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FPPC probe targets Newport council members

City is trying to get the state to change a law that bars officials from appointing themselves to paying boards.

February 20, 2012|By Mike Reicher

Three Newport Beach City Council members are among the dozens of Orange County officials accused of violating a state ethics law that bars officials from voting themselves onto paid boards or committees.

The state Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) found that Councilman Rush Hill violated the rule and issued him a warning in December. The cases against Council Members Steve Rosansky and Leslie Daigle are still open.

In the meantime, the city has joined a petition with seven others in Orange County seeking to change the law.

At issue are the politicians' appointments to boards outside the city government, some of which include stipends.

State law prohibits elected officials from appointing themselves to a board or committee when they could make $250 or more in a one-year period, according to a warning letter sent from the FPPC's enforcement chief, Gary Winuk.

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The cities contend these stipends should be exempt.

For decades — at least as long as some Newport council members can remember — officials here voted in sweeping motions that appointed council members at once onto such boards. Many of these votes were unanimous.

In Hill's case, he and the rest of the council voted him onto the San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor Agency Board of Directors in early 2011. Directors there make $120 per monthly meeting. Hill also was paid for about two committee meetings during the past year, he said.

"To insinuate that someone is doing this for a financial gain is taking this to an absurd level," Hill said Monday.

The FPPC informed Hill and 39 other Orange County council members that this "decision did not affect your personal finances by a significant amount."

Rosansky and Daigle made more, records show.

Rosansky serves on the Orange County Sanitation District Board of Directors, which makes about $210 per monthly meeting.

In the past tax year, Rosansky said he made about $3,000.

"I don't think there's a massive conspiracy to defraud the public," he said.

Daigle serves on the Southern California Assn. of Governments and the Orange County Vector Control District. They pay $120 and $100 per monthly meeting, respectively.

She blamed past city attorneys for not warning council members they could be violating state law.

"This has been a practice that has been established for 100 years," she said, referring to the age of the city.

Since the warning letters were distributed in December, Newport council members have recused themselves from voting on their own paid appointments. Hill's letter said that he would face a $5,000 fine for each vote.

In March, FPPC commissioners plan to consider changes to the law.

mike.reicher@latimes.com

Twitter: @mreicher

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