I love it when a local activist or watchdog group digs in, uncovers alleged wrongdoing, exposes it and takes action. So my cap is off, way off, to Mary Marlow and her all-volunteer compatriots at The Santa Monica Transparency Project for charging that retired Santa Monica City Manager Rod Gould created a conflict of interest for himself by accepting employment with a firm that he repeatedly did business with while at City Hall.

Project Chair Marlow recently issued a press statement claiming that Gould’s acceptance of a position as Vice President of Management Partners was in violation of the Oaks Initiative, an anti-corruption ordinance approved by voters in 2000.

The Transparency Project filed a complaint with City Hall that details numerous incidences when Gould approved city contracts (which were under the dollar threshold requiring City Council’s OK) with Management Partners. Marlow says that Gould ran astray of the initiative when he took a job with a firm that benefited from the contracts he approved while City Manager.

The Oaks Initiative prohibits a public official (City Council and Planning Commission members, department heads or persons who confer contracts, purchase orders, permits, tax exceptions, or variances, to name a few) from receiving specified personal benefits from a person or entity they gave a ‘public benefit’ to. Marlow says that Gould hired and paid Management Partners to review and evaluate various city departments and operations and then accepted a job from the firm after retiring from his Santa Monica post.

The Oaks Initiative specifically references contracts and payments to an outside vendor to provide goods or services worth more than $25,000 over any 12-month period. The Transparency Project’s complaint lists a $50,000 contract in February 2013, another in October 2014 for 44,900, a contract in November 2011 for $39,500 and a $30,000 contact issued in April 2012.

The complaint asks for a full investigation into the allegations. However, City Attorney Marsha Moutrie says that the Oaks Initiative only applies to Santa Monica. Because Gould lives outside the city and was hired outside the city, there’s no action her office can or should take on the complaint.

It will be interesting to see how this will play out, but in any case, I’m still delighted to see that Marlow and her group seized on what they believed to be (and what still may be) wrongdoing and took action. If nothing else, it reminds all department heads as well as City Council members and Planning Commissioners that we’re all watching.

Marlow also noted that former City Chief Traffic Engineer Sam Morrissey is now working for Iteris, a consultancy that also performs services for the city on contract. It makes us both wonder how many other former city officials have taken jobs with consultants that they did business with as City staff.

Gould has made his contribution for five years and we’ve failed to solve major concerns such as development and traffic, have seen taxes go up and deep divisions among residents grow and proliferate. Do we need Management Partners with Gould aboard in the future? Maybe it’s time to find another consultancy.

ECEC moves ahead despite serious concerns

As a follow up to my June 8 column about City Council approving physical modifications to plans for an Early Childhood Education Center (ECEC) operated by Santa Monica College (SMC) in the Civic Center, as expected, Council unanimously approved the changes involving increasing the height of the proposed ECEC 25 to 40 feet even though there are serious concerns over its location and vetting process. Issues such as the 50 year lease (with renewable options) of 1.6 acres of valuable, publicly property to state supported SMC for one dollar and an additional $5.56 million city contributions to its building costs were of no concern.

Any irregularities or questions about whether this is really a good a deal for city taxpayers will be ignored as the politically powerful supporters behind the proposed ECEC push hard for it. This is a done deal. Once again, social agenda trumps transparency, common sense and the public interest.

Councilwoman Gleam Davis, a strong ECEC supporter said, “It will help close the achievement gap that plagues our schools…reduce the need for special education…lead to higher graduation rates…lead to better college attendance and college graduation rates…lead to better overall academic performance for every one of the kids who are lucky enough to be able to attend there.” She’s talking primarily about children of well paid employees of Rand Corporation, City Hall and the college who’ll have priority at the new facility.

Somebody tell Gleam this isn’t a debate about the value of early childhood education. This issue is about economics, a fiduciary duty to taxpayers and whether this is the best use of the land. As of now, this childhood facility is slated for a congested Civic Center away from any real residential neighborhoods — unless you call the hideous “Village at the Civic Center” a neighborhood — and Davis says, “It seems (there is) no better place.”

Actually, Gleam, there are many “better places,” but the fix is in and consideration of other locations is dead. So, nearly two acres of Civic Center land that should be set aside for cultural and or recreation opportunities for everyone has been traded off for a special interest project. In addition to all other issues, it’s also another Civic Center architectural loser that looks more like a warehouse or a prison than a place for children.

Bill Bauer can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com.

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