Anaheim Conflict of Interest: This Time It’s Councilwoman Murray

Kris Murray

Councilwoman Kris Murray

Earlier this year Councilwoman Kris Murray voted on a contractor’s report from the Willdan Group, her employer, FPPC regulations make it illegal for an elected official to vote on matters which have a financial impact on their personal interests. The law is crystal clear on the matter, you cannot vote on anything that involves your employer.

This latest bomb shell dropped on the pages of the Voice of OC this morning in the form of an investigative report by Adam Elmahrek.

The contract for Murray’s firm is the latest in a string of revelations at Anaheim City Hall regarding contracts given to firms connected to high-level officials and employees. Scott Fazekas, head of the city’s building division, resigned in October after a Voice of OC story revealed that his firm, Scott Fazekas & Assocates, received thousands of dollars in plan review work. Richard Brooks, an assistant under Fazekas, also resigned.

Prior to Fazekas, the plan review firm Charles Abbott Associates received the vast majority of Anaheim’s outsourced plan check work while a company’s employee, Steve Ahuna, was the city building division’s plan review supervisor, according to city invoices.

These revelations played a role in the City Council’s decision earlier this month to ask former City Manager Thomas Wood to resign, according to City Hall insiders. Wood’s resignation, which is effective in December, came after the City Council slashed his contract-signing authority from $250,000 to $100,000.

Read the complete story: Anaheim Contracts With Subsidiary of Councilwoman’s Firm

What I find particularly troubling is that Councilwoman Murray apparently had the good sense to resign her position with OCTA upon assuming her council position in order to avoid the appearance of a conflict. On December 7, 2010 Voice of OC’s Tracy Wood reported:

Newly-elected Anaheim Councilwoman Kris Murray is quitting her job as the Orange County Transportation Authority’s lobbyist manager “in the best interests” of the agency, she said Friday.

Murray will join Anaheim-based Willdan, a company that contracts with government agencies to perform engineering and other services.

Murray, OCTA’s executive director of government relations, oversees the work of the agency’s lobbyists in Sacramento and Washington. She said her new position as Willdan’s senior vice president for business development and government affairs won’t include working with lobbyists.
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She said as she moves into her new “high-profile position” as an elected official, it is better to work for a private company.
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Willdan and its executives also donated nearly $4,000 to her city council campaign. In the past, the firm has been a major donor to California political candidates and causes, giving about $120,000 in 2006 to Republicans, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Democrats.

It is likely that Murray felt that since her vote simply involved a contractors report and not the actual contract that she didn’t need to highlight her relationship with Willdan by abstaining from the vote. After all, with all the attention on pay to play contracts recently, no need to turn the lights on any brighter.

If anyone is interested in filing an FPPC complaint regarding the matter you can find out how at the FPPC website here.

  11 comments for “Anaheim Conflict of Interest: This Time It’s Councilwoman Murray

  1. Matthew Cunningham
    November 28, 2011 at 8:26 am

    Chris, with all due respect, your headline is untrue. There is no conflict of interest. Not even the VOC story – which is very unfair – explicitly claims as much, although it endeavors to create the perception.

    Kris Murray did nothing illegal or unethical or wrong in any way. This is an instance of manufacturing smoke where there is no fire.

    • November 28, 2011 at 10:08 am

      Leave it to Matt to come out as an apologist for the nasty politics pervading Anaheim. Hey, Matt: done getting sweetheart deals from Bill Campbell and writing hosannas for John Urell?

      • Matthew Cunningham
        November 28, 2011 at 2:24 pm

        Gustavo:

        While I know it makes you uncomfortable to leave the realm of personal attack and conjecture and deal with actual facts, but why don’t you give it a try.

        For starters: please point out where the is any conflict of interest in this vote? I’ll even give you some help by reminding you there is an actual, real life definition of what constitutes a conflict of interest. You can even look it up on the Internet.

    • November 28, 2011 at 12:01 pm

      Matt,

      Your reliance on the opinion of the same folks at City Hall who said there was no conflict with Fazekas getting most of the planning work to be sourced to his own firm is flawed. As I said, the rules are simple. You do not vote on matters involving your employer. It is simply UNETHICAL.

      • Matthew Cunningham
        November 28, 2011 at 2:35 pm

        Chris:

        For starters, I don’t think anyone has shown that Fazekas directed any work to his firm. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

        Secondly, I don’t think “most” of the planning work was sources to his firm. The total amount was only a few thousand dollars worth a year for a couple of years — and his firm was half the cost of other firms. Or would you like Anaheim taxpayers to pay twice as much as they have to?

        It’s not enough to simply claim Kris Murray’s vote was unethical. Demonstrate it. I don’t think you can, simply because she did nothing unethical.

        • November 28, 2011 at 8:18 pm

          Matt, from the Voice of OC Story on the Fazekas matter:

          “The records show that in nearly two years while Fazekas was Anaheim’s building division head, Fazekas’ firm went from receiving 8 percent of the city’s plan review business to more than 80 percent. All told, Scott Fazekas & Associates has billed the city for at least $18,954 since he took over the division.”

          As far as the documentation of an ethical violation on the part of Murray, in addition to the fact that she has a financial interest since she derives a paycheck for the firm there is this from the story today:

          A good-government expert says Murray’s vote, which came on May 17, shows a conflict of interest and a possible violation of statewide Fair Political Practices Commission regulations, which bar public officials from participating in decisions that financially benefit firms in which they have an interest.

          It was a “clear financial conflict” because, had the council rejected the report, it would have been a vote of no confidence on the consultant’s work and could have led to the termination of the contract, said Tracy Westen, CEO of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies.

          “She [Murray] shouldn’t be voting on a report from her own company,” Westen said. “My guess is it probably does violate a local ethics standard and maybe even a statewide FPPC regulation.”

          Ethical conflit is clearly documented. You know better than to defend this Matt. You are a County Commissioner and you have been involved in politics as long as I have.

          • Matthew Cunningham
            November 29, 2011 at 10:29 am

            Chris:

            I stand corrected on the percentage of work going to Fazekas firm — I recall that figure now that you point it out.

            At the same time, it is a small amount in context, and it was also pointed out that Fazekas’ firm was half the cost of other vendors.

            But back to Kris Murray. It is ludicrous to claim her vote had any material financial impact on Willdan, let alone on Kris Murray. I sincerely doubt the government watchdog has even seen the report she is commenting on — anyone who does take to the time to actually look at it, or the consent agenda item in question would see her statement about a vote of “No confidence” is laughable.

  2. gericault
    November 28, 2011 at 8:43 am

    Oh will wonders never cease, another conservative republican “on the public dole”, taxpayer subsidized shill, funnels money to her own private interests……Surprise, surprise.

    • Matthew Cunningham
      November 28, 2011 at 2:37 pm

      Gericault:

      While Chris is just plain wrong and Gustavo is being his usual childish self, you cannot even make a point intelligibly.

  3. Tefere
    November 29, 2011 at 11:24 pm

    Why is Matt so on this case?? He is everywhere defending the councilwoman.

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