Environmental groups seek investigation of councilwoman

By Emilie St. John

Contributing Writer

INGLEWOOD —A coalition of environmental groups have demanded California Attorney General Rob Bonta investigate City Councilwoman Gloria Gray who continues to serve on two elected bodies in violation of state law.

The July 11 letter was signed by Sierra Club California, the Southern California Watershed Alliance, SoCal 350 Climate Action, Desal Response Group, We Tap, Social Eco Education, the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water and Los Angeles Waterkeeper.

The membership and supporters of those organizations number in the hundreds of thousands statewide.

The letter read, “We all are deeply concerned about a conflict of interest which Gloria Gray has created by seeking and accepting seats on both the Inglewood City Council and West Basin Water District’s board of directors. We request that your office investigate.”

State law prohibits elected officials from holding two elected positions if there is a “possibility of significant clash of duties or loyalties between the offices.” If the two offices are deemed “incompatible” by the courts, then the official is considered to have effectively forfeited the first office upon taking the second.

Gray ran on a platform of accountability and transparency to defeat City Council incumbent George Dotson in March. Gray has been defiant in not stepping down from her water board seat and has declined multiple requests for comment on the matter.

The letter references an April 24 West Basin board meeting that took up the discussion on Gray holding two elected seats.

Attorneys hired by West Basin Municipal Water District advised Gray that she was likely holding incompatible offices.

“Elected officials do not need an actual conflict of interest for the two roles to be deemed incompatible, only the possibility of a clash of duties,” said attorney Joe Byrne, the district’s general counsel, during the April 24 meeting. When Byrne was asked whether Gray’s two offices are incompatible, he said her situation is similar to other cases in Southern California where district attorneys have successfully removed elected officials from serving simultaneously on a water board and a city council.

“Based on the attorney general’s opinions and the precedent, it is substantially likely that it is,” Byrne said.

In 2018, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office successfully removed then-Carson Mayor Albert Robles from the Water Replenishment District of Southern California board. That same year, Maywood City Councilman Sergio Calderon, who also served on WRD, stepped down from the council before an incompatible-office lawsuit against him went to trial.

In January of this year, the District Attorney’s office began the process of removing David Argudo from the La Puente Water Board due to his already being a member of the La Puente City Council.

When the District Attorney’s Office was contacted about Gray holding two seats, an official responded that the office had other priorities.

“The California Attorney General must issue an opinion that the two offices are incompatible before any action may be taken by the District Attorney’s Office,” District Attorney spokesman Greg Risling said. addiing that the office was focused on allocating resources to criminal actions.

The coalition’s letter to the attorney general also accuses Gray of violating Government Code 1099.

“California Government Code section 1099 is directly on point,” the letter said. “It reads in part: (a) A public officer, including, but not limited to, an appointed or elected member of a governmental board, commission, committee, or other body, shall not simultaneously hold two public offices that are incompatible. Offices are incompatible when any of the following circumstances are present, unless simultaneous holding of the particular offices is compelled or expressly authorized by law.”

Records made available through a California Public Records request and meeting minutes posted on the West Basin Municipal Water District website indicate that Gray continues to attend meetings and be paid from both West Basin and the Metropolitan Water District.

West Basin directors are compensated for up to 10 meetings per month at $270.70 per meeting and each director appointed to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California receives an additional per diem of $270.70 per meeting. Gray serves on both.

As of late August, Gray has been compensated $23,171 from West Basin and $21,401 from Metropolitan Water District. She has also received an auto allowance of $4,000 and $3,400 for other activities.

In total, she has received $52,000 from both water agencies, in addition to the approximately $5,000 a month from Inglewood taxpayers since being elected in March.

Gray was absent from a June water board meeting that would have put in her a position to vote on increasing water rates for Inglewood residents.

Emilie St. John is a freelance journalist covering the areas of Carson, Compton, Inglewood and Willowbrook. Send tips to her at emiliesaintjohn@gmail.com.