SB mayor, attorney spar over investigation report
Josh Dulaney, Staff Writer
Posted: 05/07/2011 10:02:40 PM PDT
SAN BERNARDINO – City Attorney James F. Penman says he has launched four investigations into alleged state Political Reform Act violations by elected city officials.
His decision to let the world know about it through a written report to the City Council, followed by demands to speak about it to the council in his capacity as city attorney, sparked a heated debate with Mayor Pat Morris, who charged Penman with grandstanding in an election year.
“Mr. Penman, you have made a practice, particularly during election years, of ramping up the political agenda in this city in attempting to hijack this council’s agenda to meet your political needs, sir,” Morris said at last Monday’s council meeting.
The City Attorney’s Office receives between 12 and 24 allegations of political corruption each year, according to Penman’s written report.
The report said that the allegations are investigated, and the vast majority of them end with the officials being cleared of wrongdoing.
This year a planning commissioner was cleared of allegedly violating the Political Reform Act, and three city employees, including one department head, have been cleared of violating the city code, the report said.
But over the past 23 years, several city officials have either been prosecuted or resigned while under investigation by the City Attorney’s Office, according to the report.
Penman’s report didn’t identify who is being investigated.
But he did say after the meeting that his office, on the heels of allegations that county Supervisor Neil Derry laundered a campaign contribution, has received calls from residents concerned about what he is doing to follow corruption allegations in the city.
Those include public allegations by former 2nd Ward Councilman Jason Desjardins that 4th Ward Councilman Fred Shorett offered to use his influence to broker a business contract with the city – allegations that Shorett has strongly denied.
“People want to know what we’re going to do about it,” Penman said after the meeting.
While Penman stopped short after the meeting of saying Shorett was among those being investigated, he said his office was “looking into” the matter.
Two more investigations involving two elected officials also were recently referred to Penman’s office for review, according to his report to the council.
Morris told Penman that the report was a “receive and file” matter and nothing else was required.
Saying he anticipated Morris’ stance, Penman said he previously filled out one of the comment cards available to members of the public who want to speak on an issue.
“You’re saying that you’re not allowing the people’s elected representative to make a presentation except as a member of the public,” Penman told Morris.
Morris, who characterized Penman’s report as a political diatribe filled with “revisionist history and political puffery” told him to hold a press conference if he wanted to “amp up” his political agenda.
Penman has said he hasn’t decided if he is going to run for re-election.
“Is the mayor suggesting,” he said Thursday, “that because it’s an election year I should look the other way and not do my job?”
The Mayor’s Office responded sharply, with Chief of Staff Jim Morris saying Penman uses “McCarthy tactics” to politically bludgeon people from his office with “his own jack-booted investigators over there.”
Jim Morris criticized Penman’s announcement about his investigation into alleged corruption in light of Penman agreeing in 2009 to pay a $5,000 penalty to the state Fair Political Practices Commission over a 2007 complaint alleging that Penman failed to report or under-reported gift memberships at the Arrowhead Country Club.
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