New councilwoman intends to keep water district seat

By Emilie St. John

Contributing Writer

INGLEWOOD — New Councilwoman Gloria Gray was sworn into office in front of an over capacity crowd in City Council Chambers April 7.

The following day she held a campaign team celebration where she thanked her supporters for helping her defeat former Councilman George Dotson in the March 7 runoff election.

“For all of those who generously gave their time and resources, I treasure the effort they provided during my campaign and this is just a way to say thank you,” Gray said.

Gray has chosen to retain her seats on the West Basin Municipal Water District and Metropolitan Water District boards of directors.

She serves District II, on the West Basin Municipal Water District board, which, covers the cities of Gardena, Hawthorne, Inglewood, and the unincorporated Los Angeles County areas of Ladera Heights, View Park-Windsor Hills, West Athens and Westmont. 

Through her position on the West Basin board, she has been appointed to the Municipal Water District board, a water supplier for most of Southern California.

Under state Government Code Section 1099, a person may not simultaneously hold two offices if there is any significant clash of duties or loyalties between public offices. To find that two offices are incompatible, a conflict doesn’t need to actually occur; it is sufficient that a conflict could occur in the regular operation of the offices.

Where two offices held by one official are legally incompatible, adjudicated through a quo warranto action, as soon as the official assumes the second office, they must immediately vacate the first office.

“I confirmed she has not resigned from her seat,” said Rebecca Kimitch, Metropolitan Water District spokesperson.

West Basin did not respond to a request for comment on the matter.

Former Carson Mayor Albert Robles was removed from the board of the Water Replenishment District of Southern California in 2018 by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office.

The lawsuit alleged that holding the job of mayor and being director of the water agency at the same time was a conflict of interest and violated state law.

The positions are “incompatible under [the law] because the WRD and the city of Carson have overlapping territory, duties and responsibilities, and a clash of duties is likely to arise in the exercise of both offices simultaneously,” according to the civil complaint that was filed when Jackie Lacey was district attorney.

The same conditions are present in Inglewood with Gray sitting on both the City Council and West Basin board.

In 2018, Maywood City Councilman Sergio Calderon resigned his seat on the council to settle a lawsuit filed by Los Angeles County prosecutors also alleging he violated state law by holding two public offices at the same time. Calderon resigned from the city council before the matter went to trial.

In January of this year, the District Attorney’s office received approval from state Attorney General Rob Bonta to sue La Puente City Councilman David Argudo for sitting on both the city council and the board of the La Puente Valley County Water District.

Argudo could “face a conflict between the interests of the water district in ensuring adequate revenues and the interests of the city and its residents in minimizing water costs,” according to the opinion written by Deputy Attorney General Karim J. Kentfield. “A conflict could also arise if the city and the water district negotiated a contract or acted in areas of overlapping authority.”

The District Attorney’s office has confirmed it would not seek to remove Gray from either seat at the current time.

The issue of whether the two seats are incompatible is one of civil law over which the [state] attorney general has authority,” wrote Bjorn Dodd, with the District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit. “Private parties, including a district attorney, must seek authority from the attorney general to pursue a civil suit.  

“Although our office has pursued such civil actions in the past, we are unable to do so at this time.”

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

       
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