Conflicted Pols Pushed To Resign
September 30, 2010
SEPT. 30, 2010
By ANTHONY PIGNATARO
Apparently, the state attorney general only recently discovered that two California High-Speed Rail Authority board members have other jobs that my conflict with their bullet train responsibilities. Richard Katz and Curt Pringle are long-time pols from Southern California. Pringle is the mayor of Anaheim and a former Assembly speaker, while Katz currently sits on the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
A number of activists have recently asked the attorney general’s office to investigate the allegation that Pringle and Katz violate the state’s doctrine of incompatible offices, which forbids people from holding multiple public offices that conflict. According to the Legislative Counsel Bureau, the whole point of the incompatible offices doctrine is to make sure there’s no conflict of “duties and loyalties” for an individual holding multiple public offices.
A week ago, Fullerton activist and blogger Tony Bushala obtained a copy of an April 23, 2010 opinion from the LCB. It was a response to a request from Gregory Schmidt, the secretary of the Senate, who had asked if Pringle’s and Katz’s presence on the bullet train board violated the incompatible offices doctrine.
The last paragraph of the six-page opinion is the most damning: “Accordingly, it is our opinion that an individual who is the Mayor of the City of Anaheim or a voting member of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority may not simultaneously serve as a member of the High-Speed Rail Authority under the common law doctrine of incompatibility of public offices that is now codified in Section 1099 of the Government Code.”
“That is not gray to me at all,” Bushala said in a phone interview. “Why wasn’t the public told about this five months ago?!”
Indeed, the fact that Katz and Pringle held other jobs has never been a secret. Pringle was first elected Anaheim’s mayor in 2002, and Katz has been on the MTA board since 2005. In July of this year, HSR Board member Judge Quentin Kopp asked the attorney general to weigh in on the issue, which it did – sort of.
“While we do not yet know whether the positions held by any member are, in fact, incompatible, we are writing to call to your attention the general law governing incompatibility of offices and the Attorney General’s role in enforcing that law,” Supervising Deputy Attorney General Susan Duncan Lee wrote to HSR CEO Roelof Van Ark on July 30. “We ask that you share this letter with all members of the board.”
And then nothing else seems to have happened. Infuriated that so many months had passed with no action, Bushala – who calls the proposed bullet train a “boondoggle” – wrote to the attorney general on Sept. 27.
“I believe it is imperative that both Mr. Katz and Mr. Pringle be immediately removed from the CHRSA Board before participating any further on CHRSA matters,” Bushala wrote. “The credibility of the program, and more importantly, both the appearance and substance of fair, open, and honest government in California demand it.”
A day later, Bushala sent the attorney general a follow-up letter requesting a “Quo Warranto opinion.”
AG spokesperson Michelle Quinn said her office had not received that request, but said a quo warranto action is something the attorney general could do here. “Quo Warranto is the proper form of action for deciding whether a person sitting in an office has legal title to it,” she e-mailed. “The person who is filed against gets a chance to respond. Then the Attorney General’s office analyzes the complaint and the defendant’s response, and decides whether it is in the public’s interest for the case to go to court. If yes, then the matter goes to court and the Attorney General’s office supervises it. If the answer is no, there is no action.”
Katz and Pringle didn’t respond requests for comment by press time. But in a Sept. 28 Los Angeles Times story on another activist’s call for the AG to investigate, both men played down the subject. Pringle called the issue a “gray area” and Katz said he asking for a review from attorneys outside the LCB.
When asked for comment on the controversy, rail authority spokesperson Rachel Wall sidestepped the legal issue entirely – implying that the authority had to bring aboard current rather than merely former public officials.
“The high-speed rail infrastructure project will impact hundreds of communities and tie-in to dozens of regional and local transit systems – you can’t build a project like this without the diverse regional and technical expertise of the members on our board of directors,” Wall wrote in a Sept. 28, 2010 e-mail. “Nothing in the law contemplates preventing the Authority or the public from taking full advantage of the wealth of knowledge, experience and insight our board members bring to this project.”
For Pringle at least, the whole matter may soon be moot – his mayoral term ends in December.