HCAOG meeting derailed over conflict of interest concerns

HCAOG meeting derailed over conflict of interest concerns

by Nathan Rushton, 11/17/2006

It came to a screeching halt before it ever really began.

The meeting of the Humboldt County Association of Governments’ board of directors convened Thursday afternoon solely to discuss the proposed criteria for how the joint powers transportation funding agency — made up of the seven incorporated cities and the county — would add new members.

But the meeting was immediately derailed within minutes when concerns over a conflict of interest were raised by the county’s representative, Supervisor Roger Rodoni, over a campaign contribution to Eureka Mayor and HCOAG Board of Directors President Peter La Vallee.

Rodoni said the $2,100 contribution to La Vallee’s recent election campaign from the Hoopa Valley Tribe puts La Vallee into a “considerable conflict” with state law.

Although the Hoopa Valley Tribe isn’t specifically mentioned in the generalized membership criteria the HCAOG board has been wrangling over in recent months, the tribe’s unsuccessful attempts for nearly a decade to secure a seat on the board have been a hotly contested topic that has been central to all of the membership discussions.

David Tranberg, legal counsel for HCAOG, agreed that Rodoni cited the correct Government Code Sec. 84308 and agreed that La Vallee should be disqualified from participating in the matter that could affect his campaign contributors.

La Vallee, who admitted and reported the contribution, said he wasn’t surprised by Rodoni’s move, which he called “a grasping at straws to kill the process.”

Ironically, La Vallee tried to secure an alternate to move ahead with the meeting and phoned fellow Councilmember Virginia Bass, who La Vallee is defending his mayoral seat against and who was on the receiving end of criticism by La Vallee for not reporting in a timely manner plane flights she received from Security National owners Rob and Cherie Arkley.

“I reported by law and put forth what is going on,” La Vallee said. “I think it is a little different in that we weren’t really voting on the membership of the Hoopa tribe today, we were voting for membership.”

La Vallee said his position in support of the tribe’s gaining a seat on the HCAOG board was well-known long before the contribution.

“They didn’t approach me, I asked them,” La Vallee said.

But Bass declined to fill in for La Vallee because of previous engagements, so Rodoni moved and Arcata City Councilmember Dave Meserve seconded the motion to postpone the meeting, which passed by a 7-1 vote, with Ferndale City Councilmember Carlos Benemann voting against.

Although Meserve, who didn’t survive a re-election bid for his Arcata seat, joked that it was the first time he had seconded anything Rodoni had proposed, Rodoni may get the last laugh because Meserve will not be returning.

Meserve said one of his biggest disappointments of losing the election is not being able to continue to fight for the Hoopa Valley Tribe to gain membership on the board.

Rodoni, who has himself been the target of conflict of interest allegations, said in response to La Vallee’s charge that he was trying to derail the process and that La Vallee needs to be reminded of the law.

“This contribution — especially under these conditions — could be construed by some as a bribe,” Rodoni said. “That is why we have the law to avoid those kinds of things.”

HCAOG’s next meeting will be held Dec. 14, but it is unclear if the membership criteria will be on the agenda.

(Rob and Cherie Arkley own Security National, which owns The Eureka Reporter and the Balloon Track.)
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