Former Santa Monica Mayor and longtime City Councilman Tony Vazquez said his wife, a Santa Monica-Malibu School Board member, did not realize she was voting for contracts that benefitted his consulting clients when she approved certain consent calendar items at district meetings.

“She didn’t even know she was voting on these things,” Vazquez said in a frank conversation with the Daily Press. “You’ve seen the ones we get at City Council, these consent calendars for the school board are pretty thick.”

The district and Board of Education are investigating Maria Leon Vazquez’s votes, after a Los Angeles Times report found she approved multiple contracts with two companies that have paid her husband as a consultant.  The report said Leon-Vazquez approved several contracts with Keygent, LLC totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars while the company was paying her husband between $1,500 and $2,500 a month.  Leon-Vazquez also approved a $174,000 contract with TELACU, which has paid her husband up to $8,000 a month for his services over the years.

“At this time, we are in the process of gathering information and facts related to the board’s and Maria’s votes. We will have more information to share in the coming days,” said Gail Pinsker, Public Relations Officer for SMMUSD.

Vazquez, who is currently running for a seat on the state Board of Equalization, did not dispute the factual accuracy of the report but insists he only works with the companies to obtain contracts outside of Santa Monica.  Leon-Vazquez did not return the Daily Press’ request for comment.

The contracts came to light during a deposition regarding the city’s district elections lawsuit.  Vazquez has not reported any income from TELACU or Keygent on his official Statement of Economic Interest, also known as Form 700.

“As long as I’m not doing any business in the city (of Santa Monica) I don’t have to claim it,” Vazquez said.  In an email exchange between the former mayor and the Fair Political Practices Commission obtained by the Daily Press, Vazquez was told, “That is correct.  You are required to report discloseable investments and sources of income (including loans, gifts, and travel payments) that are either located in or doing business in your agency’s jurisdiction, are planning to do business in your agency’s jurisdiction, or have done business during the previous two years in your agency’s jurisdiction.”

Vazquez met with his attorney in Beverly Hills last week who also told the Council member he did not need to disclose income with his consulting firm, Vazquez & Associates, that did not concern business inside Santa Monica.

An adviser with Keygent, told the Los Angeles Times the firm includes a clause in their contracts with SMMUSD disclosing its relationship with Vazquez and stating his work is unrelated to the district.

Vazquez admits to having a conversation in 2014 with a TELACU executive and SMMUSD Superintendent Sandra Lyon about the company’s work in other school districts.  Vazquez says the meeting happened over a drink at the Superintendent’s Symposium in Monterey, California.  The councilman was there on behalf of TELACU. The annual meeting brings together superintendents from across the state, as well as vendors seeking hefty government contracts.   Companies shell out money for sponsorships and access, for example, a $12,000 sponsorship for this year’s conference nets a vendor a speech during welcoming remarks, a complete list of attendees, a premier booth and 24-hour general guard service, among other perks.

In a publically posted wrap-up video for the 2014 conference, the director of the Association of California School Administrators summed up the benefit of attending:

“You don’t have to worry about somebody seeing you do something you don’t want someone else in the public to see,” Chris Adams says, “and I think we appreciate that and what we are trying to do consistently is keep that guarded, if you will, nature of this conference so that our members can relax.”

Vazquez said the conversation between the TELACU executive and Lyon was “informal.”

“That specific meeting was to show (Lyon) what a medium size company can do for the district,” Vazquez said.  “At that time, they had already hired someone else. It was one of the big companies…it wasn’t like they were in an RFP process or even looking at that time.”

Vazquez said he encouraged Lyon to look at some of TELACU’s work at schools in the South Bay.  He says the follow-up trip never happened and TELACU wasn’t awarded a contract until years later, after Lyon had left her job as superintendent.

“Sandy’s not even in the pictures so to try and make that connection is kind of a stretch,” Vazquez said.

Lyon did not respond to the Daily Press’s request for comment.

TELACU has won construction and construction management contracts in 27 school districts, adding up to $3.2 billion in projects, according to the company website.

Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press