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City Attorney: Cerritos Councilmember Lynda Johnson Must Recuse Herself From Sheriff’s Discussions

CONFLICT: Lynda Johnson is employed by the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department; Cerritos has its own $15 million sheriff’s department station in the city, the funding of which is included in the city budget.

 

By Brian Hews

July 9, 2022 ~ In the last election, Cerritos residents in favor of holding a majority on City Council overlooked an obvious conflict of interest between candidate Lynda Johnson and her employer, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, and voted her onto the City Council.

Cerritos funds a fully operational Sheriff’s station in the city; Johnson can’t have any input when discussions turn to the Cerritos Sheriff’s Station and Community Center during a City Council meeting; the station is the city’s second-largest expense.

But that is exactly what happened during a budget meeting in May, with Mayor Vo and the City Attorney watching, and worse, not acting, while Johnson and the council violated Government Code Section 1090 in the process.

If Johnson read the agenda before the meeting, she should’ve leaned forward into the microphone and recused herself when the sheriff’s budget item came up for discussion.

Questions into Johnson were not answered.

Johnson knew better too;  her campaign materials bragged about her 20 years as a paralegal with the District Attorney and her years exposed to business and networking; she likely saw a recusal or two working as Supervisor Hahn’s representative.

Former late Mayor Luigi Vernola often recused himself from Norwalk Council meetings because he owned so much property in the city; as representative of Supervisor Janice Hahn, Johnson frequented Norwalk City Council meetings.

Rookie Mayor Vo erred too; if he read the budget and did not see Johnson recuse herself, he should’ve leaned forward and told Johnson to recuse herself.

Questions into Vo were not answered.

And if the City Attorney did not see Johnson recuse or Vo asking her to recuse, he should’ve leaned forward and said, “Councilwoman, you need to recuse yourself.”

With all the legal firepower and the experience of 24-year politician Bruce Barrows and businessman Naresh Solanki, Johnson was allowed to ask questions for ten minutes before Mayor Vo interrupted and called a “ten-minute recess” that lasted nearly 30 minutes.

When the City Council and City Attorney emerged, everyone took their seat. The City Attorney spoke first saying, “As you know Ms. Johnson works for the sheriff so anytime we talk about the Sheriff’s Station she must recuse herself.”

Mayor Vo asked Johnson to leave the room; Johnson moved her chair, walked around the dais, and left the council chambers,  but the damage had been done.

The Political Reform Act and Fair Political Practices Commission Government Code Section Section 1090 “prohibits a councilperson from participating in making government contracts in which the official or employee within the agency has a financial interest.”

“Making” a contract includes final approval of the agreement, as well as involvement in preliminary discussion, planning, negation, and solicitation of bids. 

An official can have a “financial interest” in a contract in a variety of ways and it is not limited by the amount of the interest or how closely connected the official’s interest is to the contract.

“Violations of Section 1090 can result in the voiding of contracts, criminal, civil, and administrative penalties, as well as a ban on holding public office.”

As usual, no one in the city answered any questions submitted by HMG-CN about the May meeting and Johnson’s violation of 1090.

July 14 Meeting, Council Finally Addresses Violation

At its last council meeting, Cerritos took action that Johnson and Vo would not in May, telling Johnson she must recuse herself before budget discussions about the sheriff’s department began.

City Attorney Bill Ihrke stated, ” Councilmember Johnson is an employee of the County of Los Angeles and works for the Sheriff’s Department, thereby potentially having a conflict of interest based on her source of income under the State’s Political Reform Act and  Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) regulations.”

Government Code Section 1090 prohibits an officer, employee, or agency from participating in making government contracts in which the official or employee within the agency has a financial interest.

Section 1090 applies to virtually all state and local officers, employees, and multimember bodies, whether elected or appointed, at both the state and local level.

Despite the clarity of Section 1090, City Attorney Ihrke wanted to ask the FPPC for “clarification” of Johnson’s recusal situation.

“The City Attorney’s Office, pursuant to available procedures at the FPPC, will be obtaining from the FPPC a determination on whether Councilmember Johnson has a potential conflict of interest for future budget sessions.”

On its surface, the city expenditure to ask the FPPC seems unwarranted, 1090 is clear and “prohibits an officer, employee, or agency from participating in making government contracts in which the official or employee within the agency has a financial interest.”

Until the FPPC ruling (which would go against many other provisions of the Political Reform Act if Johnson was not forced to recuse herself) Irkhe stated, “Councilmember Johnson ‘would like to recuse herself’ from participating in any discussions concerning the budgeting of city funds to the Sheriff’s Department out of an abundance of caution so as to avoid any potential conflict of interest, Johnson’s recusal would apply to any discussion and vote on funds covered and described as Sheriff’s or Community Safety.”

6 Responses to City Attorney: Cerritos Councilmember Lynda Johnson Must Recuse Herself From Sheriff’s Discussions

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