Supervisors Vote to Limit Making Baseless Claims

Times Staff Writer

Acting on the grand jury's recommendation, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday took a strong stance against its members using their public positions to make baseless accusations against someone.

There was one holdout, however.

Supervisor John Flynn, who sparked the tense board debate nine months ago by making claims of a "sweetheart deal" at county-owned Channel Islands Harbor, refused to go along.

His face flushing bright red, Flynn, 73, said his colleagues had a "tin ear" and that he stood by the accusations made in October against Harbor Director Lyn Krieger.

"What is one to do when it looks like one has credible evidence?" Flynn asked, holding a sheaf of documents that he said proved his case.

Referring to his board colleagues, he continued: "These folks have a tin ear. They don't want to hear me."

But Flynn's fellow board members aren't the only ones tuning him out. Three separate investigations -- by the county executive officer, the district attorney and the county grand jury -- have concluded that Flynn's claims are baseless.

Krieger, meanwhile, at the request of the board, no longer meets directly with Flynn, whose 5th District includes the harbor.

Many of the harbor's leaseholders also don't go through Flynn's office when conducting business. Instead, they meet directly with Krieger or with staff in the county executive's office.

Still, Flynn's comments are harmful to Krieger and to Randy Short, president of Almar Management, the marine operator Flynn alleged benefited from a deal, county officials said.

"We're now at a stage where we can move forward on the harbor" revitalization, said County Executive Officer Johnny Johnston. "But the harm to Lyn Krieger will last a long time."

Supervisors were discussing harbor plans at their Oct. 25 meeting when Flynn first made his allegations. He said that Krieger had offered Short a "sweetheart deal" in return for his support of a proposed boating center.

"Once that opposition was withdrawn, then there was a payoff," Flynn said at the time.

In its strongly worded report, the grand jury found no evidence to back Flynn's claims. Among a list of recommendations following its findings, the citizens panel asked the Board of Supervisors to publicly state its opposition to such tactics.

Supervisor Kathy Long moved to do so, saying it was unfair for an elected official to make an allegation of malfeasance without promptly providing evidence. The vote was 4 to 1, with Flynn promising to file a dissent.

Before the vote, Long said she was not persuaded by a short computer presentation that Flynn made Tuesday or by a pile of documents he handed out that he said supported his claims.

"I have one question: Is this the same information you gave to the district attorney and the grand jury?" Long asked Flynn.

He responded: "I'm not going to answer that."

Krieger later said the documents were among the many investigators requested in conducting reviews. Johnston said the papers didn't appear to contain anything new, but promised to look into Flynn's claims.

Flynn has been critical of Krieger and harbor operations since 2003, as the county was preparing to build a boating safety center.

Initially supportive of the project, Flynn changed his mind when nearby residents denounced the marine center as unsafe and environmentally unsound in its proposed location on the harbor's western side.

Lawsuits and numerous hearings have delayed construction, and residents have opposed many of the other plans underway to rejuvenate the harbor.

Supervisor Judy Mikels said Flynn's attacks on Krieger are veiled attempts to pander to those constituents who live closest to the harbor.

"The harbor belongs to all of the taxpayers," Mikels said. "It's an asset and has to perform as an asset. It is not someone's personal backyard."

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