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Panel clears Pearson to deliberate on Village Entrance

State commission decides there was no conflict interest regarding mayor pro tem's voting on project.

April 18, 2013|By Barbara Diamond

Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Pearson's job at the Laguna Playhouse and her voting on the Village Entrance project did not pose a conflict of interest, according to the California Fair Political Practices Commission.

The FPPC, which oversees elected officials and public employees, advised City Attorney Philip Kohn in April 2012 that Pearson was eligible to vote on proposals for the site — across Broadway Street from the Laguna Playhouse, where she serves as director of development — unless a decision financially affected her or the Laguna Playhouse.

Though settled last year at Pearson's request, the issue came to light recently when a resident inquired about whether she was allowed to vote.

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An official cannot vote on a project that would benefit them if certain financial thresholds are crossed, which was not the case in Pearson's situation, Kohn said in a memo to the City Council addressing the resident's inquiry.

Kohn also advised the council in his memo, dated April 12, that his office was not aware of any change in the commission's 2012 position.

"Based on conversations with her from and after the time of the FPPC advice letter," Kohn stated in the memo, "we are confident that Council member Pearson is fully aware of the commission's guidance, and she is resolved to ascertain and assess the facts and circumstances associated with the nature of each proposed future decision concerning the Village Entrance project in order to determine whether the applicable materiality standard would be exceeded in the relevant time frame."

Longtime resident Jean Raun said she was aware of the correspondence with the FPCC last year, but the matter was brought to her attention again and asked the city attorney if anything had changed. She declined to name the person who brought the issue to her.

"I was concerned that Elizabeth would get a bad name, that she would be accused of using undue influence," she said.

Pearson was made aware of the inquiry on April 12 and issued a public statement the following day.

"Yesterday, I learned that Laguna residents Verna Rollinger and Jean Raun had made inquiries regarding my legal ability, as it relates to the California Fair Political Practices Commission, to deliberate — and/or vote on — a proposed Village Entrance project in Laguna Beach," Pearson stated in the statement.

Former Councilwoman Verna Rollinger said her only participation in the inquiry was to provide Raun with the city attorney's telephone number.

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