
“I think the better argument is that it’s better this way because it wasn’t noticed of discussion to be had ahead of time,” said Hallinan.
Silveira said he surveyed all the cities in the county and that none has varied for the state standard of one year. He said no city sees an need to expand beyond the one year.
“All of the cities in our county have all agreed with that I don’t understand why we would change that,” said Silveira.
Councilwoman Linda Ryno held to her belief that the one-year period set by the state as the standard is “fine.” She commented that “the onus is on the council to never show favoritism any time if we know somebody personally that is coming before the council.”
Condit said he brought up the matter “simply because of our current state of government in this country, to be honest with you.” He went on to mention President Biden’s pick for Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, the former Federal Reserve Board chairwoman who made $7 million on a speaking tour from banking companies “she was supposed to regulate.” He called that a conflict of interest.
He suggested that individuals can profit off of relationships and experience is wrong.
Ryno repeated that she is able to listen to any person, including ex council members or staff, and not give preferential treatment. She said she doubts that Condit would cloud his judgment of the merits of a project brought forth by former staff or officials “so I don’t understand why we need to extend it two years.”
“Personally for me, I don’t even need a year,” said Ryno, “because I know I don’t make my decisions based on relationships.”
Condit asked rhetorically: “What about the council person after you? We’re supposed to think long-term and make long-term decision that hopefully would stay after we leave office because this is a problem in government, local government, state government, federal government where there’s a revolving door. People get into politics, they see opportunity, they leave office after they’ve made their relationships and go make a lot of money. I don’t think that’s right.”
Silveira changed his position about two years, insisting that a restrictive policy could hamper the city’s ability to use somebody’s strengths and knowledge about the city they served rather than “brush them under the rug.”
Condit made a motion to go with two years, which was seconded by Mayor Javier Lopez. Lopez and Condit voted for it, while Ryno and Silveira remained opposed. A tie represents a procedural denial.
The council will be short a member until an appointment can be made.