Tuesday, October 11, 2016
[Riverside County] Nepotism complaint filed against La Quinta city manager
A La Quinta resident has filed a complaint against the city with the Riverside County grand jury and the Fair Political Practices Commission, accusing the city manager of nepotism.
The complaint was submitted by Linda Gunnett on Sept. 22, the day after she received a letter from the city attorney replying to various allegations she made against City Manager Frank Spevacek and the City Council.
Gunnett shares a house with Paula Maietta, who is challenging Mayor Linda Evans in the Nov. 8 election.
In her complaint, Gunnett alleges that the city manager “has awarded, with council (approval) and city attorney authorization, about $1 million in contracts to a two-man firm, Tall Man Group, one of whom, Brandon Fender is Spevacek’s son-in-law.”
San Diego-based Tall Man Group is a consulting firm that advises the city on its affordable housing programs and offers other economic advice.
Gunnett also accuses the City Council of deceiving residents about the sale of 145 acres of SilverRock land to a developer, Robert Green Co. of San Diego, for $1 per parcel.
City Attorney Bill Ihrke said he could not comment on the grand jury complaint and possible investigation. However, in a letter Ihrke sent Gunnett the day before she filed the grievance, he responds to the same allegations made by her in a series of emails sent to City Hall in July and August.
SILVERROCK: Development on course
In the letter, Ihrke detailed the complex guidelines and restrictions for selling the SilverRock land post the state's dissolution of redevelopment agencies – essentially saying that the 525 acres at Avenue 52 and Jefferson Street were purchased in 2002 by the city’s former redevelopment agency with tax-exempt bonds. Because IRS regulations restrict the city’s ability to receive payments from private business uses on land purchased with tax-exempt bonds, the SilverRock land must be sold for $1 per parcel, he said.
Gunnett disagrees in her complaint and emails to the city, saying she hasn't found documentation to support the IRS and Department of Finance regulations.
Spevacek told Gunnett in an August email that in 2014, the city consulted with three bond attorneys to see if the land could be sold for fair market value. All of them stated that until the bonds that funded the property are paid off, the $1 resale restrictions remain, he said.
In his letter, Ihrke also responded to Gunnett’s allegations that Spevacek had a conflict of interest with Fender, saying Spevacek’s son-in-law is not an immediate family member – spouse or dependent child – “under the California Political Reform Act and Fair Political Practices Commission regulations.”
“After reviewing the information provided in your emails, our office found no personal financial effect or financial conflict of interest for the City Manager based on the professional services contracts” with Tall Man Group, Ihrke wrote, adding that this is the second time his office has answered Gunnett on the allegation, which she also filed in November 2012.
Ihrke also told Gunnett that he had informed the Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin's office of Gunnett’s complaints and made himself available to answer any questions the office may have.
ELECTION: Candidates talk SilverRock
“To date, I have not received a call from the district attorney concerning your allegations,” Ihrke wrote.
Because grand jury investigations are confidential, Grand Jury Secretary Gail Soursais said she could not confirm whether a complaint has been filed or will be investigated.
When a complaint is received, it is “read to the entire grand jury panel (of 19 members) and if accepted by the panel, the complaint would be assigned to a committee for further study,” Soursais said.
“The only way an investigation would become public is when a grand jury writes a report,” Soursais said, which it may or may not do. “If the grand jury writes a report, when the report becomes public, it would be posted on the grand jury web page.”
September 28, 2016
The Desert Sun
By Larry Bohannan