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City adjusts conflict of interest rules

The change is meant to reduce staff confusion, according to city attorney.

February 08, 2012|By Brittany Levine, brittany.levine@latimes.com

Glendale City Council members on Tuesday voted to raise the financial threshold for recusing themselves from voting on contracts that involve political donors, a move officials said would make the conflict of interest rules more in line with existing policies at City Hall.

Under the new rules, City Council members will be required to recuse themselves from voting on contracts involving developers, subcontractors, investors or high-level employees who have donated to political campaigns if the contract is worth $50,000 or more. That makes city policy more consistent, officials said, but the City Council doesn’t consider contracts that are less than $50,000 anyway.

Contracts of less than $50,000 receive final approval from the city manager.

“It’s just easier for consistency’s sake,” said City Atty. Mike Garcia, noting that the purpose of the conflict of interest rules was to minimize the perception that campaign donations play a role in contract approval.

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The earlier $25,000 threshold caused unnecessary staff confusion and left some contracts in limbo, Garcia added.

The original rules were instituted in the wake of the scandal involving Advanced Development Investment Inc., a Los Angeles-based developer under federal investigation for allegedly bilking millions in affordable housing funds from several cities, including Glendale. Several council members accepted thousands of dollars in donations from ADI subcontractors, although they said they were unaware the donors were connected to the developer.

City officials claim ADI falsified budgets, invoices, loan documents and accounting records for four projects in South Glendale. The city is in a legal fight to have any fraudulently obtained funds returned to it. Officials have not yet pinned down how much the total figure is, but the four contracts between the city and ADI totaled about $34 million. The city of Los Angeles also is suing ADI.

Council members now receive a list of individuals connected to a contractor under consideration, which they then compare to a list of political donors.

Council members on Tuesday said streamlining the conflict of interest rules didn’t affect their overall purpose.

“The important thing in this from Day One is we didn’t want to create traps for anyone on council,” said Councilman Ara Najarian.

As a result of the changes, developers involved in multi-year contracts worth $50,000 or more will be covered by the rules. Previously, the rules applied only to contracts worth $50,000 or more during a single fiscal year.

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