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MTA board was urged to consider censuring Parks over donations, official says

The inspector general for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority says she asked the agency’s board chairman last year to consider censuring Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard C. Parks for improperly accepting $3,800 in campaign donations while he was an MTA board member.

But a recent internal memo indicates that a decision on whether to take action against Parks hasn’t been made. The case has been pending at the inspector general’s office since late 2008.

Inquiring about the status of the matter, Inspector General Karen Gorman sent a memo to the MTA board Friday, saying she had provided the chairman a draft censure letter for Parks, whose unsuccessful campaign for county supervisor in 2008 had violated the so-called Hayden law.

The state legislation sets a strict $10 limit on donations from MTA contractors and firms seeking business from the authority.

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The finding against Parks stemmed from an inspector general’s investigation that began after the Citizens Campaign to Fix the Expo Rail Line lodged a complaint in October 2008. A final report on the investigation was sent to the MTA board in February 2010.

Bernard Parks Jr., speaking on behalf of his father, maintains that the Hayden violations were not intentional. “It’s tough to keep track of every penny,” he said. “The campaign collected at least $1.5 million.”

In her memo, Gorman noted that Parks had stepped down from the MTA board in January 2009, which ruled out several punishments except for a public or private censure by board members. The younger Parks denied that the 2008 complaint prompted his father to resign from the board. The senior Parks primarily wanted to devote more time to his City Council duties, he said.

Along with the draft of the proposed sanction, Gorman said she sent a separate letter recommending that all board members refer their staffs and campaign treasurers to the MTA’s Ethics Office for training.

“At this time, I am not advised if these letters were issued or if the content is still under consideration,” the memo states.

Gorman could not be reached for comment despite repeated requests by The Times.

One of the board chairmen in 2010 was Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian, who served until June of that year. Maureen Micheline, who is Najarian’s MTA board deputy, said that neither she nor the mayor had seen a draft censure letter for Parks.

County Supervisor Don Knabe, who assumed the chairmanship after Najarian, could not be reached for comment. Cheryl A. Burnett, Knabe’s communications director, said only that the censure letter was never considered by the MTA board.

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According to the inspector general’s report, Parks said that had he been notified by his staff about the $3,800 in donations from five MTA contractors, he would have returned the money as he had done with other questionable contributions.

The report suggests that the donations might have been overlooked because one of Parks’ treasurers was dealing with serious health problems involving her husband and father.

Paul J. Virgo, a Los Angeles attorney hired by the inspector general to investigate the complaint, concluded that no action should be taken against Parks because of a lack of notification by his staff.

“If the MTA board believes that some action needs to be taken for its ameliorative effect, it should be in the form of a private disposition,” Virgo wrote.

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Parks’ son said the $3,800 was returned to the five companies last week after the inspector general’s report, a confidential document under state law, was leaked to the news media. He questioned the disclosure of the document, which occurred during his father’s current reelection effort.

“We are in the middle of a campaign,” he said. “Someone is pulling strings in the background.”

dan.weikel@latimes.com


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