Former Cerritos City Councilman Donald R. Knabe shared ownership of a Palm Desert condominium with the city manager and two city planning commissioners at the same time he had a say in their salaries and their jobs.
For the last three years of his eight-year council tenure, Knabe and his wife co-owned a two-bedroom weekend retreat with five other couples, including City Manager Gaylord Knapp and his wife and Planning Commissioners George Ray and Alan Francis and their wives.
As a councilman, Knabe voted each of those three years on Knapp’s salary, joining with the rest of the council in approving healthy raises for the city manager, who now makes $89,025 a year.
Knapp--as do the planning commissioners, who earn $50 a meeting--serves at the pleasure of the City Council, which also annually votes on the salary of the commission.
Because the condominium is located well outside the city limits, Knabe was not legally required to disclose his interest in the property, nor did his co-ownership with other city officials appear to constitute any violation of state political regulations.
Could Raise Questions
Still, a spokeswoman for the state Fair Political Practices Commission acknowledged that Knabe’s financial relationship with other city officials could raise questions of a possible conflict of interest. And a former counsel for the commission indicated that he thought state law should be revised to require disclosure of such financial arrangements.
Knabe, who is running on the Republican ticket for the 33rd Senate seat, said the property is so far removed from Cerritos that it never occurred to him that his joint ownership would present any conflict-of-interest problems.
“It never affected my relationship or role with Gaylord, I can assure you of that,” said Knabe, who was a councilman from 1980 to until this year, when he chose not to run for reelection. “Obviously I don’t do anything social with Gaylord,” he said, adding that the couples used the condominium separately on a time-sharing basis.
Each couple has a one-sixth interest in the condominium, which they bought in December of 1984 for $138,500, according to Riverside County public records.
Knabe described Ray, who remains on the Planning Commission, and Francis, who resigned earlier this year after a decade on the commission, as friends. The other owners are Dennis Bradshaw, a Cerritos councilman from 1972 to 1980, and his wife, and Martin C. Gibson, a local businessman, and his wife.
“A conflict of interest does not necessarily arise simply because there’s a joint investment,” said Sandra Michioku, spokeswoman for the state Fair Political Practices Commission. While stressing that her comments in no way represented a formal opinion on the matter, Michioku went on to to say that the condominium arrangement “does raise some questions,” including whether Knabe’s votes on Knapp’s salary were totally impartial.
Although state law does not call for disclosure of property interest outside a city councilman’s local jurisdiction, Bob Stern, a former general counsel to the political practices commission, said he believed that such disclosures should be required. “The public should be aware of financial transactions among top city officials,” said Stern, who remains involved in political watchdog groups. “There is a potential there for a possible conflict, so there should be disclosure.”
Knapp, city manager for the last 15 years, could not be reached for comment. Since the 1985 fiscal year, the council has given Knapp raises amounting to $10,525, according to city records.