‘No merit’ to FPPC complaint against mayor

‘No merit’ to FPPC complaint against mayorBy BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

The state Fair Political Practices Commission has declined to pursue a complaint filed against Mayor Peggy Breeden last month regarding her vote of support for the city to withdraw from the Property Assessed Clean Energy financing program.

The Checks and Balances Project filed the complaint after learning that Breeden was an associate member of the Ridgecrest Area Association of Realtors – who strongly opposed the PACE program operating here – and that the realtors advertise with The Swap Sheet, owned by the mayor.

In a letter dated Nov. 27 to Scott Peterson of C&BP, the FPPC says that there is “insufficient evidence of a violation of the Political Reform Act,” and that the commission would not pursue the matter any further.

The decision to drop the matter is seen as a result of a lengthy letter from City Attorney Keith Lemieux, detailing the facts of Breeden’s involvement.

According to the letter, dated Nov. 21, “any notion of a disqualifying financial effect on Mayor Breeden is highly speculative and attenuated.”

The letter stated that local realtors contribute to roughly 10 percent of The Swap Sheet’s advertising space and that Breeden pays, and will continue to pay, $150 annually to the RAAR as an associate member.

“The complaint alleges that The Swap Sheet includes real estate advertising, but fails to explain how the city’s withdrawal from the PACE program would have any effect on such advertising,” said the letter. “Such an effect must rise to the level of a realistic possibility more than hypothetical or theoretical.”

Proof that a resolution has “foreseeable financial effect” on the financial interest of a public official is the first of four sequential steps in determining a conflict of interest according to FPPC regulations.

“Any financial effect on The Swap Sheet, as alleged in the complaint, is contingent on the resolution resulting in financial gain to the realtors, and the realtors using this hypothetical financial gain to materially increase their purchases of advertising space in The Swap Sheet,” said the letter. “These contingencies render any financial effect highly speculative.”

The letter stated that the accusation has no merit to proceed beyond the first step, but “in an abundance of caution,” the attorney also outlined that any potential financial effect doesn’t meet the FPPC’s standards of a violation.

“We do not see why the resolution would result in any increase in purchases of advertising space, or how any such increase could be so great as to detectably contribute to a change in The Swap Sheet’s value,” said the letter. “Any hypothetical financial effect alleged by the complaint would fail to satisfy the FPPC regulation’s Materiality Standard.”

The complaint also alleged that Breeden never filed an FPPC Form 700 regarding her personal financial interests. The C&BP may have overlooked the form because the mayor filed it under her birth name “Margaret Breeden.”

“In short, the complaint lacks merit,” said the letter. “It fails to describe any reasonably foreseeable material financial effect on Mayor Breeden’s financial interests that remotely presents a conflict of interest.”

At press time, we received no response from C&BP representatives regarding any further action.

Story First Published: 2017-12-01