Back up to Speed

Photo by Jack GouldGovernment investigators are still looking at Huntington Beach Councilman Dave Garofalo's alleged political corruption, and residents have launched a recall effort to blow him out of City Hall. The city attorney has given him a list of potential conflicts of interest and advised him not to vote on them. But after four months of self-restraint that amazed City Hall insiders, Garofalo apparently can no longer resist mixing political duty with personal opportunity.

On Jan. 9, Garofalo participated in a meeting of the city's Economic Development Committee, where he debated and voted on issues that pose potential conflicts of interest for him—including the CIM Co.'s role in downtown redevelopment and a request by the city's visitor's bureau and chamber of commerce that taxpayers fund construction of an office building they would share with the Surf Museum.

Garofalo's votes on issues involving CIM, the chamber of commerce and the visitor's bureau ought to trouble city officials: all three are connected to the councilman through Dave Garofalo & Associates—his publishing business that, until recently, produced the Huntington Beach Visitor's Guide and a chamber of commerce directory. CIM was a Visitor's Guide advertiser.

Just last summer, city attorney Gail Hutton specifically warned Garofalo—then the city's mayor—to avoid such entanglements. In a June 19 memo to Garofalo, Hutton announced she was forwarding evidence of the mayor's conflicts to the state Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). She advised Garofalo “not [to] vote on any matters concerning [CIM] Blocks 104/105 or any other advertisers in the Visitor's Guide.” Later, Hutton expanded this recommendation, warning Garofalo against voting on matters concerning advertisers in the chamber of commerce directory. Hutton acted after it was learned that Garofalo had a record of voting in favor of issues his advertisers brought before the City Council.

Mayor Pam Julien confirmed that Garofalo attended the EDC meeting, a three-member panel composed of Huntington Beach's previous, current and next mayor —in this case, Garofalo, Julien and Mayor Pro-Tem Debbie Cook. “But the EDC is an advisory committee,” Julien emphasized. “We may vote to give our recommendations, but the real voting is done at the regular meetings of the City Council.”

Many other Huntington Beach officials were present at the meeting, including city administrator Ray Silver and economic development director David Biggs. Garofalo's active involvement raised lots of eyebrows —especially when he argued in favor of a city-funded office building for the visitor's bureau and chamber of commerce, only to lose a 2-1 vote to Julien and Cook.

“I thought it was very odd,” said one attendee of Garofalo's active participation in the discussion and votes. “I was very uncomfortable with it.”

At least one city official reminded Garofalo of his potential conflict of interest, only to be rebuffed. Garofalo reportedly indicated that he will soon begin voting in council meetings again anyhow —inasmuch as February will mark one year since he received a much-publicized $2,995 check from CIM—and that he was simply getting up-to-speed on important issues.

That explanation would suggest that Garofalo has misunderstood California's Political Reform Act of 1974. Its one-year ban on conflict-of-interest votes includes even non-binding votes, including those taken at meetings such as the EDC. According to the state attorney general's office, public officials with a financial interest in a government decision are “disqualified from making, participating in making, or using his or her official position to influence the making of that decision at any level of the decision-making process.”

Garofalo did not return the Weekly's numerous telephone calls to his home, business and City Hall office requesting comment. But Sacramento attorney Steven Churchwell, the former FPPC regulator who has been representing Garofalo since last summer, said he was unaware that Garofalo had participated in the EDC meeting or of any possible intentions to resume unrestrained voting at City Council meetings.

“I didn't advise him to do that,” Churchwell said. “Since I began representing him, he has become extremely educated on the law. He knows as much about conflict-of-interest rules as anybody.”

Meanwhile, the recall effort headed by a newly formed Huntington Beach citizens group called CHARG—Committee for Honest and Responsible Government—is circulating petitions aimed at calling a special election that would remove Garofalo from office before his term expires in December 2002. Longtime community activist Sandra Cole is heading the petition drive, which requires the signatures of 10 percent of the city's registered voters —about 11,000 people—before June 21. “We're shooting for 16,000 signatures, just to be safe,” said Cole. “With the response we're getting so far, I think it will be a piece of cake.”

For information on the recall effort, call Sandra Cole at (714) 960-5050.

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