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Cerritos Mayor Solanki & Mayor Pro Tem Vo Giving Big Breaks to Campaign Donors

 

CERRITOS Mayor Naresh Solanki (left) and Mayor pro tem Chuong Vo took $10,000 from the SMCDA, then voted for a $70,000 rent deferral for one of its members.

 

BY BRIAN HEWS • MAY 22, 2020

During the run up to the election this past March, Hews Media Group-Los Cerritos Community News reported that Cerritos Mayor pro tem Chuong Vo, who eked out a win over Sophia Tse, took an eye-opening $7,500 from the Southland Motor Car Dealer’s Association (SMCDA), while current Mayor Naresh Solanki took  $2,500 from the SMCDA.

Cerritos Candidate Chuong Vo Took a $7,500 Donation From the Cerritos Auto Square

To put the donation dollars in perspective, the $7,500 given to Vo was nearly 30% of his total campaign finances as of Jan. 18, 2020.

Most City Council candidates don’t spend half of the $7,500 that Vo received on their entire campaign.

THE SMCDA is identified as a “major donor” on the Secretary of State’s  website and boasts several Cerritos Auto Square dealers as members of their association.

The SMCDA took $5,000 from the Cerritos Auto Square Association in December of last year.

The Cerritos Auto Square is by far the biggest tax revenue generator  for the city of Cerritos, which includes Norm Reeves, Penske, and Browning automotive dealers, generating over $12 million a year.

After learning of the Vo and Solanki donations, HMG-LCCN examined past SMCDA campaign financial statements and found that the contribution to Vo, who is also a Torrance police officer, was $5,000 more than any contribution given to candidates for the 2020 election.

In fact, it was $7,000 more than the SMCDA gave to any previous Cerritos City Council candidates in the past five years, including former Mayors Carol Chen and George Ray.

When the April 23 meeting rolled around, barely five weeks after Solanki’s re-election and Vo’s narrow win, the two made good on the large SMCDA donations and handed one of the Auto Square dealers a huge payback.

It is the kind of blatant quid pro quo vote that should catch the attention of Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s Public Integrity Division and the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission.

At the April 23 meeting, item 9C on the agenda asked the Council to review a request by Penske Jaguar Land Rover Cerritos.

According to the agenda, Cerritos paid for drafting of the Rent Deferral Agreement.

The deferral agreement was a sweetheart deal; Penske would have one year to pay the deferral amount back, which was just over $70,000, and no interest would be charged.

Under California and FPPC conflict of interest laws, “city councilmembers have a mandated manner in which they must disqualify from decisions made at a public meeting and must publicly identify a conflict of interest and leave the room before the item is discussed.” 

Specifically,  California Government Code Section 84308(c) states, “Prior to rendering any decision pending before an agency [City Council], each officer [Councilmember] of the agency who received a contribution within the preceding 12 months in an amount of more than $250 from a party, or from any participant, shall disclose that fact on the record of the proceeding.” 

Solanki and Vo were mandated to disclose on the record that they received money from the SMCDA, who received money from the Cerritos Auto Square, and leave the meeting but they did not, and in doing do violated Section 84308.

Further, “no Councilmember shall attempt to use his or her official position to influence a decision pending before the agency if the officer has received a contribution in an amount of more $250 within the preceding 12 months from a party or participant, if the officer knows that the participant has a financial interest in the decision.”

Solanki and Vo should have recused themselves from the vote, but they did not.

The Institute for Local Government in their election ethics publication wrote, “It’s not a good idea to ask for or accept campaign contributions from people who have business pending before an office-holder’s agency — or will in the foreseeable future. Soliciting your agency’s vendors for contributions to your re-election campaign is also a poor practice.”

“The goal is to avoid any inference that receiving a campaign contribution will influence actions, whether it’s a vote on a policy matter or a decision to use the contributor’s company or firm to provide goods or services to your agency.”

Well-respected law firms such as Richards, Watson & Gershon; Burke, Williams & Sorensen, LLP; the staff of the Fair Political Practices Commission; among others, contribute to the publication.

Yet after the presentation by City staff, and public comments by residents concerned about the lost revenue, Vo and Solanki stumbled over themselves to cast a yes vote.

In fact, Vo can be seen on video clamoring to approve the motion by Solanki to vote on the deferral, interrupting Councilmember Grace Hu after Solanki called for the motion.

VIDEO showing Solanki and Vo quickly voting to approve the rent deferral.

 

Solanki had to ask who approved the motion, at which time Hu said she approved, Vo then immediately seconded the motion and the deferral was approved.

Also voting on the deferral was Councilmembers Frank Aurelio Yokoyama and Grace Hu, but they were allowed;  a check on the campaign statements of the SCMDA showed no contributions to Yokoyama nor Hu.

The deferral comes at a strange time, when Solanki and Vo are trying to cut the funding to the ABC Unified School District and their crossing guards.

Several emails into Mayor Solanki and Mayor pro tem Vo went unreturned.

 

CAMPAIGN DOCUMENTS showing SMCDA donations to Solanki and Vo, and a $5,000 donation from the Cerritos Auto Square to the SMCDA. The donations should preclude Solanki and Vo from voting on anything related to the Auto Square.

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