Fitzpatrick resigns from board

Crime, Law and JusticeLaws and LegislationJustice SystemAllan R. MansoorWorld War II (1939-1945)

Jim Fitzpatrick resigned from the Costa Mesa Sanitary District on Monday, saying he no longer wanted to defend himself in a lawsuit over a perceived conflict of interest.

His colleagues had contended that his prior concurrent service on the Sanitary District's board and the Costa Mesa Planning Commission from December 2010 to May 2012 was incompatible.

They accepted Fitzpatrick's resignation letter during a special meeting at the district's West 19th Street headquarters, where they also announced that they would be dropping their conflict-of-interest lawsuit as a result.

Fitzpatrick's resignation came the day before the Costa Mesa City Council was scheduled to make appointments to the Planning Commission. Fitzpatrick was one of 13 applicants — including two incumbents — for three open seats.

He said he wanted to end the lawsuit in order to eliminate any additional costs to the district's ratepayers and himself. He has long denied any potential conflict of interest, instead arguing that his peers on the board did not like him questioning the district's longstanding practice of allowing no-bid contracts.

"I make no apologies for following the courage of my convictions and fundamental beliefs that seeking a competitive trash contract bid for the first time since World War II was in the best interests of my constituents," Fitzpatrick wrote in his resignation letter, dated Monday. "This process allows the defining of the services and price nexus which benefits all ratepayers."

The district has spent about $40,000 on the lawsuit, about $20,000 of which came from Director Bob Ooten. The state attorney general issued an opinion in December that gave the district the OK to pursue litigation against Fitzpatrick.

"We feel good that the attorney general once again agreed with us," said board President James Ferryman. "We undertook the proper procedure as a board and protected the public's rights preventing incompatibility of office."

Ooten said Fitzpatrick knew the risks of his actions before the lawsuit happened. He said Fitzpatrick's interpretation of the attorney general's opinion took it out of context.

"It saddens me to have had to take the positions that I took," Ooten said. "But it was the correct position."

Fitzpatrick, a Costa Mesa resident who was elected by voters to the Sanitary District in November 2010, has said he felt the lawsuit was more about personal grudges and his willingness to question district policies. He has called himself "a political piñata."

Fitzpatrick resigned from the Planning Commission, to which he was appointed by the City Council, in May 2012 in an effort to address the question. Despite the action, the district continued with its lawsuit.

In his defense, he pointed to City Councilman Gary Monahan's past service on both the council and the Sanitary District.

Assemblyman Allan Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa) said in December that when the Legislature convenes this month, he will introduce legislation to show that what Fitzpatrick did was indeed legal. Mansoor, a former Costa Mesa mayor, said he wanted to prove that service on a city planning commission is compatible with service on a sanitary district.

He pointed to Assembly Bill 198, which passed in 1970, as proof that any "activity within the scope of a city's legislative body is compatible with service as a sanitary district director."

Fitzpatrick's seat on the five-member board, whose members receive a $221 stipend for each meeting they attend, will be filled by either a special election or by the board's appointment. The board will decide which course of action to take during the district's regular board meeting Jan. 24. If the directors do not select either action, the Orange County Board of Supervisors can appoint a replacement.

The new director will serve out the remainder of Fitzpatrick's term, which is about two years.

bradley.zint@latimes.com

Twitter: @bradleyzint

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