By Ryan Hagen Staff Writer
Posted: 02/11/2011 10:31:50 PM PST

SAN BERNARDINO – City Councilman Jason Desjardins announced Friday that he was leaving office to care for his ailing mother, on the heels of controversy over a potential conflict of interest.

The resignation, which became effective Friday at 5p.m., follows months of attempts to sell his towing company, which he said derives a vital share of its profits from a contract with the city.

State conflict-of-interest laws prohibit officials from having a financial interest in any contract made by them in their official capacity, or by any legislative body of which they are members.

Attorneys agreed that meant he had to give up either the contract or his position with the city, and in January Desjardins said he was more likely to choose the financial stability.

Desjardins, who represents the city’s second ward, did not return repeated calls for comment Friday, but in an e-mail announcement he emphasized that his mother’s blood clots and serious heart problems required more care than he could provide while also serving on the council.

“As an elected representative, I have always believed in putting families first,” Desjardins wrote. “That’s why I have decided to step down from the Council in order to help my mother regain her health.”

City Attorney James F. Penman said he suspected Desjardins’ family situation sharpened the financial pressure that kept him from sacrificing the contract.

“I think that the two converged,” Penman said. “It’s my understanding that he was going to have to be taking care of his mother, and keeping his book intact with the city was an important element in being able to have a successful business. He needed that business to succeed in order to take care of his mother.”

The city’s contract with Big Z Towing, which Desjardins bought in 2004, brings in $5,281.55 a month. That makes it the main income source, according to Desjardins.

A new owner would have to compete with other tow companies for the contract, making it especially tough to sell in the current economy, Penman said.

The city’s charter requires the City Council to set a date for a special election to fill the seat within the next 30 days. The election must then be held 90 to 120 days after that.

That would allow the city to combine the second ward election with a June special election to vote on the state budget situation, saving money and voter’s time, Penman said.

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