The state attorney general’s office said Wednesday that California High-Speed Rail Authority Chairman Curt Pringle should have resigned as mayor of Anaheim and as a member of the Orange County Transportation Authority when he joined the rail board.
The law on “incompatible offices” also applied to another board member, former Los Angeles Assemblyman Richard Katz, who serves on the Metrolink commuter rail board and on the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
The issue may be moot however because Katz resigned from the rail board effective Wednesday, and Pringle is termed out as mayor on Dec. 7 and leaves the Orange County Transportation Authority at the same time.
“We are guided by the long-established principle that one person may not serve two masters,” Deputy Attorney General Taylor S. Carey wrote in the opinion. “The duties of loyalty and fidelity to the public interest — the soul of public service — cannot survive in an atmosphere in which the holder of multiple offices must disregard the interests of one constituency in order to serve the interests of another.”
The opinion concluded “that the offices of Mayor of the City of Anaheim, member of the board of directors of the Orange County Transportation Authority, member of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and member of the Southern California Regional Rail Authority are incompatible with the office of member of the High-Speed Rail Authority.”
The opinion was requested by state Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, chairman of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee and a critic of the way the planned $43 billion rail project has been run.
Lowenthal said Wednesday that he will introduce legislation to make high-speed rail appointees subject to the same confirmation procedures that apply to many other posts. Currently, the Assembly Speaker, the Senate Rules Committee and the governor each appoint some of the board members.
Lowenthal said his bill also will set ethical standards for those who serve on the high-speed rail board.
“We don’t need to go through this anymore,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s the state that’s going to be left holding the bag if it [the high-speed rail project] doesn’t work out.”
Pringle, who was appointed to the board in 2007 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, has contended that there was no conflict between his city, county and state positions.
But on at least one occasion, a top rail board staff member expressed confusion about which office Pringle represented.
Former Chief Executive Mehdi Morshed, in an email to Pringle in January, wrote “in reading your email I had difficulty separating the message from the Mayor with that of the Chairman of the Authority.”
In his opinion, Carey wrote, “Incompatibility is not based on a personal conflict of interest on the part of the office holder, but upon the potential for conflicts that may arise from the nature of the duties of each office, regardless of the good faith, honor, or integrity of the incumbent.”
— TRACY WOOD