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Wednesday, October 5, 2010 | Curt Pringle — with California’s attorney general bearing down on him and revelations of a last-minute attempt by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to shield him from conflict of interest law — Tuesday provided his most detailed public explanation to date of why he believes his roles as mayor of Anaheim and chairman of the High Speed Rail Authority are not in conflict.
“These [roles] are compatible,” he said in response to questions raised by rail critics. Anaheim and the High Speed Rail Authority are “looking to develop the same project.”
State Attorney General Jerry Brown’s office has given Pringle and Richard Katz, another member of California’s High Speed Rail Authority, 30 days to explain why their rail duties don’t conflict with other offices they hold.
Pringle said there is no reason for him to step aside from any of his positions.
“I was appointed [to the High Speed Rail Authority] in 2007,” Pringle said. “I was the mayor [at the time of the appointment]. None of these issues were brought up.”
He said a third position he holds as a director of the Orange County Transportation Authority isn’t a factor in the discussions because that board specifically was created with the idea that its members would include local elected officials.
Pringle noted that his term as mayor ends in December, as does his term on the OCTA board.
Pringle’s term as Anaheim mayor ends Dec. 7 when the new mayor is sworn in, leaving only a few weeks between the deadline for responding to the attorney general and the date Pringle leaves office.
Even if he has only a short time left as Anaheim mayor, critics have said it still is important for Pringle to either step aside or be removed because important decisions, including, possibly, selection of the first leg for construction of the $43 billion train system may be made before his mayoral term ends.
The Attorney General’s Office was straightforward in its most recent letter to Pringle, saying that he very well could be violating the state’s “incompatible office” law.
“We continue to receive information and inquiries raising significant concerns that you may be holding incompatible offices,” said the latest letter to Pringle.
“[I]t 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.”
The Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday that in the crafting the budget bill Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders tried to exempt high-speed rail officials from the incompatible office law. The attempt was thwarted by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and other Senate Democrats.
Pringle said the attempt to get the law amended wasn’t his idea.
California is more than three months late passing a state budget and the main purpose of the negotiations between the governor and legislative leaders was to reach a compromise that would produce a new budget.
But, Pringle said, “everything is a part of the budget discussions,” including the high-speed rail budget. “It’s the only legislative activity taking place right now.”
And, he said, it’s important to “clarify” the issue of potential conflicts.
In its story, the Times said the issue of using the budget to remove High Speed Rail Authority board members from the conflict provisions of the law came from the governor’s office.
According to the Times, state Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach — who is chairman of the transportation committee, which handles rail legislation — said Steinberg’s office on Oct. 1 told him other legislative leaders and the governor wanted to exempt Pringle and Katz from the incompatible office law.
The Times reported that Lowenthal said: “I went ballistic. I couldn’t support that. The law is the law. Everyone knows what’s going on, and they’re trying to sneak something into the budget.”
But no matter what happens in the next few weeks, Pringle said he’s going to ask Schwarzenegger to give him another four years on the rail board before the governor leaves office in January.
“I’m going to ask the governor for reappointment,” Pringle said.