The San Bernardino County Sentinel
Friday, August 14, 2009 A Fortunado Publication in conjunction with Countywide News Service 10808 Foothill Blvd. Suite 160-446 Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91730
Cortes Sees No Conflict in Terra Loma Votes
Despite the consideration that one of her council colleagues has been criminally charged for doing what is essentially the same thing she has done, Grand Terrace city councilwoman Bea Cortes this week said she does not consider her votes to ratify city payments to the real estate company where she works as a sales agent to be a violation of state conflict-of-interest law.
Cortes for several years has had a professional relationship with Terra Loma Real Estate. She has also consistently voted, as a member of the Grand Terrace City Council, to approve the consent calendars that are a part of the council’s agendas at its twice monthly meetings. The consent calendar, in Grand Terrace as in all cities, typically contains multiple items pertaining to the function of the city government, all of which are deemed non-controversial and routine matters and are bundled together so they can be approved in a single yes or no vote of the council. It is unheard of, in Grand Terrace and elsewhere, for the consent calendar not to pass and it is generally approved by a unanimous vote of the city council, although on rare occasions a dissenting vote on a consent calendar’s acceptance is registered.
In Grand Terrace as elsewhere, the consent calendar contains the city’s check register, that is, a listing of the checks that have been written to the city’s various vendors and contractors.
Among the companies that have rendered service to the city of Grand Terrace over the last several years is Terra Loma Real Estate, which provides property management services to the city. City payments to Terra Loma are made by check. Those payments are then ratified by the city council as an item on the consent calendar.
Records available to the Sentinel show that in the last year, the city has made at least 11 payments to Terra Loma, totalling $8,366.47. Cortes participated in the votes to approve at least nine of those, including a vote made at Tuesday night’s council meeting.
Cortes insisted that she had done noting illegal in casting that vote or any of the others.
Government Code Section 1090 prohibits an elected official from participating in a vote on any matter in which he or she has a financial interest. A payment to a business owned by an official casting such a vote or a business that employs the official voting or one with which the official voting is professionally affiliated is construed as having a bearing on that official’s financial interest.
Cortes said she has not made any money recently as a real estate agent with Terra Loma so she therefore has no interest tied up with the company.
“I have not received money from Terra Loma Real Estate,” she said. “Due to the economy I have not been able to sell any property.” The sales drought, Cortes said, has lasted “at least two years.”
Moreover, she said, “I spoke with the city attorney and he advised me there was no conflict.”
Cortes acknowledged that she is professionally affiliated with Terra Loma Real Estate and its owner, Gene Carlstrom, but said that payments the city makes to Terra Loma for property management services are not passed along to her.
“I have my real estate license in his [Carlstrom’s] office,” Cortes said. “Whenever I sell any property, I have to have a licensed broker over me. He is the broker. I have my license under Mr. Gene Carlstrom.”
The councilwoman insisted the city attorney had examined the potential for conflict inherent in the circumstance and found that she is in compliance with the law, Government Code section 1090 and any other statutes that are applicable.
“For two years I have not been selling any property in affiliation with them [Terra Loma],” she said. “I have never sold anything for them.” She said she has been working out of the Terra Loma office “a little over three years.”
She said she did not know if a conflict would exist if she had success as an agent while working for Terra Loma.
“Hopefully, I’ll make a sale and when that issue comes before me, I’ll give it some thought,” she said. “I wish I were so lucky to be selling property right now.”
Another member of the Grand Terrace city council, Jim Miller, has had worse luck, it would appear, than Cortes.
On July 15, Jim Miller was arrested by San Bernardino County district attorney’s investigators and charged with violating Government Code section 1090. That charge stemmed from votes Miller had made to approve the consent calendars which included check registers that contained payments for the city’s legal advertisements that were printed in his wife’s newspaper, the Grand Terrace City News. Miller’s wife is the sole owner of that paper and two others, the Colton City News and the Loma Linda City News.
Miller had never voted to authorize the city to purchase the ads. That decision had been made by city staff members who had determined that the rates in the Grand Terrace City News were lower than in competing newspapers. Like Cortes, Miller had relied upon an assurance provided by city attorney John Harper that as long as the newspaper was his wife’s sole property, the city’s purchase of the ads from her represented for Jim Miller no conflict.
The Sentinel was unsuccessful in reaching Harper for comment by press time.
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