Venezia: A Rush to judgment

Say the names Bob Rush and Rush Hill three times quickly and you have quite a tongue twister — almost as twisted as their continued political interaction, which seems to be playing out again.

It's no secret that Newport Beach resident and former Assembly candidate Rush has no great love for Newport Beach Mayor Hill — and the feeling seems to be mutual.

Rush, a Democrat, says he distrusts Hill, a Republican. Hill calls Rush's complaints against him filed with the California Fair Political Practices Commission "totally politically motivated and verging on harassment."

Rush is crying foul at the FPPC for closing a case he filed against Hill with just a warning letter April 3.

To recap Round One, Rush filed a complaint with the FPPC against Hill, claiming the then-councilman should have recused himself as a member of the Neighborhood Revitalization Committee since he had interest in properties that were in the area the committee wanted to fix up in 2011.

I talked to Hill after the complaint was lodged. He said he recused himself when the committee's boundaries were more specific regarding a stretch of Mariner's Mile, but in initial discussions they weren't. Officials only need to recuse themselves when a project in question is proximate to their property.

In the adjudication letter dated April 3, the FPPC wrote to Hill, "Some of the allegations do not appear to rise to the level of a violation of the (Political Reform) Act."

The case was closed with a warning letter to Hill.

But according to Rush, he never was copied on this and thus lost time to appeal the ruling.

However, a copy was sent to attorney Bob Hawkins.

Why Hawkins?

Apparently the FPPC merged Rush's complaint against Hill with Hawkins' complaint against then-Mayor Mike Henn since the complaints were about the same revitalization project.

Hawkins filed against Henn after it was reported that he had financial ties to the drug store in Lido Village where he'd championed revitalization.

By the way, the FPPC found no wrong doing on Henn's part either.

Confused yet?

Like I said, this is a twisted tale, and the similarity in the names doesn't help.

Fast forward to today: Both councilmen being seemingly cleared by the FPPC sets the stage for Round Two.

Rush, who is known for being active in the West Newport Assn.'s drive against rehabilitation homes, isn't happy because he believes the FPPC didn't follow its own rules, and he says his case against Hill should be reopened.

"Merging my complaint with Hawkins', they never gave me a chance to respond, and as a result of that they didn't follow the law," he argued.

Rush also says Hill was given an opportunity to fly to Sacramento to speak with investigators, and he was not.

And Rush says since Hill already received one warning letter in 2011after being accused of violating a state ethics law that bars officials from voting themselves onto paid boards or committees, he shouldn't get a pass on the latest violation.

So on April 29, Rush sent a letter to Erin Peth, FPPC executive director in Sacramento, asking her to reopen the current closed case against Hill alleging conflict of interest.

The letter explains why he feels the case was mishandled.

Rush says that throughout the approximately two-year investigation, the FPPC kept in touch with him via email and phone as the agency attempted to collect evidence. Yet he says he was not copied on Hill's adjudication letter and Hill's history wasn't acknowledged.

"My understanding is that once a person has been warned by the FPPC, there are no such further warnings," wrote Rush. "Is the FPPC in the habit of giving second warnings to same offenders? If so, who has gotten such treatment and who makes those calls? Is this really effective enforcement?"

In the letter, he even includes a link to the April 3 Daily Pilot story about the FPPC findings in this case, and says he feels Hill's "true vindication" quote taunts the FPPC's ineffectiveness.

Ouch!

He closed his letter by writing, "If left intact, the FPPC's decision as outlined in the attached letter for Case 12/24 will make our community LESS trustful of their public officials and of the FPPC."

Hill had no idea Rush was trying to reopen the case until I emailed him for a comment.

"If this is true, it will be just like the first one — a waste of public funds by one who hates government for some unknown reason," Hill wrote.

Money is also at issue here. Rush claims the city has spent in excess of $50,000 to defend Hill against his complaint.

Hill says he has no control over that.

"As a public servant performing my duties, it is the responsibility of the city to provide defense," he said.

BARBARA VENEZIA, whose column appears Fridays, lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com.

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