County Plan Official Under Investigation by State FPPC : Gifts: C. Douglas Leavenworth’s dealings with the Mission Viejo Co. are being reviewed in relation to conflict-of-interest law.
Orange County Planning Commissioner C. Douglas Leavenworth’s relationship with a major development company is being examined by the agency chiefly responsible for enforcing California’s conflict-of-interest law, according to an agency official.
“We have the matter under review,” said Sandra Michioku, spokeswoman for the state Fair Political Practices Commission. “We have a case open.”
Michioku said the FPPC’s scrutiny of Leavenworth was prompted by an Aug. 10 story in The Times, reporting that the commissioner may have violated state law in 1987 and 1988 by voting on matters affecting the Mission Viejo Co. within a year after he accepted $365 worth of gifts from the firm.
Leavenworth voted 22 times during 1987 and 1988 on matters directly affecting the Mission Viejo Co., according to Planning Commission records. Each time, he voted in favor of the company’s position.
State law prohibits officials from participating in decisions affecting a gift giver for 12 months after the value of those gifts reaches or exceeds $250.
Michioku said the FPPC would conduct interviews “if necessary,” but she declined to elaborate further on what the agency’s review could entail. The FPPC could levy maximum penalties of $2,000 per violation if it found that Leavenworth violated the law.
The FPPC’s case is in addition to a review of Leavenworth opened two weeks ago by the Orange County district attorney.
Chief Assistant Dist. Atty. Maurice L. Evans said the FPPC’s involvement “is not going to affect us at all. We’ll do what we think is right. At some point, maybe we’ll be able to coordinate our efforts.”
The district attorney’s office announced on Wednesday that it would not prosecute two other county planning commissioners, Roger D. Slates and Stephen A. Nordeck. The two were found not to have violated a state law that prohibits planning commissioners from soliciting campaign money on anyone’s behalf from individuals with matters pending before them.
For his part, Leavenworth has denied that his decision-making has been influenced by the gifts from the Mission Viejo Co. Records show the firm gave him $1,207 worth of golfing privileges, meals and theater and sports tickets during the period from 1984 to 1989. Reached at his home on Thursday, Leavenworth said he was unaware of the FPPC’s review.
“Obviously,” he said, “I would like to see the thing resolved as quickly as possible.”
Leavenworth has also said, in a letter to Evans, that he did not knowingly violate any law but that his actions were “careless and inattentive with respect to some very significant and reasonable rules.”
On Aug. 16, Leavenworth amended his gift-disclosure report encompassing 1987 to revalue the gifts given to him by the Mission Viejo Co. In his revised disclosure statement, Leavenworth says the gifts from the development firm were worth $242.50--a reduction that placed his total $7.50 under the state law’s limit.
Leavenworth said the reductions were attributable in part to his originally estimating the gift values “on the high side.” The commissioner also said that he had not been required to report gifts that he said the Mission Viejo Co. intended for his wife, such as when she accompanied him to a ballet.
Orange County’s five planning commissioners are appointed separately by members of the Board of Supervisors and serve open-end terms. The supervisor responsible for Leavenworth’s tenure, Don R. Roth, indicated Thursday that he has not yet made a decision regarding Leavenworth, based on the commissioner’s explanations and amended gift report.
“I haven’t heard anything from the D.A.'s office,” Roth said. “When I hear, then I will evaluate” Leavenworth’s future on the Planning Commission.
Leavenworth, a retired aerospace engineer originally appointed to the Planning Commission in 1982 by then-Supervisor Ralph Clark, and reappointed by Roth in June, 1987, said in a recent interview that he has enjoyed his years on the panel.
“It was a challenge,” Leavenworth said, recalling his appointment eight years ago. “I had retired early and I had the time. . . . I feel like I’m performing a service--and it makes me feel good.”