Balboa Island resident Bob McCaffrey made public allegations this week that Newport Beach City Council candidate Jeff Herdman is ineligible to run in the November election because of his service on a city advisory board.
Herdman, a longtime Balboa Island resident, is bidding to replace termed-out Councilman Ed Selich representing District 5, which includes the island, Newport Center and a portion of Big Canyon.
Also vying for the seat are community activist Mike Glenn and Lee Lowrey, a local businessman known for raising money for political campaigns.
Herdman is on the Civil Service Board, which advises the council on personnel matters, conducts appeal hearings for city employees in disciplinary matters and launches investigations of personnel claims by city employees covered by a public safety union.
McCaffrey alleges that, under the city charter, Herdman's position on the board prohibits him from serving on the City Council. Herdman was appointed to the board in 2014 and his term expires in June 2018.
McCaffrey said the issue at hand is outlined in Section 710 of the charter, which states that "the Civil Service Board shall consist of five members, none of whom while a member of the board, or for a period of one year after [he] has ceased for any reason to be a member, shall occupy or be eligible for appointment to any salaried office or employment in service of the city."
The provision's aim is to curb conflicts of interest while ruling on employee matters, according to McCaffrey.
A council member receives $1,274 in monthly compensation, while the mayor receives $1,808 per month, according to city documents.
Whether that money is a salary or a stipend is a point of contention.
McCaffrey said he believes a council position is a salaried office and interprets the charter to mean Herdman cannot serve on the council.
"Herdman should fold his tent now and not embarrass himself with a long and expensive legal battle," McCaffrey wrote in a news release.
Herdman disagrees, saying the money paid to council members is reimbursement for expenses incurred.
He said he has hired a lawyer to research case law and write a letter to the city clerk showing court decisions that back his stance.
"It is clear to me that the tactics being employed by the opposition are forms of harassment that have resulted in my having to take time away from the campaign to deal with them, to cause me to have to spend money on legal advice and to discourage me from running for an office that I have every right to compete in," Herdman said. "I think it is critical that my supporters and the community be aware of the tactics being used by the opposition against my campaign."
Selich said he believes the charter section was intended to prohibit Civil Service Board members from becoming permanent city employees — not elected council members — for a year after they have served on the board.
"I think some people are making the argument that because the City Council is part of the CalPERS pension and receives health benefits that it de facto makes them a salaried employee," Selich said. "The next big question is who is going to be the one to interpret it."
City Atty. Aaron Harp declined to comment, saying he would not be the one to make the determination.
City Clerk Leilani Brown said she is looking into the issue.
This isn't the first time McCaffrey and Herdman have bumped heads.
McCaffrey is the chairman of a political action committee known as Residents for Reform, which supported "Team Newport," a slate of council candidates consisting of Diane Dixon, Kevin Muldoon, Scott Peotter and Marshall "Duffy" Duffield, who swept the four available seats in the 2014 election and now constitute the council majority. McCaffrey donated funds to the slate.
McCaffrey said he intends to support Lowrey for District 5 in November.
Herdman has been critical of Peotter, Muldoon and Duffield since they were elected.
In April 2015, Herdman sent a letter to the California Fair Political Practices Commission alleging that a campaign contribution Peotter received violated the Political Reform Act and city code. Peotter denied wrongdoing.
Herdman also has suggested in published letters to the Daily Pilot that the city should request that the FPPC conduct a full audit of all the candidates in the 2014 election to examine their "independent expenditures, slate mail committees and other expenditures spent to influence the election."
Last November, McCaffrey filed a complaint with the FPPC against Herdman, alleging that he failed to submit a mandatory form before soliciting and accepting campaign donations. Herdman denied violating the law.
To some, the tension between the two Balboa Island residents highlights the changing demeanor in Newport Beach politics.
"Politics seem to have become more contentious and based in ideology," Selich said. "We've never had all this FPPC stuff going on. All of this really doesn't have anything to do with what's important in the community."
Hannah Fry, firstname.lastname@example.org