On Nov. 18, the Turlock City Council approved a budget of more than $249,000 for the Turlock Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (CVB) on the basis that it encourages economic development in the City.
The adoption of the budget, which devotes Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) dollars, the additional tax on hotel and lodging services, to CVB services and activities was approved on a 4-1 vote, with Councilmember Amy Bublak the lone dissenting vote.
The approved $249,253 budget is comprised of $138,000 administrative allowance with the balance of funds allocated to other projects and programs specific to the plan. The allowance includes a new event planner position, which would be shared between the City, Chamber, CVB and Turlock Downtown Association. A $111,253 budget for various elements relating to the promotion of tourism is also included.
Since the vote, TurlockCityNews.com has learned that Mayor John Lazar, who voted to approve the budget, will sit on the Turlock Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors following his exit from his Mayor of Turlock seat.
According to Chamber of Commerce CEO Sharon Silva, Lazar will be one of five new directors that will officially be seated on Jan. 1, 2015.
While the exact date of his election is unknown, as TurlockCityNews.com has not received response about the election, Lazar, who has not publicly announced his election to the Chamber Board of Directors, most likely had prior knowledge that he would be on the Board prior to making the vote on the CVB budget on Nov. 18.
Lazar did not respond to request for comment on if he had been elected to the Chamber Board of Directors.
Joining Lazar as new directors are Jerry Powell, Paul Porter, Guillermo Ramirez, and Robert Rodarte.
The Board of Directors, which is made up of between 15 and 18 members, oversees the following for the Chamber of Commerce, per the Chamber by-laws:
- Oversees the finances for Turlock Chamber
- The classifications of members, accept resignations, and terminate memberships for cause.
- Develop policies, procedures and such rules for the guidance of the officers, the Directors, committees and the various classifications of memberships.
While Lazar and the other incoming directors are not officially seated yet, they were elected to the Chamber Board of Directors this year.
Directors are first nominated by a committee appointed by the President at least 45 days before the election, then must be approved by the President. General members with good standing within 30 days of the election date are eligible to vote for directors.
Ballots are mailed out to eligible members 15 days prior to the election date. This year’s ballots were sent to member in September and needed to be turned in by Sept. 15.
At the time of their nomination it is determined if directors will serve a one, two, or three year term. After six consecutive years of serving on the Board, there must be a one year lapse before the director can be reelected.
The incoming directors will serve a three-year term, according to the ballot sent to eligible Chamber members.
Should Lazar Have Disclosed Chamber Position Prior to Approving Chamber Budget?
In previous instances of possible conflict of interest, councilmembers have asked for advice from City Attorney Phaedra Norton prior to making a vote.
Former Councilmember Mary Jackson had a complaint filed against her alleging a violation of conflict of interest laws and official misconduct. In the complaint, it was alleged that Jackson’s campaign manager was the attorney of record for a business and Jackson had voted on an issue in which she had an alleged conflict of interest.
The City Attorney advised Jackson that she “may have a potential common law conflict,” according to court documents. The Stanislaus County Civil Grand Jury ultimately found that the attorney of record for the business in question was not Jackson’s campaign manager.
However, according to court documents, “wherein no actual wrongdoing was found to exist, the perception of wrongdoing does (exist).” As is often the case, the perception of wrong doing is greater than the offense itself.
The court also found that Jackson should have recused herself to avoid any perception of wrongdoing.
Similarly, Norton has advised other councilmembers on their potential conflicts. In June of 2009, former Councilmember Ted Howze requested advice from Norton on whether or not he had a disqualifying conflict in the potential renovation of Joe Debely Stadium, as he was on the board of directors for the Turlock Youth Football League.
Norton ruled that Howze did not have a disqualifying conflict of interest as he did not have an economic interest in Turlock Youth Football League.
Norton did not respond to requests for comment on whether she advised Lazar on a possible conflict of interest with the CVB budget vote prior to the Nov. 18 Council meeting.
However, conflicts of interest have not been limited to economic interests. In other instances, councilmembers have decided to be excluded from a vote for possible conflicts due to personal relationships.
At the Feb. 14, 2012 City Council meeting, Councilmember Bill DeHart identified a conflict of interest on the consent calendar, as he knew the claimant asking for damages. The item was removed from the consent calendar for separate consideration and the vote was later made with DeHart not participating in the vote.
According to Fair Political Practices spokesperson Jay Wierenga, a public official must make decisions that are best for the public, not themselves.
“Using a 'reasonable person' standard (that is, what would a reasonable person think or how would they act under the circumstances) a public official must not take part in discussions or decisions in which they have a personal, vested interest,” said Wierenga. “Usually that means a personal or business interest.”
Wierenga, however, could not comment specifically about this case, as per FPPC policy, and each case “depends on specific conditions and circumstances.”
While it is unknown whether or not there is a conflict of interest in Lazar’s vote, similar to Jackson’s case, there may still be an perception of wrongdoing.
Wierenga also stated that if the FPPC would receive a complaint, then their Enforcement Division would look into it.
While nobody from the City of Turlock has returned emails answering questions regarding a possible conflict of interest, TurlockCityNews.com will continue to investigate this matter and will continue to ask Turlock City Manager Roy Wasden and Turlock City Attorney Phaedra Norton for clarification regarding the perception of conflict of interest and what the consequence would be if it indeed is a conflict of interest.