Hundreds of local officials failed to file state financial reports, county records show
Even though annual financial disclosures are essential to promote open government and limit potential conflicts of interest, hundreds of public officials and consultants neglected to file their required State Form 700 reports this year, according to county records.
Experts say the disclosures, which thousands of public officials must file each year under the Political Reform Act, are an important way to keep voters informed.
Regulators are also challenging public officials who fail to report their assets, income and gifts they receive, often imposing penalties of up to thousands of dollars.
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When The Union-Tribune reported last month that Jesus Cardenas, chief of staff to council member Stephen Whitburn, owns a political consulting firm that serves clients with interests before the city of San Diego, the news was in full swing. part based on public disclosures.
Two years ago, the newspaper reported on conflicts in the financial statements filed by leading San Diego City Council candidate Kelvin Barrios. The stories derailed his campaign and Barrios dropped out of the race.
State Form 700 was also cited by the city attorney’s office during litigation regarding the city’s lease of the Ash Street office tower. City attorneys said broker Jason Hughes should have submitted while advising three successive mayors on real estate deals – and collecting $9.4 million in fees.
This year, according to the clerk of the county’s Board of Supervisors, which is responsible for tracking local compliance with Form 700 filing rules, 224 elected and appointed officials across the county have not submitted annual Forms 700s by the date April 1 deadline.
“The council clerk has taken numerous steps to ensure filers are filed in a timely manner,” Clerk Andrew Potter informed supervisors in a memo this spring.
Reminder notices were sent to all non-compliant officials in February and twice in March, notifying them of the impending deadline and encouraging them to comply with state law, Potter said.
Subsequently, “these individuals are referred to the District Attorney and the FPPC (Fair Political Practices Commission) for non-compliance,” he wrote.
San Diego County’s hundreds of non-filers range from grand jury members and employees of regional planning agency SANDAG to school districts and a tiny North County water authority.
Some county agencies are also on the list, including the Local Agencies Training Commission, which regulates boundaries between public agencies, and the Leon L. Williams Human Relations Commission, which promotes mutual respect and integrity.
San Diego County spokesman Michael Workman said it’s the employers’ responsibility to maintain up-to-date and accurate lists of people who must submit a declaration of economic interest. He said the county will work with agencies seeking guidance.
“All agencies that file with us have access to a management module where the senior Forms 700 coordinator can update their agency’s filer information,” Workman said via email. “In the fall of each year, we contact all agencies to ask them to update their registrants’ information to ensure notifications are sent to registrants appropriately.”
SANDAG – which led all local agencies in number of non-filers, with more than 80 experts and consultants on the list – said its obligation is to inform members of the filing requirement, but the county is responsible determine their filing status.
“None of our boards or political advisory committees are on the list,” spokeswoman Stacy Garcia said via email. “For task force members, SANDAG is following up with staff liaisons to contact all listed members to ensure compliance.”
Garcia said the planning agency will track — and possibly penalize — consultants who have not yet declared their financial interest as required.
“It is SANDAG policy to prevent non-reporting consultants from working or participating in any project or program under their contract(s),” she wrote. “SANDAG is following up with its consultants to ensure compliance with filing requirements.”
The Southwestern Community College district, along with 10 administrators and consultants who have not submitted annual disclosures, said officials sent the county their list of required filers in March, but college officials acknowledged that this was not was not correct.
“The District was able to add required employees but was unable to remove employees/consultants who were no longer employed by the District as of calendar year 2022,” spokesperson Lilian Leopold said. in a press release.
“Your list reflects these employees/consultants,” she added. “The county clerk must not have updated his list according to our updates.”
Workman contradicted the Southwestern Community College district’s response.
“The county has no record of Southwestern College providing updates to its list of filers,” he wrote. “Individuals who Southwestern College determines are no longer employed are still required to file severance statements.”
An Oceanside Unified School District official also blamed San Diego County for the 11 names on the clerk’s file.
“The list you provided is riddled with errors and needs to be updated,” spokesman Donald Bendz said in an email. “The only three people who are still with OUSD are Sherry Freeman de Leyva, Perry Alvarez (and) Raquel Alvarez. Their declaration of economic interest forms have been returned.
The county confirmed that two filings were filed after the Union-Tribune questioned Oceanside school officials about non-filers.
“We have received electronic documents from Perry Alvarez and Raquel Alvarez, who both filed their forms (Tuesday),” Workman said. “We still don’t have a file for Sherry Freeman from Leyva.”
According to her LinkedIn social media profile, Freeman de Leyva is retired from the Oceanside Unified School District.
Sean McNamara of California Common Cause, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting good government practices, said Form 700 disclosures are essential in the system of checks and balances that constitute public administration.
Annual reports help prevent conflicts of interest and promote transparency by requiring public officials to declare their salary scales, real estate, stocks and other investments and gifts from companies or organizations, a- he declared.
“We want our public officials to conduct their business in the best interests of the public, not themselves,” McNamara said.
The California Fair Political Practices Commission, which enforces the Political Reform Act’s rule requiring annual disclosures, takes violations seriously. Almost monthly, the commission imposes penalties on local and state officials who do not disclose their personal assets.
Earlier this month, for example, a former planning commissioner for the town of Sanger in the Central Valley was fined $12,000 for failing to submit a Form 700 disclosure after being contacted over 20 times regarding monitoring.
Commission spokesman Jay Wierenga said regulators had no record of San Diego County’s receipt of the non-filers list, but the enforcement team used some of these names in their database.
He said disclosures are key to informing the public about the potential motives of elected officials and policymakers.
“California law is based on a few basic principles, one of which is disclosure,” Wierenga said. “Forms 700 are there not only to provide transparency to the public, but also to hold public officials accountable for their decision-making.”
The district attorney’s office confirmed receiving the memo from the San Diego County Council clerk, but has not yet taken action on the information.
“We are aware of the dismissal,” said Tanya Sierra, spokeswoman for District Attorney Summer Stephan. “If the FPPC believes that a violation has occurred and should be pursued, it will contact us.”
Annual Form 700s for civil servants can be requested by the public from any government entity. Thousands are also available on agency websites and on the FPPC website, https://www.fppc.ca.gov/Form700.html.