File photo

The City Attorney’s office has issued a $500 fine to Councilman Terry O’Day over campaign contributions made during the 2016 election.

Local watchdog organization, The Transparency Project, filed two complaints against O’Day alleging he accepted money from individuals who received contracts from the Council while O’Day was behind the dais.

The complaint accused O’Day of accepting money from Marc Luzatto and Dan Emmett. Both campaign contributions were for $340 and both were ruled a violation of the law because O’Day had previously voted to approve contracts with the companies owned by Luzatto and Emmett. Under the Oaks rules, candidates who have previously served on the council are prohibited from accepting donations from companies or individuals that have received material benefits from the City while that councilperson was in office.

O’Day acknowledged receiving the money and returning the contributions but the law stipulates donations must be returned within 10 days of receipt and O’Day took too long to return the money in question.

In his letter explaining his decision, Deputy City Attorney Terry L. White said O’Day had agreed to pay a $500 fine over the two contributions.

“This violation appears to be the first violation of the Oaks Initiative by Councilman O’Day, who clearly did not exercise due diligence in his initial receipt of the contributions and the subsequent failure to return them promptly within ten days of receiving the contributions,” said White.

“I do not believe the most severe penalty of misdemeanor criminal prosecution is appropriate for this first-time violation of the statute. When Councilman O’Day became aware of the violation, he quickly returned the contributions and acknowledged his error in accepting the contributions. There is no evidence to indicate this conduct was a ‘knowing and willful’ violation by Councilman O’Day which would justify proceeding with a misdemeanor criminal prosecution.”

Mary Marlow filed the complaint on behalf of the Transparency Project.

“It is a very positive step that the City has finally recognized its responsibility to uphold Oaks and sanction a public official for violating it. Many residents have worked long and hard to reach this result. But we are quite concerned that after all the City Council sessions discussing the importance of Oaks last year and public officials’ responsibilities under it, Councilmember O’Day would so soon afterwards violate the law,” said Marlow, in a statement. “The rest of us are required to follow the law. Senior government officials and developers can be no exception. They have been given more than ample notice.”

For years, the anti-corruption rules were on the books but not enforced. Former City Attorney Marsha Moutrie had previously argued the rules were a conflict of interest for the City Attorney’s office and past complaints were not pursued.

Council made revisions to the enforcement procedures last year following recommendations from an outside investigator looking into actions by Councilwoman Pam O’Connor. Those changes included establishing a dedicated individual within the City Attorney’s office and White, who heads the Criminal Division of the office, received the assignment.

Following the administrative revisions, voters approved additional regulations strengthening the provision in the November election.

Additional accusations of illegal behavior were levied against candidates and campaigns during the election season.

The California Fair Political Practices Commission is still investigating complaints against Armen Melkonians and the Yes on Measure LV campaign alleging Melkonians improperly controlled multiple campaign committees during the election. No ruling has been made on those cases.