Yorba Linda City Council Tuesday unmasked the council member — Jan Horton — with conflict of interest questions, and then argued over whether it’s fair to make the city foot the bill to get the questions answered.
Horton lives within 500 feet of the planned Town Center redevelopment project near Yorba Linda Boulevard and Lakeview Avenue. And in 2005 she was a leader of a citizens group that opposed plans for high-density development on the Town Center site. The next year she was elected to the city council.
Since, Horton has questioned whether state conflict of interest laws require her to excuse herself from voting on parts of the 60-acre Town Center site. The costs incurred by the city to pay Yorba Linda’s city attorney to render opinions on Horton’s questions total about $8,000, according to council discussion.
Horton said she separately paid about $5,000 to a private attorney for conflict of interest advice. And, as allowed under city rules, six of those questions went to the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission for a final resolution.
The FPPC stated that Horton does have a conflict.
Because Councilmember Horton’s real property is located within 500 feet of each of the properties that is the subject of the governmental decision, she is presumed to have a conflict of interest in participating in the governmental decisions. You have not provided sufficient facts to rebut that presumption.”
“I don’t think I’m liable for $8,400,” Horton said at Tuesday’s council meeting. Noting it’s an election year, she said the entire issue is “another example of the mayor using his position to advance his political career.”
But Mayor John Anderson said Horton continually told council members and the public that she alone was paying her legal bills. “Over and over,” he said, Horton reported “you were doing this on your own. I think the real issue is one of honesty and transparency.”
“You don’t keep going back to the well if you don’t like the answer you got before,” added Council member Mark Schwing.
City Attorney Sonia R. Carvalho told council about her dealings with Horton about the potential conflicts.
“You were very, very unhappy with my interpretation that you had a conflict” on one issue, Carvalho reminded Horton. She also said that, based on city council policies, she no longer would seek advice on their behalf from the state Fair Political Practices Commission. Council members who want FPPC opinions can get them on their own.
“I only participated (in council actions) when I had immunity,” Horton told the council.
During the council meeting Anderson, an assistant district attorney, said “I think, under the circumstances, Mrs. Horton should be paying this money back to the city.”
But after the meeting, Anderson said he didn’t intend to pursue the issue of Horton repaying the city. “As far as I’m concerned, the issue is over.”
— TRACY WOOD