Probe ordered for city hall decision

Parks leader says claims of a conflict of interest are without merit. Former mayor wants investigation.

April 20, 2007|By Alicia Robinson

Former Newport Beach Mayor John Heffernan has asked the state Fair Political Practices Commission to investigate whether a conflict of interest tainted the City Council's decision not to build a city hall next to the Newport Beach Central Library.

Since December 2005, the council has in three separate votes rejected the idea of building a new city hall on the 12-acre parcel by the library that has long been slated for Newport Center Park.

But in March the council rescinded the latest vote to go ahead with the park, after council members questioned how close parks commissioner Debra Allen lives to the park land. Allen has been very involved in decisions on the park, but if her property is less than 500 feet from it, there could be a conflict under Fair Political Practices Commission rules.


The council sent plans for the park back to the parks and recreation commission to revote without Allen participating, but that's not enough for Heffernan, who mailed a complaint to the political commission on Wednesday.

Heffernan said he has notes that show he spoke with Allen on the phone in September 2005, when he was mayor, right before he reversed his decision on whether to consider the park property for a city hall.

"I'm saying if there was a conflict and she shouldn't have been talking to me, then we've got a problem," he said. "She was very influential on me and made me change my position on something that is often cited by the current council as something they can't go back on."

Allen said she believes she does not have a conflict, and that even if her property is within 500 feet of the park, she's already proven with an appraisal that anything built there won't affect her property value.

She said she doesn't remember a conversation with Heffernan, but she acknowledged that it's possible that it occurred. Allen said she'll cooperate fully with a Fair Political Practices Commission investigation if there is one.

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