10:00 PM PDT on Friday, March 19, 2010

Cassie MacDuff The Press-Enterprise

Of all the people implicated in the recent public corruption scandals, the one who evokes the most sympathy is Jim Miller, the Grand Terrace councilman who stepped down 10 days ago.

Miller stands out because he took responsibility, from the moment he was approached by investigators, for what he did.

Miller faces one felony conflict-of-interest count for voting for payments for city ads placed in his wife’s newspaper. The payments were approved on the council’s consent calendar, items considered routine and non-controversial.

The city had been advertising in the Grand Terrace City News since before Miller’s wife bought it in 2006.

Unlike some other public officials confronted with their actions, Miller didn’t make excuses, shade the truth or try to push off the responsibility onto others.

He told investigators he had checked with the city attorney before his wife bought the paper, in a building next door to City Hall, asking whether it posed a conflict of interest for him.

He said the attorney told him it wasn’t a problem because the business was his wife’s separate property.

But he told investigators he realized he shouldn’t have voted on payments to his wife’s business.

A lot of people in Grand Terrace think the criminal charge against him is unfair, since he made a good-faith effort to find out if Margie Miller’s ownership of the paper would be a problem.

Dozens have attended his court hearings to show their support. Seventeen spoke on his behalf at the council meeting, some castigating several council members for not standing behind him.

Sadly, it would have been easy for Miller to avoid the trouble by abstaining from voting on the payments.

But he thought he had clearance. Now it appears he didn’t ask the right question.

City Attorney John Harper said Miller consulted him only about the purchase of the building, and Harper didn’t know the business in it was a newspaper.

Once he found out in August 2008, Harper advised Miller to seek legal counsel about the potential conflict of interest, and the city stopped advertising in it.

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