Last year the Fullerton Rag insisted that Council member (now Mayor Pro Tem) Jennifer Fitzgerald should recuse herself from voting on a representative to replace her on the Board of the Metropolitan Water District because her employer, Curt Pringle & Associates, had a contract with MWD. Indeed it was this client relationship that prompted her to resign her seat on the MWD after serving for only five months in the first place. Following a request to do so by members of the public, Ms. Fitzgerald did recuse herself from that decision, (even though some of her fellow council members questioned the need for her to do so after she had already left the room).
The Rag story from last August included a screen capture from the website of Curt Pringle & Associates, listing “some” of their “past and current clients”. Curt Pringle & Associates, founded and headed by former Anaheim Mayor and California State Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle, no longer publishes such a long list of its clients on its own website—a curious omission for a public relations firm, although there is a short list under the Land Use heading:
On May 19 the Voice of OC’s Adam Elmahrek picked up the theme in an article entitled Councilwoman’s Work Reveals Limits of Disclosure Laws. Mr. Elmahrek singled out Ms. Fitzgerald’s comments at the May 5 Fullerton City Council meeting during an update about the Orange County Water District’s efforts to clean up groundwater contamination in southeast Fullerton. Mayor Pro Tem Fitzgerald was strident in her warnings to other members of the Council that OCWD’s proposal to ask the federal Environmental Protection Agency to lead the cleanup would almost certainly lead to designating the area as a Superfund site. She revealed that her insights into this process came, in part, from meetings in the office of the EPA in San Francisco—along with a representative of the Orange County Business Council. Her comments raised immediate concerns with anyone who might ponder what motivated her to be there in the first place with the OCBC. Those who recalled a 2012 campaign by local businesses on Orangethorpe Avenue to object to a planned clean up the groundwater had even more reason for concern because none other than Curt Pringle & Associates had reportedly been hired to do the organizing. Her objections to the OCWD potentially approving EPA as the lead agency in the groundwater cleanup could reasonably cause constituents to wonder whether or not her employer, Curt Pringle & Associates, had any of the businesses blamed for the pollution as clients, who might be adversely affected by EPA’s decisions. In the most recent Voice of OC article, Jennifer Fitzgerald responded to concerns by declaring “I have no conflict on this issue.”
Elected officials are required to file a “Form 700” to reveal their sources of income, but the state law only requires that officials list the names of employers, not the individual clients of employers. This omission creates a problem for maintaining a reasonable level of transparency for the benefit of the constituents, who might be concerned that an elected official could be acting on behalf of a client of her/his employer instead of the best interests of the public. As a Vice President of Curt Pringle & Associates, Ms. Fitzgerald should be accutely aware of the potential appearance of a conflict of interest, and provide more information than the bare minimum required by state law.
Ms. Fitzgerald said herself at the May 5 meeting, speaking skeptically about the way the OCWD staff’s communicates with its Board, that it was “extremely important… to trust but verify.” Jennifer Fitzgerald should follow her own advice, and allow her constituents to “trust but verify” her own actions. Publishing a complete list of Curt Pringle & Associates’ clients will allow the public to judge for themselves if any conflicts of interest exist between Ms. Fitzgerald’s service as a member of the Fullerton City Council and her employment with the county’s most prominent lobbying and public relations firm.