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December 12, 2006 > Full disclosure: spirit or letter of the law? Part II

Full disclosure: spirit or letter of the law? Part II

by Steve Warga

As reported in last week’s segment of our series, nearly all local politicians comply with both the spirit and the letter of the law in disclosing their personal financial positions and those of their spouses, when applicable. This information, reported annually on Form 700 Statement of Economic Interests, must be disclosed per each city’s Conflict of Interest policies. California’s Political Reform Act, approved by a strong majority of voters in 1974, requires public officials in various capacities to disclose certain aspects of their finances, reported on Form 700 and its several schedules.

With only rare exceptions, all FPPC filings are available for public review, usually at the city clerk’s office in each jurisdiction. Triggered by questions raised before the recent elections, TCV reviewed filings in Hayward, Union City, Newark, Fremont and Milpitas. Since then, we’ve reported our findings in Hayward and Fremont. This week: Union City, Newark and Milpitas. Next week, we’ll summarize our research and share with readers a thought or two on the entire disclosure system.

With the exception of Vice-Mayor Richard Valle, all council-level filings are complete and comprehensive, to the best of our knowledge. Valle’s city Form 700, filed in March, caught our attention for its brevity. He provided only basic contact information and a check-mark in the box labeled: “No reportable interests on any schedule.” Taken at face value, Valle is telling voters he has no financial holdings or income derived from within Union City borders.

The same conclusions might be drawn from his filing when he ran for county supervisor in June. On that Form 700, dated March 10, he did not check any boxes, not even the one mentioned above. No financial interests in all of Alameda County?

In 1980, Valle was one of the founders of a non-profit corporation called “Tri-City Community Economic Development Corporation.” He and his partners built that Union City street-corner recycling business into today’s, multi-million dollar Tri-CED Community Recycling operation, still located in Union City. It’s seems reasonable to assume Valle draws at least a salary in his capacity as president and CEO. If so, this economic interest is located within his reporting jurisdiction and state regulations require full disclosure within a broad range of numbers (eg: $10,001 - $100,000).

Since he declared “no reportable interests,” voters could conclude that Valle derived no income from Tri-CED; or that he was hiding something; or that he didn’t fully understand the disclosure rules. In an interview, Valle acknowledged that he draws a salary from the corporation and that he had no investments or real property holdings other than his personal residence. As to not reporting the salary, his position was that personal income was exempt from disclosure. He further stated, “I’ve filed my 700’s the same way for the past eight years and no questions have ever been asked. It’s never been an issue.”

Valle confirmed that his wife works at a public university outside of Union City, thus her income and employment are exempt from disclosure. When advised that he could amend his filing anytime, he repeated his position that personal income was exempt from disclosure.

The individual first responsible for oversight or review of Form 700 filings is typically the city clerk. Union City Clerk Renee Elliot spoke with TCV after the Valle interview. She illuminated more of the complex and convoluted FPPC regulations by explaining that Valle was “an 87200 filer” and that her duty under the law with these individuals was to collect their economic disclosure statements, log them, and forward them to FPPC offices in Sacramento. She denied any responsibility for reviewing accuracy or truthfulness.

Less than an hour after his interview, an enlightened Valle placed a follow-up call. He explained that his understanding of the regulations had been erroneous. He added that he would immediately amend his filing. In doing so, he will divert any further inquiry from the FPPC, should a complaint ever be lodged. With disclosure of his Tri-CED salary, Valle’s disclosure statements will fully comply with the law.

Newark and Milptias
Filings of councilmembers and mayors in these two cities appear to be complete and accurate.

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