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FPPC warns but doesn't fine mayor

Rush Hill should have recused himself from voting on street improvements near his property, watchdog agency says.

April 03, 2014|By Jeremiah Dobruck

California's political ethics watchdog warned Newport Beach Mayor Rush Hill on Thursday that he should have recused himself from a handful of decisions that could have raised the value of property he owns, but declined to fine or formally admonish him.

"It's true vindication," Hill said.

The state's Fair Political Practices Commission said in a letter that the mixed-use building Hill owns on West Balboa Boulevard created a conflict of interest when he voted on preliminary stages of a project to build $2 million worth of improvements to the street's sidewalks and medians.

The mayor said the letter shows the FPPC couldn't find anything serious enough to levy a fine after a two-year investigation.

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Hill was part of a committee in 2011 that recommended the city prioritize revitalizing areas of West Newport, and in June of that year, he joined other City Council members to approve that recommendation.

According to FPPC's letter, Hill was at least somewhat aware that the building he owns at 22nd Street and West Balboa Boulevard could potentially cause a conflict.

In a May 2011 committee meeting, Hill mentioned his property and said he'd ask for advice from the FPPC, according to the letter.

"However, it does not appear you requested advice until August," the FPPC wrote.

In the meantime, the committee and council moved forward with the project that eventually included landscaping, expanding medians and other projects to improve the boulevard.

Throughout the early process, the boundaries of the project were undefined, Hill said, making it difficult to determine whether it was close enough to his real estate to cause a potential conflict.

When he realized the borders were creeping near his building, he began recusing himself from votes, he explained.

Nevertheless, at the time of the first council vote in June, "The exact parameters of the road beautification were not a certainty, but they were reasonably foreseeable to you at the time," the FPPC said.

Hill inappropriately participated in one more vote after he began recusing himself, according to the FPPC.

In November 2011, he joined the council in passing a bundle of miscellaneous services related to various revitalization projects, including the one on Balboa Boulevard.

Hill said he didn't recall the specifics of that vote.

Public officials are required by law to abstain from discussing or voting on decisions in which they could have a financial interest.

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