The Enforcement Division of the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) is investigating a complaint made by San Benito County resident Gary Cameron, who alleges that Hollister City Councilman Karson Klauer may have used his office to financially enrich his family, friends and a co-worker, Jason Noble, at Nino Real Estate, where Klauer is an agent.
Klauer is being accused of the failure to recuse himself from participating in drafting of the City of Hollister Marijuana Ordinance and subsequent revisions to the ordinance while having a real or perceived personal conflict of interest.
Cameron filed the complaint with FPPC, and another resident, C. David Barnard, added to the complaint that accused Klauer of a conflict of interest concerning two properties, one on Industrial Drive and the other on San Felipe Road.
Cameron stated that even though Klauer recused himself on agenda items pertaining to buildings on Industrial Drive whose owners were trying to obtain cannabis permits, his influence in reducing the 600-foot setback from those buildings to 150 feet, directly benefited his father. Klauer's father owned the building at 807 Industrial Drive. Barnard said Klauer’s vote to approve a cannabis permit for a building at 1091 San Felipe Road benefited Noble, who he said received a $100,000 commission.
Klauer said he had talked to the city attorney and was assured that as long as he or a family member did not benefit from his actions on the council, he did not have a conflict of interest. While he did recuse himself regarding the Industrial Drive property, he said, if he had wanted to he could have represented it, but chose not to because of the negative impression it would have caused. Even so, Cameron, Barnard and several others who had met with Klauer to try to convince him to change his mind about the 600-foot setback, maintain that he did have a conflict of interest.
“They tried to convince me for the third or fourth time that they wanted it (setback) to be 600 feet and I told them that I would think about it,” Klauer said of the meetings with Cameron and others. “I also told them why I was against the 600-foot buffer zone because of the churches and the different conditional-use permits that are in the industrial zones that would make it these big areas you couldn’t do anything, even though the zoning was correct.”
Klauer believes he is on solid ground because he did not have any financial gain from any votes he made, but Cameron said Klauer has it wrong.
“Clearly, the people benefiting the most from these financial opportunities are those whom he (Klauer) is personally closest to and those cannabis operations being represented by Nino Real Estate,” Cameron wrote. “Back room deals and personal enrichment isn't what the voters want from their political representatives. He may have violated the provisions of government code 87100 and potentially others. His behavior may also violate the recusal and conflict of interest rules under the Fair Political Process Act.”
Mayor Ignacio Velazquez responded to BenitoLink by text that he had heard rumors of an investigation, but did not know any details, and did not provide a comment. Councilman Jim Gillio said he only knew about an investigation after it was mentioned briefly in a previous BenitoLink article. He, too, declined to comment.
Note: Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) provides information online about how to recognize conflicts of interest.
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