San Bernardino Seal

By Ryan Hagen, The Sun
Posted: 04/20/14, 7:02 PM PDT |

SAN BERNARDINO >> A proposal to hire the firm that advised Carey Davis’ mayoral campaign to serve as Davis’ chief of staff is raising conflict-of-interest concerns.

If the City Council approves the agreement Monday, MICA-PR will be paid $62.50 per hour to provide chief of staff services, and its president — Michael McKinney, campaign manager for Davis’ campaign and the recall campaign that ousted City Attorney James F. Penman and Councilwoman Wendy McCammack — would continue providing chief of staff services as he has since Davis was sworn in March 3.

But at least one councilman, a supporter of Davis’ campaign who stressed he still supports the mayor overall, said he’d try to stop the hire.

“First of all, you don’t contract with a P.R. firm to be your chief of staff — you hire a person,” Shorett said Friday. “I don’t think it passes the smell test.”

It’s not that McKinney isn’t qualified, said consultant Christopher Jones, who has advised a number of local campaigns on the opposite side of the metaphorical political aisle from Davis.

“I think the issue here that creates the real legal concerns is you’re hiring, essentially, a lobbying business for a policy position for a city,” Jones said. “When David Plouffe went to work for the Obama administration, they didn’t hire his consulting business. They hired Mr. Plouffe.”

Jones said he couldn’t think of any other cities in his 30-year career that hired a firm to be its chief of staff, and MICA-PR’s portfolio in particular raised concerns.

“If you look at MICA-PR’s website, they openly say one of their goals of the business and one of the things they work for is to get public resources to his clients,” Jones said. “Should one of his former clients all of a sudden get resources, was he steering them in that direction? I think that creates a whole host of ethical red flags.”

McKinney blasted Jones for “perpetuating the alleged controversy over my contract.”

“In the 20-plus years of my practicing public affairs or within the 31 years of the MICA firm, no one has stooped to sully the reputation of a competitor firm nor have we ever alleged impropriety in such a public and defaming manner,” McKinney wrote in an email. “Mr. Jones’ allegation are levied without fact. His misrepresentations of conflict-of-interest (a state not federal statute) do not exist.”

McKinney and his firm’s lawyers reviewed the sections of the state government code regarding conflicts of interest and found none, he said. The firm doesn’t represent developers within the city of San Bernardino nor is it seeking public funds such as federal grants before any local government, and a Form 700 that includes previous client data lists shows that, he said.

The reason he’s asking for a contract with his firm rather than to be hired himself, McKinney said, is because the contract is intended to be short-term. The agreement up for approval lasts through Dec. 31, although it can be terminated earlier.

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