Four individuals have filed a complaint against the City of Long Beach with the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), alleging that educational materials sent out regarding ballot Measure M leading up to the June municipal election were tantamount to campaigning, and therefore misuse of taxpayer funds.
The individuals who filed the complaint include former 5th District Councilmember Gerrie Schipske and three people identified as “taxpayer advocates” in a media alert sent out by Schipske – Diana Lejins, Tom Stout and Joe Weinstein. In November, Lejins and Schipske won a lawsuit against the City of Long Beach that found that the transfer of funds from pipeline fees charged by the city to the General Fund were illegal. The Long Beach City Council then placed Measure M on the ballot to legalize the transfer of up to 12% of revenue from the city’s water and gas utilities to make up for the impending financial loss.
The Business Journal did not receive the alert from Schipske, but later obtained the e-mail. It was originally sent to three other local news outlets as well as the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. The Long Beach Post also appears to have been excluded.
Jay Wierenga, communications director for the FPPC, confirmed that the organization had received the complaint. “Every complaint is taken under review to determine whether or not to open an investigation. That process takes a few days to a few weeks, and then it’s either dismissed or opened into an investigation,” he said. “About two-thirds of our cases are completed within a half a year, and between 80% and 90% are completed within a year,” he added.
On Friday, July 13, City Attorney Charles Parkin said he was aware of the announcement but had not received formal notification from the parties involved or the FPPC. He had, however, been notified of two previous attempts to initiate an investigation for the same matter. His office supplied letters from the FPPC to the filers of those complaints, which were made against the city and City Manager Pat West, to notify them that the organization had chosen not to pursue investigations. The filers of these complaints were, respectively, Robert Fox, executive director of the Council of Neighborhood Organizations, and Jonathan Crouch, who has been involved in various local political initiatives including a recent attempt to recall 2nd District Councilmember Jeannine Pearce.
Galena West, chief of the FPPC’s enforcement division, wrote to Fox, in part: “Based on a review of the complaint and the documents submitted, the Enforcement Division found that the mass mailing sent by the City of Long Beach regarding Measure M was informational in nature and did not expressly advocate for or against a ballot measure, or unambiguously urge a result in an election. Given the above, the mailing did not violate the Act’s prohibition against campaign mailers at public expense.” The “Act” referred to is the Political Reform Act, which prohibits mass mailings at public expense, specifically if it advocates for a political end of some kind.
To Crouch, West wrote, in part: “Based on a review of the documents received, the Enforcement Division found that the mass mailing concerning the City of Long Beach did not expressly advocate for or against a ballot measure or unambiguously urge a result in an election. The Enforcement Division cannot conclude the mailers in question violated the Act’s prohibition against campaign mailers at public expense. Therefore, we are closing this matter.”
Wierenga said that each complaint, even if they are made about the same matter, is taken into consideration individually. “I can’t comment on any specific complaint, but each complaint is looked at with its own information and facts provided, and a determination is made on the complaint as-is,” he said. “I can only say that every complaint is treated the same.”