Sanitary District continues effort to oust Fitzpatrick

The Costa Mesa Sanitary District's board is continuing its effort to remove Jim Fitzpatrick from the board because of a perceived conflict of interest with his recently relinquished Planning Commission seat.

Fitzpatrick dropped the planning post after the Sanitary District directors said his involvement with both boards could one day prove incompatible.

But his peers on the board do not believe the potential for conflict disappeared with his resignation.

"Board member Fitzpatrick caused this by accepting the Planning Commission position after being advised by both the district counsel and the city's attorney that there was this legal doctrine that could cause him to lose his office," board President Bob Ooten wrote in an email. "The board believes that when Fitzpatrick accepted the Planning Commission office, he vacated the Sanitary District office. The board cannot change the legal result."

Fitzpatrick said he thinks his fellow directors are wasting money. The board has filed a request with the state attorney general's office to get permission to seek a court order to have Fitzpatrick removed.

"I have confidence that my colleagues will stop paying ratepayer money on litigation to settle political grudges," he said. "Even though I believe there isn't one, the whole basis has been incompatibility of office, but I've removed it, so I don't know what other logical choice there could be."

According to arguments filed with the state, the four other board members believe that he was disqualified as a director the moment he was sworn in as a planning commissioner. Potential conflicts have so far not arisen and Fitzpatrick said he would recuse himself from any votes where it became an issue.

"I was elected by 50% more voters than [Fitzpatrick], and I believe that the voters would want us to be ethical," Ooten said in a phone interview Wednesday. "And as a matter of fact, the state wants us to be ethical."

The district's filings with the state contend that Fitzpatrick was told after he was elected to the district in November 2010 of the possible conflict because the two jurisdictions overlap.

Ooten said Fitzpatrick's resignation from the Planning Commission doesn't solve anything or remove the potential conflict.

"For a long time I believed that public money shouldn't be spent on this," Ooten said. "But then I saw the legal opinions on this that said it was an unlawful position."

The state attorney general's office is expected to reply to the Sanitary District's request to take legal action against Fitzpatrick next month, Ooten said.

Twitter: @JosephSerna

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