Wednesday, September 29, 2010 | Calls to oust Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle from the state’s High Speed Rail Authority for conflict of interest reasons are getting louder.
The latest came Tuesday from a Bay Area residents group, which said the conflicts presented by Pringle’s service on the Rail Authority and Orange County Transportation Authority, as well as mayor of Anaheim, are damaging the public’s trust in government.
“This is about the public trust,” said Elizabeth Alexis, a co-founder of Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design (CARRD), during a statewide telephone news conference. “That trust is in jeopardy.”
Asked Tuesday if he would step down, Pringle said “no.” He said efforts to get him to leave are “political.”
Alexis said Pringle’s dual roles could result in Anaheim getting preferential treatment over other cities affected by the proposed $43 billion high-speed train project.
Concerns about Pringle’s multiple roles were raised earlier in the year. And earlier this month Pringle side-stepped an effort to curb his powers on the rail board.
Alexis called on Attorney General Jerry Brown to actively pursue efforts to remove Pringle from the High Speed Rail Authority and to resolve a somewhat different apparent conflict involving another board member, Richard Katz of Los Angeles.
The issue raised by Alexis involves a state law, enacted in 2005, that says when someone holds two public offices that are “incompatible,” the office holder has to give up the first office when he or she takes the second one.
Pringle, Alexis said, should have stepped down as mayor of Anaheim in 2007 when he joined the High Speed Rail Authority board. And he should have left the rail board in January this year when he became a director of the Orange County Transportation Authority.
The Attorney General’s Office issued a statement saying it already is “monitoring the issue and has taken the step of bringing the issue of potential incompatibility to the attention of the head of the High Speed Rail Authority.”
And a letter written in April by the Legislative Counsel Bureau, the legal adviser to the state Legislature, said there was “sufficient” potential that Pringle’s simultaneous service as Anaheim mayor and Rail Authority chairman creates a conflict.
The letter said in part:
…[W]e think the potential for conflict between the HSRA and the City Council of Anaheim is sufficient, [pursuant to the law] … to create the possibility of a significant clash of duties or loyalties for the Mayor of the City of Anaheim simultaneously serving as a member of the HSRA. Therefore, we think a court could reasonably determine that the two offices are incompatible … and that the same individual may not hold both offices simultaneously. The absence of actual conflict does not avoid the prohibition … 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 [Katz] may not simultaneously serve as a member of the High Speed Rail Authority. …
Pringle said he and the rail board didn’t know about the letter until the Bay Area watchdog group released it at a news conference Tuesday.
“Today is the first day that I saw the secret [Legislative Council] opinion,” Pringle said. He said a member of the California Senate asked for the opinion but failed to share it with the Rail Authority board “for political reasons.”
On July 30, the Attorney General’s Office sent a letter to High Speed Rail Authority Chief Executive Roelof van Ark, asking him to notify all members of the board that the Attorney General’s Office had been alerted to the potential conflicts and that board members should be aware of the law on incompatibility of offices.
That letter also outlined the steps for removing an official who refused to step aside.
Pringle’s term as mayor expires in December, as does his term on the Orange County Transportation Authority board. He has said he won’t seek elected office again.
But Alexis said it is important for the attorney general to act quickly to resolve the conflict issue because the rail board will make significant decisions in upcoming months.
What is unclear is whether decisions made by the rail board or the Orange County Transportation Authority will be called into question if it is determined that Pringle should have resigned from the Rail Authority at the beginning of this year.