It is not a question of if… It IS a conflict of interest!


Created: 13 February, 2015
Last update: 27 July, 2022

Editorial:

When the city council of Chula Vista appointed Steve Miesen, the councilmembers noted the potential of a conflict. The general public has talked about the conflict of interest. Jill Galvez felt strongly enough about the conflict of interest that she wrote a commentary on it. And recently, the Star News has reported about the possibility of a conflict of interest with this appointment.

The only people who don’t seem to care are the very people who should care the most, the city council. Instead of doing the right thing by finding a qualified person to serve, the council settled on expediency and set aside the conflict question and went ahead and appointed Miesen.

In this instance the City Attorney provided the council members the cover they needed to make the appointment. The City Attorney, Glen Googins, took a very narrow view, looking at only the financial disclosure form, and stated that because the city contract with Republic Services, where Miesen serves as Division Manager, would not come up in the next two years, that he was good to go.

We see two problems with this legal opinion by Googins: First, Googins is an elected official whose primary role is to provide the citizens of Chula Vista with legal representation that reflects the best interest of the city, not the city councils’ personal yes man. Secondly, if Googins had looked beyond the financial disclosure form and looked into the Conflict of Interest publication issued by the California Attorney General, he would have found plenty of code violations that the appointment represented. But he didn’t and as such never brought those issues before the city. Googins failed the citizens of Chula Vista in this instance.

To clarify, Steve Miesen is Division Manager of Republic Services, the sole provider of trash pick-up, recycling, and management of a landfill on public lands. Republic Services is considered a PUBLIC/PRIVATE partnership. That means they are a private contractor that has been outsourced to provide a city service. This would be similar to Sweetwater Authority, a public agency that serves the needs of the city. A water district and an elected office was cited as an example of incompatible offices which “presented a significant potential for a clash of duties and loyalties…”

Because Miesen is simultaneously serving as the head of a public private partnership and as an appointed city council person whose job it is to oversee the outsourcing contract, the Miesen appointment would fall under the Common Law doctrine prohibiting “self-dealing”, the statutes relating to incompatible offices (offices referring to public offices as well as positions of authority in other organizations), and California Law, section 1090. According to the Attorney General, “Section 1090 essentially prohibits a public official from being financially interested in a contract in both the official’s public and private capacities.” Miesen not only owns shares of Republic Waste, but he also collects a substantial salary as Division Manager. Without the Chula Vista contract, would he even have a job?

Or Googins could have referred to Chapter XIV. CODE OF ETHICS Government Code Section 8920 et seq., which in part states: E. Potential Conflict in Duties or Functions – The incompatible offices prohibition does not require proof of an actual clash between the two offices in the context of a particular decision. It is enough that there is the potential for a significant clash between the two offices at some point in the future.

These are just two examples of the law which outline the conflict of interest with the appointment of Miesen and just an example of the laws ignored by City Attorney Googins. These issues that should have been raised and discussed prior to the appointment of Steve Miesen.

While Googins fell down on the job, our disdain is reserved for the city council members themselves. The members knew that this appointment would be an issue. They knew that there was a conflict of interest here, they even talked about it before the appointment and instead of doing the right thing, they chose to sacrifice their character, their integrity at the altar of expediency!

We are especially disappointed in councilmember Pat Aguilar who in her first term presented herself as a politician of integrity, a politician with principles.

This appointment process was tough for a variety of reasons and instead of cinching up their belts and going to work to achieve the best possible outcome, this council took the easy way out, even if it meant doing the wrong thing. Not only does this reflect badly on this process but it brings into question future decisions that this council will be making.

This council will have to make much tougher decisions, on much bigger issues, dealing with millions of dollars. Is this a prelude to how they will make future decisions?

With the way this council went about this decision how can the citizens of Chula Vista trust them to do the right thing in the future?

Lastly, we wonder if Miesen read the Conflict Rules himself? If he had he would have noted that once his term is expired he will be prohibited from addressing the city council, or meeting with city council members for one (1) year, either orally or in writing, which is referred to as the “revolving door.” As the head of a Public/Private agency this could hamper his ability to conduct business, which may not make the corporate heads too happy!