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TUSTIN : Law Would Limit Gifts to City Officials

Gifts that public officials receive from people doing business with Tustin would be restricted under a law given preliminary approval by the City Council this week.

Under the measure, elected officials and city employees could not accept $250 or more in gifts during a calendar year. Violations would be considered a misdemeanor and could result in city employees being fired or elected officials being removed from office.

The proposed law is slightly stricter than a statewide measure that goes into effect Jan. 1. The state law, which expands the Political Reform Act, will prohibit state and local officials from accepting more than $270 in gifts annually. That figure will be adjusted every two years based on changes in the Consumer Price Index.

Currently, the Political Reform Act prohibits local elected officials from receiving more than $1,000 annually in gifts and honorariums.

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When Tustin’s proposed law was debated by the council, Mayor Pro Tem Jim Potts and Councilman Michael J. Doyle argued unsuccessfully that public officials should receive no gifts at all from people doing business with the city.

“I don’t think we need to accept any gifts whatsoever,” said Potts, who views such restrictions as part of a nationwide reform movement.

“In the private industry right now, they won’t let employees accept gifts or lunches because there might be a pay-back,” he said. “Dealing with public money, we have to be held to even higher standards, in my opinion.”

Voting in favor of the $250 prohibition were Mayor Thomas R. Saltarelli, Councilman Jeffery M. Thomas and Councilwoman Tracy Worley.

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Saltarelli said that banning all gifts went too far. An overly restrictive law could be misused, he said, “simply because some political activist wants to get us removed from the council.”

Worley, who was elected to the council in April, promised voters she would work for a gift ban. Worley said she never claimed to support a total gift ban, and that the cost of a lunch or a dinner “is not going to influence my vote.”

Prohibiting council members from receiving any gifts “would tie our hands,” she said, “and just make this job harder to do.”

Final approval of the gift limits law is expected to be considered at the Aug. 15 council meeting.

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