February 20, 2011
Written by Erica Felci

The salary Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet earned from a charity he co-founded is the subject of an anonymous complaint filed with the California Attorney General’s office.

The complaint questions how much of the Pride Parents Association’s money went to Pougnet instead of programs.

Pougnet and Rancho Mirage Councilman Scott Hines launched Pride Parents in 2008 to help create a social network for gay parents. By the end of that year, about 70 families had joined from across the country.

Of the $53,360 in donations that year, tax records show $32,000 went to Pougnet as compensation for a 25-hour workweek.

Hines, the charity CEO, didn’t receive a salary for his five hours of work per week.

In 2009, the fundraising effort slowed. Only $30 in contributions were reported. Pougnet made $12,000 that year, filings show.

Pougnet said he welcomed any investigation because everything was properly reported and done by the book.

“The whole thing is ludicrous,” he said.

The attorney general’s office does not release complaints filed with the office. A copy was obtained by The Desert Sun.

It was also highlighted last week by the Republican-leaning FlashReport website, which asked, “Did failed U.S. House candidate Pougnet bilk a charity to finance ‘full-time’ candidacy?’”

Pougnet, a Democrat, insists the charity work was complete before he launched his congressional campaign in March 2009.

The most recent tax records are from 2009, which show the charity ended that year with only $12 in the bank.

However, its state charity registration was renewed in September and is valid through May.

Pougnet said the questions being raised boiled down to a “right-wing attack.”

Pougnet has shown an interest in challenging Republican Rep. Mary Bono Mack again in 2012. However, the mayor notes that the charity’s key donors were actually Bono Mack supporters during their last showdown.

“Obviously, someone is very concerned about redistricting and the future of the 45th Congressional District,” Pougnet said about the questions now being raised.

On the market

Speaking of Pougnet, he and fellow Councilwoman Ginny Foat have homes up for sale.

But their supporters shouldn’t worry: Both Palm Springs leaders say their new homes will be within city limits.

Foat’s moving into a Palm Canyon commercial building she owns, reviving a once-shelved plan to turn the second floor into a New York City-style loft apartment.

“I’m a city girl,” Foat said. “We’re excited about living downtown and where all the excitement is.”

Pougnet himself was a Realtor before entering politics. He and his husband have owned eight properties in Palm Springs.

Short-lived effort

Chalk this up to a case of “now you see it; now you don’t.”

A group of former Indio city employees providing commentary on city hall recently unveiled a new website, reformindio.org.

When we reached the webmaster by phone, he declined to give any names or say how many people were involved.

Apparently we should have asked them how long they’d keep it going, too: By Thursday, the website could no longer be accessed without a password.

Balancing act

Hines, a government affairs consultant, has made headlines lately for accepting contracts that appear to be in conflict with his role as Rancho Mirage councilman.

There was the dropped contract to run the west valley homeless shelter. Then he recused himself from city business because he’s working with a medical marijuana dispensary.

Now, the valley’s top tourism industry — the Palm Springs Desert Resort Communities Convention and Visitors Authority — is objecting to Hines serving as the county’s facilitator when it comes to the proposed Whitewater jail.

Notably, the concern over Hines’ public contracts was raised in his 2010 council campaign.

The then-candidate promised he wouldn’t take any contracts with the city of Rancho Mirage, a former client.

Hines told The Desert Sun that he’s kept that vow and has turned down clients who would cause a legal conflict of interest on the dais.

“I have made good on that campaign promise,” he said last week.

“I’m very careful. I meet with my city attorney and vet those jobs to make sure there are no legal conflicts of interest.”

That includes, according to Hines, his now-controversial role as jail facilitator.

Notable irony

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