Barely five months into her tenure as Fullerton’s Director on the Board of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Council member Jennifer Fitzgerald is giving up the hard-fought seat. Her recent acceptance of a VP position with the powerful Orange County public relations and land use firm Pringle & Associates creates a conflict of interest for her because the firm counts the MWD as one of its many clients.
Described on its website as “a full-service public relations, public affairs and government relations firm,” Pringle & Associates is one of the most powerful non-governmental political forces in Orange County. The firm is headed by former Anaheim Mayor and California State Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle, who also held a seat on the California High Speed Rail Authority.
Ms. Fitzgerald’s employment by the county’s most powerful political lobbying firm should be disquieting for anyone who expects a modicrum of impartiality from an elected official. No one expects a political office holder to live in a vaccuum—strong connections to the community are usually seen as assets—but being direclty employed by a firm that represents industry lobby groups, businesses with multiple locations, and at least two developers can be troubling in the minds of constituents.
The firm’s own list of “current and former” business clients shows no fewer than a dozen businesses with locations in Fullerton:
Burger King, California Yellow Cab, Carl’s Jr., Chase Bank, Citibank, Coffee Bean, CVS Pharmacy, El Pollo Loco, Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market, Jack in the Box, McDonald’s and Pieology Pizzeria. Any one could be the subject of a land use decision by the City Council.
And then, of course, there is Chevron, also listed as a client. Chevron is owner of Coyote Hills, the land that could become either a wildreness park or a very large mixed use development. Ms. Fitzgerald has maintained support for the latter choice in the past, but a majority of voters disagreed with her in 2012 when they rejected Measure W, temporarily halting the development. How will she be able to act impartially with regard to any decision about the land that might involve the Fullerton City Council?
It remains to be seen how often Jennifer Fitzgerald will need to recuse herself from discussions and decisions, as Council members occasionally do. Meanwhile, she will presumably not even be able to vote on a replacement to the MWD Board, arguably the single most important appointment made by the Fullerton City Council. Pringle & Associates also lists other water agencies on its client list.*
*An earlier version of this post stated that Pringle & Associates had the Orange County Water District as a client. The Rag regrets the error.