CARRD Charges Two CHSRA Board Members Have a Conflict of Interest
Californians Advocating Responsible Railroad Design – aka CARRD, a group of HSR critics based in Palo Alto – today charged that two members of the California High Speed Rail Authority board, specifically Curt Pringle and Richard Katz, hold “incompatible offices” and that the Attorney General’s office should investigate.
Their basis for the claim is a letter from the Legislative Counsel dated April 23, 2010 that concluded that because Pringle as Mayor of Anaheim and Katz as a member of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority board have a conflict between those positions and their membership on the CHSRA board, that the offices are incompatible under state law:
Accordingly, it is our opinion that an individual who is the Mayor of the City of Anaheim or a voting member of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority may not simultaneously serve as a member of the High Speed Rail Authority under the common law doctrine of incompatibility of public offices that is now codified in Section 1099 of the Government Code.
It should be kept in mind this is just an advisory opinion, and that it doesn’t carry any legal force. Hence CARRD’s call for the Attorney General to investigate:
CARRD Co-founder Elizabeth Alexis said, “This situation is jeopardizing the public’s confidence in the integrity of the process and must be resolved as soon as possible. We urge the Attorney General to take immediate action to remedy this situation.” CARRD is in complete agreement with a statement made at a recent CHSRA meeting by board member David Crane. Mr. Crane stated, “What all of us should want on something that is the largest public works project… is a process that everybody can have complete confidence that everyone is doing things for the right reason.”
The LA Times picked up on this story, and shed some light on the background to this issue, which was raised by anti-HSR State Senator Alan Lowenthal several months ago:
In June, Lowenthal addressed a proposed deal — backed by Pringle — to use $200 million in high-speed rail money to complete a huge, canopied transportation center next to Angels Stadium in Anaheim at the southern terminus of the bullet train’s first phase. Lowenthal said it looked like parochial interests were taking precedent over statewide interests.
CARRD also offered a timeline of the issue as it pertained to the CHSRA, including the recent board meetings where Quentin Kopp proposed a motion regarding incompatible offices. There has been speculation that Kopp and Pringle have been at odds over the HSR project, particularly since Pringle
ousted replaced Kopp as board president last year, which might explain some of this. (Note: Quentin Kopp explained that Pringle did not “oust” him, but that his term as president merely expired, and Pringle was elected to replace him.)
Pringle has previously indicated, in an interview with the anti-HSR writer Tracy Wood at the Voice of OC, that he is “swearing off” elected office when he steps down as Mayor of Anaheim in December. Pringle’s term as an OCTA director expires at the same time. Still, CARRD believes this issue was important enough to call a press conference about it, in order to give a public push to get this issue investigated.
It’s not exactly clear what CARRD seeks from this. Do they want Pringle and Katz off the board? If so, why? Perhaps they want to clear the field for the next governor to appoint more new members. CARRD has been a strong advocate for more local involvement in the project, yet they are going after two local officials who have done quite a lot to provide exactly that kind of local engagement, particularly when OCTA, Metro, and the Gateway Cities in Los Angeles County called for further study of track sharing. So that begs explanation.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting Pringle and Katz stay on the board if the Attorney General says they need to go – but neither am I saying they ought to resign immediately. (And it may be the case that a legislative exemption would clarify this and enable them to continue to serve, as do many other local officials who serve on regional transit authorities). I’m not quite sure why this issue needs to be discussed and decided right now, and would love to hear from CARRD and others who share their concerns as to why this is worth pursuing and what kind of outcomes they want to see on the CHSRA board as a result of any investigation by the Attorney General’s office.
UPDATE: CARRD obtained a letter dated July 30, 2010 from the Attorney General CHSRA CEO Roelof van Ark suggesting that “your potentially affected members review the relevant law for themselves…and take appropriate steps to clear up any lingering issues.”
UPDATE 2: There’s been some discussion in the comments about CARRD’s motives, so let me add my thoughts. I had a good conversation with Elizabeth Alexis earlier today, who indicated that CARRD is primarily motivated by a desire to both enforce the law, and more broadly to see the CHSRA reformed to become more effective.
As CARRD’s Sara Armstrong said, they’re not a neutral organization, and they have and will continue to be much more critical of the project than I think is warranted. And the commenters are right to place this move in that context. At the same time, it’s clear that this is an issue the CHSRA board has already been dealing with, and while CARRD may be trying to force the issue, it was going to be forced by someone, one way or the other, before much longer (and note that Quentin Kopp was trying to do that already).
There seems to be a convergence of events – this particular issue, the gubernatorial election, and the ongoing legislative criticism of the CHSRA – that indicates to me we are likely to see in 2011 some kind of reform of how the CHSRA operates. I’m open to what the details of that reform are, so long as it does not compromise the ability of this project to get built on-time and in the manner that the voters approved in November 2008.