[KHTS] – Technically, a former Hart district board member is not in any violation by assuming the seat to which he has been named, according to a Fair Political Practices Commission official.
However, the devil is in the details, according to another official, and if he assumes the seat, there could potentially be a conflict of interest at a later date.
Right now, Chris Fall is not currently a member of the the William S. Hart Union High School District’s governing board.
But he could be in December, according to county and district officials.
Fall and two other board members were set to run unopposed in November’s election.
While Fall resigned from his appointment to the seat vacated by former board member Paul Strickland in May, that term ended in December.
When the Hart district filed for the election, there were no other candidates, so Fall was considered the presumptive office holder by the Los Angeles County Clerk’s Registrar Recorder’s Office on Sept. 6, said Gail Pinsker, the Hart District’s spokeswoman.
“Since there are three people for three seats, the county deemed those three elected,” Pinsker said.
Fall announced his resignation Aug. 16, ahead of a vote that would have created a conflict of interest violation.
But there’s also a question of whether he’ll be in a similar situation later in his next term if he does return to the governing board.
Fall said the last thing he wants to do is “regurgitate the issue,” so to speak, and have the need for another resignation.
“You don’t (serve on the governing board) for the money, it’s not why you put yourself in that position,” Fall said. “You’re doing it because you want to make a positive difference in the community.”
But that may or may not be an issue.
Fall is a consultant for Republic Services, a company for which he declared income on his Form 700, a statement of financial interests. He also is president of Lighting, Efficiency and Design, a lighting company.
The 700 form was signed July 25 and received by the Los Angeles County Clerk’s Registrar-Recorder’s Office on Aug. 7.
At its regular governing board meeting Sept. 11, William S. Hart Union High School District officials discussed a contract for waste management.
Fall sold his disposal company, Advantage Disposal, to Consolidated Services, a subsidiary of Republic, in December 2012.
Consolidated put in the lowest and, therefore, winning bid at $161,616 for the three-year contract, and was awarded the contract at the board’s Sept. 11 meeting.
If Fall were on the board at the time of the Sept. 11 discussion, there would have been a clear 10-99, or conflict of interest, violation, said Gary Winuk, chief of the FPPC enforcement division.
However, his resignation pre-empted a possible violation.
The question of whether Fall can get back on the board is a little trickier.
“In general, if you resign and had a previous contract, it won’t necessarily prevent you from running in the future,” Gary Winuk, FPPC, chief of enforcement division.
However, he added a caution.
“Everything gets very fact-specific,” he said.
Fall, or anyone else holding a publicly elected office, can’t vote for anything he or she has a material financial interest in, Winuk said.
And according to Max Huntsman, assistant head deputy of the Public Integrity Division for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, if a need for a contract modification arose, a simple recusal from the discussion would not necessarily indemnify the district from a conflict-of-interest claim.
“Only commenting on the law in general, the conflict of interest law is triggered by amendments and renewals of contracts, it’s not triggered just by the contract,” Huntsman said.
“The contract existing does not create a conflict, but acting on renewing it or modifying it, not just implementing it, does (qualify as a potential conflict of interest),” he said.
That means if there were a change in service level required by a contract that a board member had a financial interest in, or a need to amend services, a simple recusal from a vote wouldn’t be considered adequate.
“But,” Huntsman cautions, “that depends on the facts.”
Since it’s a three-year contract with Consolidated, Fall could have to resign again when the contract expires in October 2016, if he’s still with Republic.
However, Fall said his current consulting contract expires in 2014, and he said he didn’t know if that contract would be in the same capacity, only that it was a hypothetical scenario that he would take into account in his decision-making process.
“The last thing I want to do is be a distraction,” Fall said. “I have the utmost respect for my fellow board members so I need to give them an answer very quickly and I plan to do that by Friday.”