The Irvine City Council unanimously strengthened its conflict of interest policy by adding a provision to its contracts which says if a City Council member or employee lobbied on behalf of a city contractor, the contract can be voided with cause and the city will get reimbursed.
While there was a similar contract provision preventing employment of a city official by a city contractor, it didn’t address lobbying services — paid or unpaid.
Councilwoman Christina Shea said she brought the item forward after she learned former Councilman Jeff Lalloway helped Architecture, Engineering, Consulting, Operations and Maintenance (AECOM), a Los Angeles-based firm with an office in Irvine, try to get a contract for the Santa Ana streetcar project, Shea told Voice of OC after the meeting. For years, Shea and Lalloway were opponents on the Council. AECOM didn’t get the contract and Lalloway didn’t seek re-election last year.
“It was egregious what Jeff Lalloway did,” Shea said, accusing Lalloway of lobbying for AECOM in its unsuccessful bid for a streetcar contract with Orange County Transportation Authority.
“It was one of the most egregious things I ever saw a Council member do,” Shea said.
But Lalloway, in a phone interview Wednesday, said he didn’t get paid and was helping a local Irvine business.
“Well, number one, I didn’t lobby for anyone. I helped a local Irvine business, without any compensation. So, in order to lobby you got to receive money. I tried to help a local Irvine resident and a local Irvine business,” Lalloway said.
“I think it’s our job as council members to help local Irvine residents and businesses to get work,” Lalloway said.
“No we don’t, that’s absolutely not true,” Shea said in a Wednesday phone interview. “Who works six months for a company and doesn’t get paid?”
Lalloway wasn’t named in Shea’s agenda letter or by any Council member during Tuesday’s meeting.
In 2015, Shea was criticized for emailing and texting city staff to expedite plans and permits for KIA Motors, a former client for her lobbying business. Shea lost the KIA lobbying job in 2016 and the automobile manufacturer doesn’t appear in her latest conflict of interest forms. She was also investigated by the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission over the KIA issue.
“Number two: Christina Shea is trying to deflect from her problem when she was representing KIA,” Lalloway said. “When she was lobbying and pressuring city employees to approve things to KIA.”
Shea called the KIA issue a “political ploy” and said Lalloway “brings up KIA — KIA did not have a contract with the city of Irvine and all I did was ask several questions of staff to call up KIA.”
“I had a letter from our city attorney (Jeff Melching) and the FPPC (Fair Political Practices Commission) said I did nothing wrong. It has no comparison whatsoever,” Shea said.
“I wonder if she put a provision in the ethics code to prevent her from doing the things she’s done before,” Lalloway said.
Irvine’s city code already bars council members from lobbying for any business in Orange County, which stems from a measure passed by Irvine voters in 2008.
Councilwoman Melissa Fox, an attorney, told Voice of OC the law is probably unconstitutional because it’s overreaching and affects income.
“But as council members, we’re not going to sue over it,” Fox said.
Fox and Shea said Irvine has a contract with AECOM for work in the Great Park that’s supposed to end in June, but it will now be terminated in February.
During the meeting, questions about enforcement of the lobbying regulations came up.
“Irvine should establish consequences for violations of this provision,” resident Susan Sayre said during public comment.
Councilman Anthony Kuo asked City Attorney Jeff Melching what the enforcement of the lobbying regulations are.
Melching said the ordinance regulating lobbying activities “says that a violation of the ordinance is to be referred to the city attorney for evaluation, or under certain circumstances the city manager … and that information is supposed to be relayed back to the violator.” He added the Council could beef up the regulation if it wants to.
Kuo said the enforcement mechanism doesn’t seem to do much.
“You’ve got the city attorney basically having a meeting with them saying don’t do that … it just seems like Mrs. Sayre and others’ points are quite well taken. That the city attorney who serves at the pleasure of the council is going to slap us on the wrist? That seems a little backwards,” Kuo said.
Mayor Don Wagner said the contract provision should be enough to address any conflict of interest from arising in the future.
“The idea, of course, is that this completely disincentivizes the client to ever seek that sort of counsel. Which is why I think it goes on the vendor side is quite appropriate,” Wagner said.
Fox said if the Council beefs up lobbying regulation enforcement, it could be used as a political weapon.
“It might be wielded more as a sword against an errant council member … by a council member in the majority, with an appointed city attorney, one could really think about the problems that would arise the future,” Fox said.
Fox echoed Wagner’s comments and said the burden should fall to the contractor because the city can nix the contract and get reimbursed should the lobbying stipulation be violated.
“So I think the way to do it to make sure there is no conflict of interest is indeed to put the onus on the contractor and put their contract in jeopardy, because that would be for cause,” Fox said.
Correction: A previous version of this story said Lalloway tried to help a firm get an Anaheim streetcar contract. It was a Santa Ana streetcar contract. Voice of OC regrets the error.
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.