Five of Huntington Beach's seven council members received letters from a state agency that monitors the potential for political conflicts of interest warning them not to vote themselves onto boards or committees that affect their personal finances.
The letters were sent in December to Mayor Don Hansen and council members Matthew Harper, Joe Shaw, Devin Dwyer and Joe Carchio. The board warned them that they could face fines of up to $5,000 each if they made an appointment with a conflict of interest.
The Huntington Beach council members were among 40 Orange County city officials who also received the letters after Tustin-based contractor Mathew Delaney filed a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) saying that many city officials regularly vote themselves onto paid boards and committees, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Gary Winuk, the FPPC's chief of enforcement division, said in the letters that the council members violated the personal finance effects provision of the Political Reform Act by voting themselves onto committees or boards that pay them a stipend.
"Based on the fact that your decision did not affect your personal finances by a significant amount, and the fact that you do not have an enforcement history, we are closing this matter with a warning letter," the letter read in part.
The warning letter resulted in a change of procedure in Huntington Beach during the most recent appointments. In December, each council member who was appointed to a paid committee or board stepped out during the vote.
Some who served on paid committees did not receive the warning letter.
Councilman Keith Bohr said he didn't receive a letter even though he has served on committees that paid a stipend. Dwyer, on the other hand, said he didn't serve on any paid committees in the past.
Dwyer was appointed as an alternate to the Orange County Sanitation District in December, which happened after the letter was sent. Carchio is the main liaison from the city to the sanitation district. Members of the sanitation board are paid $212.50 for each monthly meeting.
Dwyer said he attended one training session since getting appointed as an alternate.
Bohr was appointed to the Public Cable Television Authority in December. The authority pays its members $100 for each monthly meeting.
Carchio, who serves on four paid committees and is expected to make $5,350 this year in addition to his council pay, criticized the nature of the FPPC's letter, saying the council members have followed the same routine for many years and it was never an issue.
"This has been going on for a long, long time, way before I ever got on the City Council," he said. "If they just figured it out now, then they should say, 'Stop the practice from this point, and from here on forth, the practice should be this.'"
Councilwoman Connie Boardman, who didn't receive a letter and doesn't serve on any paid committees, concurred with Carchio, calling the FPPC's warning silly.
"It's a very, very routine thing," she said. "It's just on the consent calendar, and I don't think anyone has ever thought of it before."
"But, if the FPPC wants us to recuse ourselves, we certainly will," Boardman said.
Each council member indicates the names of committees or boards they're interested in serving on, after which the mayor makes the appointment and the council votes on it during a public meeting, Boardman said.
The item is usually placed on the consent calendar, which doesn't necessitate a discussion, unless someone asks to pull it for further analysis.
Carchio and some of the others who received the letter throughout the county have petitioned the FPPC to consider exempting the votes from the personal finance effects provision of the Political Reform Act.
The FPPC is scheduled to consider the matter March 15, according to the Times.