Lawyers: Garcia In The Clear On Transition From Board To OMSD Job

(July 16)  Ontario-Montclair School District officials and the district’s legal counsel have dismissed accusations of a violation of California’s revolving door policy growing out of Steve Garcia’s recent resignation from the school board just prior to his having been hired into an administrative position with the district.
In May, Garcia, whose full name is Julian Steven Garcia, abruptly resigned as a member of the school board. Shortly thereafter, he was hired as a director II with the district, which carries with it a total compensation package, including salary and benefits, of slightly more than $250,000 annually.
Prior to getting the position with Ontario-Montclair, Garcia had been serving in the capacity of assistant principal of instruction with the El Monte Union High School District. He was first elected to the Ontario-Montclair school board in 2001. His resignation from the school board was done quietly and his hiring occurred without fanfare, leaving many of his former constituents in the dark as to the reduction of the school board to four members. Because of the timing of his resignation, his former board colleagues were not empowered to make an appointment to fill the void his leaving has created and there was not time to put the matter to a vote in the June primary election. The position will be filled with an election corresponding to the November general election.
Upon learning of Garcia’s departure as board member and his hiring into the director II position, some residents within the district questioned whether Garcia and the district had run afoul of California’s so-called “Revolving Door Policy,” a provision of the Political Reform Act which is embodied in the California Government Code and intended to prohibit elected officials from using their status as public officials to personally profit. Those questioning Garcia’s action referenced the state’s “one year ban” and said it was illegal for him to be hired by the district for a full year after he was no longer a member of the board.
District officials, however, insisted that the resignation and hiring were above board and that the series of moves leading to Garcia’s hiring had been cleared by legal counsel.
James Scot Yarnell, a senior partner with the Sacramento-based law firm of Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo, represents the district. He told the Sentinel that the revolving door policy is contained in “Government Code section 87406.3 of the Political Reform Act, which applies to local elected officials. The Political Reform Act restricts the post-governmental activities of certain officials who leave local government service.  Such restrictions include a ‘one-year ban’ under specifically defined circumstances.  The purpose of the ‘one-year ban’ is to prevent situations where a former official is paid by a client to appear before and influence decisions of the official’s former agency for the client’s benefit. “
Yarnell, in his written communication to the Sentinel, continued, “The Political Reform Act provides in pertinent part, ‘A local elected official . . . shall not, for a period of one year after leaving that office . . . act as agent or attorney for, or otherwise represent, for compensation, any other person, by making any formal or informal appearance before . . . that local government agency . . . for the purpose of influencing administrative or legislative action, or influencing any action or proceeding…’  Section 87406.3 does not disqualify or prohibit a former public official from employment by the agency.  Rather, the ‘one-year ban’ prohibits a former local elected official from ‘lobbying’ their former agency on behalf of any other person for compensation. [2 Cal. Code Regs. § 18746.3(b)(4).]  The district employed Mr. Garcia after he resigned from his elected office.  Mr. Garcia is not employed to represent any other person.  Rather, he is employed by the district for the sole purpose of representing the interests of Ontario-Montclair School District.”
Board member Sam Crowe, an attorney himself, told the Sentinel, “You apparently have been advised that this appointment was illegal. Your advice is incorrect.  Prior to the appointment, Mr. Hammond [i.e., Ontario-Montclair School District Superintendent James Hammond] received an opinion from our counsel James Scot Yarnell clearly stating that a board member was not precluded from seeking employment with the district. He would be required however, to resign prior to the appointment.”
Crowe said Garcia had long been seeking employment closer to home. “He was waking up at 5 a.m. to get to work on time and was often not getting home until almost 9 at night.”
Crowe, who had long served with Garcia on the board in the 32-school 22,800 student siatrict  and 32 school, said he was eminently qualified for the job he was hired into. “This position came available a while ago and he competed for it along with everyone else,” Crowe said. “He went through the normal application process and ended up with the highest score.  I believe the position is comparable to the position he had at El Monte High School. His travel time was greatly reduced.”
Garcia has a bachelor’s degree in history from Cal Poly Pomona and a second bachelor’s degree in political science from Cal State University Los Angeles. He received a master’s degree in public administration/urban management from Cal State University Fullerton and a second degree in school counseling from the University of La Verne.
Jay Wierenga, the communications director with the California Fair Political Practices Commission in Sacramento, told the Sentinel that “according to some of our folks in the legal department… generally speaking, the revolving door regulations are aimed more at preventing public officials from so-called ‘cashing-in’ in the private sector.  Other aspects involve not representing your new agency/entity before your previous one.  There is not a prohibition from going to work with the entity you previously represented as an elected official.”

Leave a Reply