Wednesday, December 23, 2015
Lacey May Sue Carson Mayor, A.G. Harris Says
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Attorney General Kamala Harris has authorized Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey to move forward with an action to remove Carson’s mayor from a water board on which his service may constitute a conflict of interest.
Lacey contends that Albert Robles ceased to serve legally on the board of the Water Replenishment District of Southern California once he was elected to the Carson council in 2013. Robles has been a member of the water board since 1992.
Robles is now the mayor of Carson, having been appointed to that office by the council earlier this year to succeed Jim Dear, who is now the city clerk.
In an opinion prepared by Deputy Attorney General Lawrence M. Daniels and made public yesterday, Harris said a substantial issue exists as to whether Robles is violating Government Code §1099, the statutory form of the “incompatible offices” doctrine. This is grounds for Lacey to seek a writ of quo warranto ousting Robles from the first office, the attorney general said.
She cited a 2008 opinion in which her predecessor, now-Gov. Jerry Brown, said Lacey’s predecessor Steve Cooley could seek the removal of Sergio Calderon from the same board. Calderon, a political ally of Robles, was serving simultaneously on the water board and the Maywood City Council at the time.
He resigned from the council in 2009, shortly before the quo warranto action was to go to trial. But that battle may be joined again, because Calderon, who is now president of the water board, was again elected to the Maywood council last month.
Section 1099 provides that public officers “shall not simultaneously hold two public offices that are incompatible.” The law does not apply to a position of employment, such as a civil service position, and states that—unless state law expressly compels or authorizes the contrary—two offices are incompatible if either one can exercise supervisory powers over the other, if there is a possibility of a significant clash of duties or loyalties between the two, or if public policy considerations make it improper for one person to hold both.
If two public offices are incompatible, the public officer is deemed to have forfeited the first, and the state attorney general or a private party—with the attorney general’s permission—may bring a “quo warranto” action seeking the removal of “any person who usurps, intrudes into, or unlawfully holds or exercises any public office…within this state.” From the Medieval Latin meaning “by what warrant,” such actions usually arise in civil cases where plaintiffs claim that a government or corporate official was not validly elected to office, or is wrongfully exercising powers beyond those authorized.
Harris noted that “[i]t takes only one potential significant conflict of duties or loyalties to render offices legally incompatible.”
The fact that Carson does not buy water from the district does not preclude a conflict-of-interest finding, the attorney general said.
Echoing Brown’s opinion in the Calderon matter, Harris cited the possibility of a conflict if the district decides to raise the price for pumping groundwater in a manner that causes the price increase to be passed on to the city, or if the city’s water use practices and land use regulatory activities were to degrade the supply and quality of the groundwater that the district is charged with supplying and conserving.
The opinion is No. 15-401.
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