Mayor Sally Anne Sheridan has tentatively agreed to pay a $2,000 civil penalty to settle a conflict-of-interest complaint stemming from the sale of property for Paul O. Brady Jr., whom she later voted to promote to city manager.
Sheridan, a real estate agent, said Friday that she has acknowledged a technical violation of the state Political Reform Act to resolve a complaint to the district attorney's office from Mark Petracca, a UCI assistant professor and political supporter of Larry Agran, who was defeated in the race for mayor last year.
Sheridan's lawyer, Peter Tennyson, and Deputy Dist. Atty. Craig McKinnon said they have discussed a settlement of the case that could be finalized in Orange County Superior Court next week.
"I simply want this frustration behind me," Sheridan said. "Charges that I influenced the vote on the city manager's promotion are not true. But Mr. Petracca has been calling the D.A. regularly on this. It is extremely difficult for him to realize that I defeated Larry (Agran). . . . He would burn me at the stake if he could get a permit from the Air Quality Management District."
According to property transaction records, Sheridan split $16,038 in commissions earned in June, 1988, by her business partner, Donald Sheridan, whom she later married. Donald Sheridan represented Brady, then an assistant city manager, in the sale of one house and the purchase of another. Nine months later, Sheridan voted along with her four council colleagues to promote Brady to city manager.
In his complaint filed 11 months ago, Petracca alleged that Sheridan violated state conflict-of-interest laws, which bar elected officials from voting on matters that could financially benefit someone who has given or paid them more than $250. Based on Petracca's complaint, the district attorney's office opened a civil proceeding.
"I am certainly gratified that the D.A. has decided to do something about this," Petracca said Friday. "The woman is without shame. She has lied to the press about this. It is a dark day for Irvine, maybe a dark year."
In May, 1990, The Times reported that Sheridan and her husband were involved in the sale of homes for 14 Irvine city employees and eight executives of the Irvine Co.--information, Petracca said, he used for the basis of his complaint.
Sheridan said at the time that she received no commissions from her husband's transactions with Brady because their financial interests were kept separate. Sheridan also told The Times that she had a legal opinion from a private attorney who concluded that she had done nothing wrong.
Sheridan said Friday that she did not lie to the media about Brady, and that she believed her previous statements on the matter to be correct to the best of her knowledge. She reiterated her position that she had done nothing wrong.
Her lawyer conceded, however, that there was a technical violation of state conflict-of-interest laws and advised Sheridan to agree to a $2,000 civil penalty. Although Sheridan did not represent Brady, Tennyson said, she shared the commission under a business arrangement she had with her future husband.
"Technically, there is a conflict of interest, but the sale and the vote had nothing to do with each other," Tennyson said. "She does not want anyone to think that Brady was promoted for any other reason besides his ability."
Tennyson said the district attorney proceeded with a civil case against the mayor instead of a criminal one because there is no proof that Sheridan intended to violate the law.
McKinnon declined to comment, except to say that a settlement has been discussed, but not finalized. He said if the case does not settle, the district attorney's office will proceed in whatever way he decides is appropriate.
"I did not influence anybody to do anything. There was a unanimous vote on it," Sheridan said. "I could have been better advised on the matter. I am not an attorney, and the law is complicated."
Council members follow the advice of the city attorney's office when they have questions about the legality of their actions. In general, city attorneys say they react to concerns raised by council members and do not necessarily initiate advice on their own.
Irvine City Atty. John L. Fellows III, who was an assistant city attorney when the Brady vote occurred, declined to discuss Sheridan's comment that she was not advised well. By law, he said, attorney-client conversations must remain confidential.
"We give them a generalized introduction and lecture on the law to expose them to it," Fellows said. "Then, we rely on council members to flag issues, and we respond to them."
Sheridan did not ask for any advice about potential conflicts of interest from the city attorney when she voted to promote Brady, Tennyson said. "It just did not come up."