Conflict of interest drives councilman off committees

By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald Correspondent
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The Rocklin City Council debated Tuesday an appointment that some felt could expose a conflict of interest for fellow councilman Brett Storey. Storey, who works full time for the Placer County Planning Department, asked to be appointed to the Placer County Transportation Planning Agency, which decides what state and federal funds will be used for county road projects. Mayor George Magnuson presented a proposed list of appointments to city and regional government committees, which excluded Storey from the transportation agency. Storey ultimately withdrew his nomination for the committee, but not before he asked for an explanation. “I talked to the city and the county and there is no conflict of interest,” Storey said. “There are several boards I can not serve on and I’ve had to resign from a couple when I started working for the county. Does someone else have an issue with a possible conflict of interest because I work for the county?” Magnuson deferred to councilman Peter Hill for an explanation. “I share some concerns that George has,” Hill said. Storey pressed them further. “I want to know,” Storey said. “I am very concerned about conflicts of interest. I probably spend more time than any of you in (the city attorney)’s office, making sure that I don’t have it because of my position with the county.” Hill said while he never would think Storey would do anything inappropriate, putting him in the position wouldn’t be good for public perception. “I think there is a distinct possibility that unsuccessful jurisdictions or members of the public could make a charge that you were influenced by your employer,” Hill said. “This may not technically meet the definition of a conflict of interest, but the ethics training makes it clear that even if you meet the minimal standards of the law, there is a problem of public perception.” Storey said he disagreed and fought to be considered for the appointment. “I took the ethics training and went down the same path and asked people what they thought and they came to a different conclusion,” Storey said. Hill said an appointment may be legal, but it doesn’t look good. “People have allegiance and possible dependency on those who pay them an income,” Hill said. “Public officials may not be able to put that dependency aside. As public servants, public officials are stewards of the public trust.” Storey told Hill his job with the county would then make him illegible to be on any committee in the county. “If the funding vote were a five to four vote, and the county won, someone could challenge the vote because I work for the county,” Storey said. “If that’s the case, I shouldn’t serve on anything based on the same logic because that is the last thing I would want to do is jeopardize funding or decision making in this county.” Last year, Storey served on the Legislative Advocacy Committee, which works with a lobbyist to secure state and federal funds for Rocklin projects. After Tuesday’s discussion, Storey withdrew his nomination for that committee as well. “Someone should take my place,” Storey said. “Now I’m not on any of the top committees.” The council voted unanimously to approve the amended list of appointments. Concerned citizen Jill Fellows applauded the council. “There will always be somebody who is going to have something to say,” Fellows told the council. “I’m impressed at how you discuss it, talk about it and worry about each other.” Citizens interested in the list of members of the public or council who were nominated for committee appointments can pick that up at the city administration building on Rocklin Road or on the city’s website.