Hoping for a bouquet

February 14, 2013 

Regarding the brickbat/bouquet opinion of Feb. 8, we’d like to thank you for withholding a brickbat. We hope that with more explanation and insight that you will feel we have earned the suggested bouquet of dune grass.

The Tribune asked the question: “How’s this for a stretch?” in reference to whether Grover Beach Mayor Debbie Peterson has a conflict of interest because she represents the city and also sits on the Air Pollution Control District Board. With additional information, we think you will agree with us, and here’s why.

Our experience as public officials, including service on the Grover Beach Planning Commission and City Council, heightens our concern with the importance of avoiding even the appearance, much less the reality of conflict.

When we recently discovered the Joint Powers Agreement that called for sharing of revenue from a joint project between the city of Grover Beach and the Off-Highway Vehicle Department of State Parks, we put the question to the Fair Political Practices Commission. We never suggested that Mayor Debbie Peterson as an individual had a conflict of interest. The question was raised as it relates to any Grover Beach council member in the same position.

Our question was as to whether any official of a profit-sharing partner (Grover Beach) sitting on a regulatory commission that oversees the activities of the other partner (State Parks OHV) raised any conflict issues. To us, this situation could be construed as the “fox watching the henhouse.” We think this is a fair question.

The FPPC Enforcement Division suggested that this relationship appeared to constitute one of “incompatible offices” and that means that there is another form of conflict of interest that differs from the classic one of individual benefit, and it recommended that we contact the District Attorney’s Office, which we did. We’ve asked the district attorney to review the matter and hopefully provide a good interpretation so that everyone will know what the circumstances are.

Our intent is to ensure that this situation is evaluated legally and ethically and that the question and answer are transparent in the public interest. We would think that The Tribune would support this effort as it has similar issues in the past. We are hoping that a bouquet of dune grass may be on its way.

Larry and Arlene Versaw live in Arroyo Grande.

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