Local elected officials attended an ethics certification workshop on March 16 at San Benito High School hosted by the San Benito County League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).
The two-hour certification workshop, which elected officials are required by state law to attend every two years, included presentations on conflicts of interests, disclosure of financial interests and reporting of gifts. Attendees included San Benito County Supervisors Jim Gillio and Mark Medina, Hollister Councilwoman Honor Spencer, San Juan Bautista Mayor Cesar Flores, and Hollister School District trustees Jan Grist, Elizabeth Martinez, Carla Torres-Deluna, and Robert Bernosky.
San Benito County LULAC Council 2890 founding member Mickie Luna said although it is the first time the organization has hosted the workshop, it plans to continue to do so in the future.
“LULAC cares very much about how the business is conducted in government,” said Luna, a former member of the Hollister City Council. “We want our elected officials to really know that these are the rules, these are the requirements that you, as an elected official [have]. We need to help educate our community, educate the elected officials.”
The main focus of the workshop, led by Ruben Duran from Best Best & Krieger LLP Attorneys at Law, was on conflicts of interest.
Duran said the Political Reform Act and Government Code 1090 are intended for transparency of public officials and public employees.
He asked a hypothetical question that seemed to shock the attendees: “Can a mayor vote to award a contract to a company where his brother-in-law is the executive officer?”
The answer, Duran said, is yes, because the law specifically states officials need to recuse themselves from voting only when there is a conflict with his or her own financial interests which includes immediate family like a spouse and children. However, Duran said, if the children are on their own and are not claimed on someone else’s taxes, then they are not in this sense immediate family. He added that the hypothetical mayor might experience pushback from media and the public regarding such a contract, but it does not violate the law.
The Political Reform Act states, “Public officials, whether elected or appointed, should perform their duties in an impartial manner, free from bias caused by their own financial interests or the financial interests of persons who have supported them.”
The presentation also included information on reporting gifts amounting to $50 or more from a single source per year. Gifts can include meals, entertainment and travel.
The exception, Duran said, would be gifts received by family or close friends during birthdays or holidays, so long as it’s not a quid pro-quo situation.
The benefit of attending a workshop rather than obtaining the information via online training is that you get immediate answers from a professional, Luna said.
“Any question is important,” Luna said. “And maybe that’s a question that nobody else is asking or somebody else wanted to ask, and you know what, you get a response.”
San Benito County Supervisor Mark Medina said he attended the event because he wanted to learn more and doesn’t want to “ever cross that line.”
“It makes my decision process more calculated, making sure anything I do I refer to all of these things that are going on,” Medina said. “The last thing I want to do is something that is not legal.”
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