Tuesday, November 23, 2010 | Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle — under fire for possible conflict of interest between his elected post and chairmanship of the California High-Speed Rail Authority board — said state Senate Democrats are unfairly targeting appointees of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The office of Attorney General Jerry Brown is expected to issue an opinion as early as this week on whether Pringle should have chaired the nine-member Rail Authority board while being Anaheim’s mayor.
In April, the Legislative Counsel, legal adviser to the state Legislature, was asked for an opinion by the secretary of the state Senate on whether Pringle and former Los Angeles Assemblyman Richard Katz faced conflicts because of their overlapping state and local offices.
The Legislative Counsel wrote “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…”
Last week, Katz resigned from the Rail Authority rather than risk losing his positions on the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority board and the board of the Metrolink commuter line.
Pringle said Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, chairman of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee, and others who raised the issue of “incompatible offices” were singling out Schwarzenegger appointees to the rail board.
As evidence, he cites the lack of action against Fran Florez, mother of Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez, D-Shafter.
Fran Florez had a potential conflict similar to his, Pringle said in a telephone interview. She served on the Shafter City Council in the Central Valley at the same time she was on the high-speed rail board.
The proposed $43 billion high-speed train project will run from Anaheim to San Francisco, and the first construction is scheduled to be in the Central Valley, where communities like Shafter could benefit from construction and other contracts. Florez no longer is on the City Council and did not return telephone calls. She still sits on the high-speed rail board.
The Senate request for a Legislative Counsel opinion was sparked by questions raised by its appointee to the rail board, Quentin Kopp. Kopp said in a telephone interview that he developed concerns last winter after a viewing a series of emails between Pringle, Katz and then-Executive Director Mehdi Morshed.
Kopp said, as he remembered the emails, they involved Anaheim and a possible high speed rail route that might impact parking at Angel Stadium. He said as a result of the emails the stadium section “alternative was discarded without any action by the board.”
After the emails, he said, he heard about the “incompatible offices” law and brought the entire issue to the attention of Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.
Lowenthal denied taking aim at Pringle and Katz because they were Schwarzenegger appointees.
“He’s way off-base,” said Lowenthal. “This is not a personal thing. It’s not political.”
He said his criticism was sparked by a request from the city of Anaheim for $200 million in high-speed rail funds to modify the design and expand the city’s planned $179 million transportation center, known as ARTIC (for Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center).
ARTIC is supposed to be the regional center for bus, taxi and Metrolink service. But according to documents filed by the city in support of the $200 million application, the terminal can’t handle high-speed trains and the current design “is not an expandable structure, and all program space needs to be accounted for in the initial design so as not to preclude services being provided in the future.”
The agreement (see related document) between the High-Speed Rail Authority and Anaheim was to be signed by Pringle, on behalf of the city.
Lowenthal said the $200 million was set for a vote by the Rail Authority without a public hearing on its merits or any kind of application process to determine if that was the best use of state and federal high-speed transportation funds.
“That’s what alerted us” to the potential conflicts in roles, he said. He said state Transportation Committee members were concerned the rail board was “just giving it [$200 million] to one project that was jumping ahead of other projects.”
A series of California government audits and reports have found the Rail Authority paid millions in bills without invoices, lacks a sound business plan, and is using unreliable ridership statistics to show financial support for the train system.
Separately, several board members, including Pringle, are under investigation by the state Fair Political Practices Commission for taking trips to Europe that the rail board failed to document and publicly report. Pringle reported his trips on his annual conflict of interest statements.
Schwarzenegger last month vetoed provisions that would have increased oversight of the project.
Pringle, who is termed out as Anaheim mayor on Dec. 7, said if the Attorney General’s Office determines he shouldn’t have held the office of mayor at the same time he chaired the rail board, it will provide guidance to the rail authority for future appointments.
But, he said he’s never felt there was a conflict between his dual roles.
And he questioned why Lowenthal and others didn’t raise it while Florez was on the Shafter City Council. She left that post at the end of 2008.
“We didn’t raise it about him [Pringle] either at the time,” replied Lowenthal, who said the potential conflicts didn’t become apparent until the ARTIC $200 million proposal came before the high-speed rail board.
Pringle said the High-Speed Rail Authority has very few staff members and can’t keep tight control of its contractors without more bodies.
“We just need to make sure we get the allocation of positions,” he said.