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Monday, August 18, 2008

Vanguard Reports: Form 700 Filings by Davis City Councilmembers

In the latest installment of our series of examinations of local public records disclosures, we examine California Form 700 filings by the Davis City Council. These are the Statements of Economic Interests.

By law, the state:
Requires every state and local government agency to adopt a unique conflict-of-interest code. The code lists each position within the agency filled by individuals who make or participate in making governmental decisions that could affect their personal economic interests. The code also requires individuals holding those positions to periodically file Form 700 disclosing certain personal economic interests as determined by the code’s “disclosure categories.” These individuals are called “designated employees” or “code filers.”
For the city of Davis every elected councilmember, every candidate for city council, city management that is in the position of making governmental decisions that could affect their personal economic interests (mostly upper management of the various divisions), and city commissioners are required to fill out a California Form 700.

These disclosures are vital to protect government against officials engaging in conflicts of interest.

According to Gov. Code section 81002(c):
"Assets and income of public officials which may be materially affected by their official actions should be disclosed and in appropriate circumstances the officials should be disqualified from acting in order that conflicts of interest may be avoided."
Gov. Code Section 87100:
"No public official at any level of state or local government shall make, participate in making or in any way attempt to use his official position to influence a governmental decision in which he knows or has reason to know he has a financial interest."
In order to determine which personal interests may be affected while carrying out official duties, the state and local governments require officials to disclose their financial assets including stocks and bonds, investments, real property holdings, income, loans, and business positions, gifts, and travel payments.

The FPPC provides detail on conflict of interest codes and disclosure requirements.
"For most other officials, including employees of state and local government agencies, it is up to the agencies that employ them to decide what their disclosure requirements are. Each state and local agency must adopt a conflict of interest code tailoring the disclosure requirements for each position within the agency to the types of governmental decisions a person holding that position would make. For example, an employee who approves contracts for goods or services purchased by her agency should not be required to disclose real estate interests, but should be required to disclose investments in and income from individuals and entities that supply equipment, materials, or services to the agency. (Gov. Code Sections 87301 and 87302.)"
For those who watch city council meetings on a regular basis, the most obvious examine of disqualification occurs when a project is within a given distance of a councilmember's home or property. Under those conditions, the councilmember simply disqualifies themselves from the participation in the discussion and the vote. One good example was on the 3rd and B visioning project, then Mayor Sue Greenwald was disqualified from voting on it, as a resident of the community immediately impacted by the project. However, she does retain the rights of a citizen and actually spoke during public comment as a member of the public on the issue.

Most of the time, these decisions are made voluntarily to avoid the appearance impropriety and the city attorney will assist members of the council in making the determination as to when they are conflicted out of the process.

However, for something so important, the public really knows very little about the form 700 or what is contained within the disclosures. Like most documents, these are public records, they can be requested by any member of the public for perusal or to be copied.

Davis City Council Form 700s

The Vanguard made a public records act request and received a copy of every filed Form 700 in the City of Davis. For the purposes of this article however, we have decided to only post those forms filed by the five members of the Davis City Council.

Again these are public records, available to anyone, the Vanguard is simply making them more accessible to the public.
What have we learned from these documents? One thing it is important to note, that when disclosing real property, the individual's main private residence is not a disclosable interest. For that reason neither Don Saylor who owns his home nor Lamar Heystek who rents an apartment have any real property. Neither do they have any reportable investments.

The most interesting disclosures are from Stephen Souza, Sue Greenwald and Ruth Asmundson.

Councilmember Stephen Souza's disclosure is in fact the longest at 27 pages. He has one investment in a stock, but the majority of his disclosures are the properties and apartment complexes--roughly 48 different properties are disclosed as doing business within during the course of his duties as a pool service vendor. That puts him in a very interesting position with regard to a variety of policies.

Mayor Ruth Asmundson has a very interesting investment of over $100,000 in the First Northern Bank of Dixon which is one of the main banks that finances development in Davis. She has held that asset from 1976. She also owns less than 10 percent partnership in about four properties, two of which are in Davis including the Parque Plaza on Alvarado and Sycamore West Apts on Sycamore Lane.

Finally Councilmember Sue Greenwald owns two properties in Davis plus stock in SBC Communications, SW Air, Chiron, and Exxon.

As mentioned earlier, the Vanguard at this point is not posting the Form 700s from other Davis Officials or the Commissioners. However, a perusal of the Form 700s provides us invaluable information about our public servants as they carry out their official duties for the city of Davis. Stay tuned this week, as the Vanguard releases more public documents from both the city of Davis as well as Yolo County.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting