City Attorney Offers Defense of Pringle in Conflict of Interest Allegations

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010 | Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle has the right to hold both his elected office and chairmanship of the California High Speed Rail Authority, the Anaheim city attorney says in a letter sent this week to the state attorney general.

In her letter defending Pringle, Anaheim City Attorney Cristina L. Talley wrote that enforcing state law prohibiting elected officials from holding “incompatible offices” isn’t warranted in this case. The law bans elected officials from holding one office that is in conflict with the responsibilities of another.

But Pringle is termed out as mayor effective Dec. 7. Talley, in her Nov. 15 letter to Deputy Attorney General Taylor S. Carey, said “the public interest is not served by expending the valuable resources of the Attorney General’s Office to address an issue which, for all intents and purposes, will be rendered moot in a matter of weeks.”

Meanwhile, Richard Katz of Los Angeles, another Rail Authority board member facing similar conflict of interest allegations, resigned his post Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Katz — like Pringle, a former member of the state Assembly — was just appointed to a four-year term on the Rail Authority this year, and if the attorney general decides to pursue the issue, he risked losing his other transportation positions. He is a member of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority board and of the commuter rail Metrolink board.

The entire issue came up last spring when state Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, raised concerns about the multiple transportation hats worn by Pringle and Katz.

At the time, Anaheim was seeking $200 million from the Rail Authority to redesign its proposed Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center, or ARTIC, so it could handle high-speed trains.

The Orange County Transportation Authority, where Pringle’s term on the board also ends this year, has agreed to put up $143.8 million for the initial construction, but the $200 million from the rail board was needed for redesign and construction work to accommodate high-speed trains, according to documents filed with the agency.

The proposed $43 billion train system is supposed to extend from Anaheim to San Francisco by 2035.

Critics said Pringle’s influence in support of Anaheim might work to the disadvantage of other cities along the planned route.

In October, the Attorney General’s Office gave Pringle and Katz 30 days to demonstrate that their offices aren’t incompatible.

It “is contrary to public policy and to law for one individual simultaneously to hold two offices where there is any possibility of a significant clash of duties or loyalties between the offices,” said the letter to Pringle. “… [I]n your circumstances, for example, the possibility that you hold positions with two agencies that may be required to negotiate with one another would be one area of particular concern.”

But in October, Pringle said in an interview that his roles as mayor, member of the OCTA board and chairman of the Rail Authority board didn’t pose a conflict.

“These [roles] are compatible,” he said. Anaheim and the High Speed Rail Authority are “looking to develop the same project.”

In her letter to the attorney general, the Anaheim city attorney said “there is no inherent inconsistency in the functions of these offices because neither office has any authority over the subject matter jurisdiction of the other.”

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger unsuccessfully tried to get language into the state budget bill that passed a few weeks ago specifically exempting Pringle and Katz from the “incompatible offices” issue.

Wednesday, High Speed Rail Authority Chief Executive Roelof van Ark sent out a news release that said, in part, “the Authority — and the people of California — clearly benefit from having leaders on its Board who are well versed in local government and regional transportation issues and who understand the needs of complex transportation infrastructure projects.”

Please contact Tracy Wood directly at twood@voiceofoc.org, and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/tracy111. And add your voice with a letter to the editor.

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