State Political Watchdog Investigating Irvine Councilwoman

The state’s Fair Political Practices Commission is investigating Irvine Councilwoman Christina Shea for potential law violations related to her contacts with city staff on behalf of a consulting client, a letter from the state watchdog confirmed.

The probe follows a Voice of OC article published last month detailing Shea’s emails and text messages to staff in the planning department about requests to approve things like renovation plans, construction permits and corporate sign alterations submitted by Irvine-based KIA Motors, a longtime client of Shea’s consulting business.

On multiple occasions Shea told city staffers that she wanted them to assist KIA with its requests. She asked that they “insure [KIA’s renovation plans] get thru as soon as possible” and to make sure the Korean carmaker is shepherded through the permitting process “as efficiently as possible,” emails and text messages obtained by Voice of OC show.

At the time, Shea defended the communications as a service she would offer to any constituent, regardless of whether they’re clients of her government relations business. She also denied that the contacts constituted “lobbying,” and said a city attorney had given her opinion that the conduct would be legal under the city’s lobbying and ethics ordinances.

However, the attorney, Jeff Melching, had told Voice of OC that he did not opine on whether she violated the state’s Political Reform Act, which governs conflicts of interest.

Dan Chmielewski, editor of The Liberal OC blog, filed a complaint against Shea with the FPPC, which investigates possible violations of state law, after the article ran. The FPPC responded that the issue was already under investigation.

The FPPC sent a letter to Shea on Jan. 12 notifying her that it was considering an investigation into the “use of your official position to influence city staff on behalf of KIA Motors, a source of income to you, in violation of” the law. The letter asked Shea for a response within 10 days.

In a brief interview, Shea denied that the agency had begun an official investigation. She said she hired an attorney who put together a response and that it was sent to the FPPC on Tuesday.

Following Shea’s denial, FPPC spokesman Jay Wierenga confirmed again that the investigation was underway. “She can think what she wants. The letter says what the letter says,” he said.

Shea also said her attorney reviewed all of her contacts with city staff and found that there were no violations of the state law because there were no “governmental decisions” she tried to influence on behalf of KIA.

Shea declined to share her attorney’s analysis with Voice of OC.

If Shea is found to have broken the law, the FPPC could fine her up to $5,000 per violation.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at and follow him on Twitter: @adamelmahrek

  • Roger Butow

    Lt. Pat Rogers:
    Jeez, if you have so little respect for this online and its journalists, why do you spend so much of your retirement playing whack-a-mole at the Comments section? Apply your own logic: Using it, people who defend the Council majority are Republican shills. And no, I’m not a Democrat, a limo liberal. And I’m definitely not using these spaces for venting and anger therapy.

    For someone who was in law enforcement, uses that avatar photo you do, you’re a compelling case for legal re-education, i.e., a COMPLAINANT is not the same as a WITNESS, just as a PLAINTIFF is not a DEFENDANT. ALLEGED is not CONVICTED.

    Adam has interviewed many of the parties involved (hence the sole WITNESS), and if it IS ever heard by a judge/jurisdictional oversight entity, being named as a WITNESS leads to not only deposition potential but compels sworn, binding testimony—full disclosure.

    That testimony is held to perjury and contempt standards (if applicable).

    See that flag in your photo: It also stands for justice.
    That you, Lt. Rogers, feel that it is your goal in life to be a schutzhunde, a guard dog, is admirable—-but the photo also projects a patriot. Well, Ms. Shea will get her due process, her chance to settle this—just as she bravely took on the Agran Gang about 10 years ago & won……not your kangaroo court, a one angry man vigilante seeking retribution.

    Lt., sir, from USMC Corporal Bütow, that’s how things work in civilian life, a democratic republic. You & I both raised our hands to defend many of these rights (free speech, due process, face one’s accusers, etc.), offered our lives up in that spirit.

    And before you tell me for the umpteenth time that because I don’t live in Irvine I have no right to comment or have an opinion, that “What happens in Irvine stays in Irvine” xenophobia and bitterness? The ongoing stealth, the elected OR appointed, acting as agents or lobbyists is a topic that ALL Americans are increasingly concerned about.
    The topic of Lobbyists (some hide themselves as AGENTS, therefore unregistered) at the Republican debates has featured the “outsiders” complaining about undue influence, favoritism by lobbyists in the halls of Congress.

    You act as if these things begin and end at Irvine’s City Limits. So as a former military man, containment is critical, who really knows how often and where similar situations are taking place—but let the system decide.

    Journalists ask questions in a free society to NOT just stimulate local dialogue but in this case provoke a broader public inquiry into a larger realm: How many elected ARE using their power to expedite, to favor donating parties to their campaigns? Or in this case one of her employers. Investigations also serve notice on others who may be using similar manipulative tactics.
    In that sense, it’s NOT about witch hunting or baiting in Irvine: It’s about the fabric of governance. Only a small person sees only the SUBJECTIVE value-add.

    By the looks of things, all of that turmoil, no one yet is even close to jail time in Irvine in spite of obvious conflict issues these past 15years. White collar criminals get hand slaps, seldom end up behind bars, Dems or Repubs. When they do they go to country club spas, Heaven forbid they get locked in with the riff-raff. Now THERE is something to be outraged about.

  • Ltpar

    Opinions are like rear ends, everyone has one. Adam, you have reported nothing but unsubstantiated opinions, even after hearing from the Irvine City Attorney that Christina Shea violated no ethics laws. Then it has been noted that you are a named complainant on the FPPC Complaint filed by Larry Agrn shill, Dan C. Funny thing about the FPPC, they actively look into any allegation submitted by anyone, valid or not. This is exactly what they are doing with the baseless allegations made by your gossip rag (OC Voice) and the OC Liberal. I will be very interested in seeing how the FPPC rules on this complaint and who ends up with egg allover their face. By your sloppy reporting, it has tainted any objectivity you might have tried to display in presenting the news. I guess this is to be expected from people like yourself and Dam C. who would never be able to get a job working for a reputable media outlet.

    • LFOldTimer

      You’re absolutely correct. Opinions are like rear ends. Can you point to any claim made by Adam that is not true? Why don’t we start there instead of merely attacking the messenger? This is a suspicious situation. A council person who is employed by a certain firm uses her influence and goes to bat for that certain firm during the course of her official duties at City Hall. Well?? Isn’t that the gist of the story? Do you have any information to refute it? If so, let’s hear it. Until you do it’s probably wise to lay off Adam. Otherwise you just look silly. That’s my rear end opinion. You see, Adam is paid to be an investigative reporter. That’s why Norberto hired him. That’s his job. And from my perspective he’s very good at it. If you can refute his work with credible information – good for you. If you can’t – go take a hike.

      • Ltpar

        An investigative reporter investigates the facts and objectively reports on the results. In the course of his alleged investigation Adam turned up no suggestions that Shea had tried to influence any decisions by City staff on anything to do with Kia and had only requested their application be processed in a timely manner. Hate to pop Adam’s bubble, but such requests by Council members are routine when citizens projects are slowed down by government bureaucracy. It happens all the time and Council Members make such requests all the time. I might add, they merely ask, for cooperation not demand it like Larry Agran did when in office. Add to that a declaration by the Irvine City Attorney and City Manager that they had looked into the ethics matter and found no misconduct of by Shea. That should have been the end of the story, but it wasn’t. Shea continues to be papered by both the OC Voice and the OC Liberal as if she were guilty. I can understand the Liberal doing it because of Dan C. being a political shill for Larry Agran and trying to cost Shea her livelihood as a Consultant with Kia. Larry hopes to knock Christina Shea out of the box and return to power in the future. I am not the one who looks silly here because I accept the facts for what they are, not some fantasy of my imagination. Both he Voice and the Liberal are operating in Fantasy Land.

        • LFOldTimer

          You say it’s routine for council members to use their influence to hasten projects through the bureaucracy for faster results. However, can you name one instance where another council member did it for an employer that provided him or her with a nice income and contributed to his or her quality of life? That’s the sticking point. IMO it’s inappropriate for any elected official to use his or her political influence to benefit his or her employer in any process that requires action through City Hall or any government office. It smells. The Larry Agrans situation is a completely different side show unrelated to this matter. And if Adam says he nor VOC were not named complainants in the Larry Agran matter, I believe him. Adam is a sharp guy and wouldn’t risk his credibility as a reporter for an issue that would be super easy to refute if it were untrue. Give the man some credit.

    • Adam Elmahrek

      Hi Ltpar,

      Thanks for your comment. I just want to make a point of clarification. Neither I nor Voice of OC is a “named complainant” in Dan Chmielewski’s complaint to the FPPC. And we have not filed a complaint, nor would we do so. As reporters, that’s a line of objectivity we won’t cross. We only report the story.

      You can call the FPPC and verify this.

      Adam Elmahrek

      • LFOldTimer

        Thanks for your clarification, Adam.
        Well. Mr. Par. Now what do you have to say for yourself? Will you respond or will you go MIA on us? Front and center, Sir. We’re waiting……..

        • Ltpar

          Intentionally or unintentionally because of his biased reporting, Adam is listed as a witness in the complaint filed by the OC Liberal. Is that front and center enough for you.

          • LFOldTimer

            Either you believe Adam or you don’t. I do. Do you think he would give you an untrue response to your claim and put himself on Front Street? Come on, Mr. Par. Use your common sense. The man is a professional and quality reporter.

          • Ltpar

            You won’t have to wait until Monday morning. I have in my hand a FPPC Sworn Complaint Form signed by Dan Chmielewski of the OC Liberal. He lists as the one and only “witness” one Adam Elmahrek. Sure smells like collusion to me?

          • @Dan Chmielewski

            There is no collusion. The city gave me the same records they gave Adam. Since Adam had seen these as well, I listed him as a witness without telling him. My reasoning was, he’s looked at the same thing I did. I did alert him, Sarah and Martin from the Register that I was planning to file. But my filing was completely of my own initiative. The evidence I provided was a series of emails between KIA, Shea and staff. Good luck explaining what she meant versus what she said.

      • Ltpar

        Adam, there is nothing in this story that has been remotely objective. After you were informed by the City Attorney that he had looked into the issue and found no conflict of interest or ethical violation the story should have been trashed. Instead, even today you continue to beat a dead horse. Adding to that, you are listed as the one and only witness in the FPPC Complaint Form. You crossed the line and any credibility you may have had is shot.

        • LFOldTimer

          So is a City Attorney the end-all be-all on all legal matters? Is he a legal deity? Is it possible for City Attorneys to play politics or to be biased or to make mistakes in their legal opinions? So if a City Attorney makes a claim and my common sense questions that claim do I have a civic duty to roll over and stifle any dissent? Does an investigative journalist have a ethical obligation to cease all inquiries once a City Attorney forms and communicated a legal opinion? Street sweepers sweep, window washers wash, investigative journalists investigate. Who’s to say a horse is dead? Your call? And what makes you so special?

          • Ltpar

            Frankly, I would give considerable more credibility to the City Attorney who serves at the pleasure of five members of the Council, than a two bit pseudo blog reporter and the whining liberal mouthpiece of Larry Agran who still hasn’t gotten over his rejection by Irvine voters. Adam is looking to make a name for himself and what better way to do that by aiding Dan C. in attacking a conservative Council Member. Adam is far from an investigative reporter because once they find out there is no crime they move on to the next story. Adam did not do that, continues to beat a dead horse and is in fact listed as a witness in the FPPC complaint. That is as much a conflict of interest as what they are accusing Shea of doing. In the end, the FPPC will rule and my bet is on a full clearing of Shea of ethics violations. Then Adam and Dan can move on to digging in the trash pile for their next story. Wonder what they might find if they looked closely at Jeff Lalloway or Lynn Schott?

          • @Dan Chmielewski

            Adam has already made a name for himself. And he has multiple awards from the OC Press Club to prove it. Just how will you react if the FPPC finds Shea violated state law?

          • Ltpar

            Counting your chickens before the eggs have hatched? I seem to recall you doing the same thing before the Agranistas were overthrown. I will wait for the verdict and then either you or I will have egg on their face.

          • @Dan Chmielewski

            It’ll be you Pat. At the very least, Ms. Shea has learned when it comes to clients, she can’t make staff say “how high” when she says “jump.”

    • @Dan Chmielewski

      Hate to break it to you, I’ve worked for several reputable media outlets in my career. Mostly radio. But don’t let that stop you

  • Vern Pat Nelson

    Chumley does something worthwhile for once. A minor doff of the cap.

  • LFOldTimer

    So the FPPC is investigating? ha. You might as well have Frankenstein investigate Dracula. ha. IMO unless Shea has stepped on the wrong political toes she’s got nothing to worry about. Didn’t the FPPC investigate Pulido too? ha. Did the FPPC investigate Janet Nguyen? If so, that was effective. Now she’s a State Senator. The FPPC should have been disbanded years ago. It’s a waste time and money. A social club for the political elite. Workfare for the 6-figure crowd. 🙂

    • Paul Lucas

      Nothing ever comes of 99.999999% of those FPPC “Investigations”. The mechanisms used for investigating and the ultimate punishments really just incentivise the practice of shenaniganery. Just a paper tiger to be blunt

      • LFOldTimer

        The FPPC isn’t even a paper tiger. Paper is too strong. I would call it a hologram tiger. Unless the target is a political enemy. Then it turns into a badger protecting it’s pups.

        • Paul Lucas

          Maybe a Vapor like ghost. Scary in concept but cant really touch you. It can Just say Boo.