News Column

Council members take heat over campaign contributions

February 21, 2014

By Daniel Langhorne, The Orange County Register



Feb. 21--Mayor Craig Young and Councilman Gene Hernandez have been criticized in recent weeks by opponents over campaign contributions made by people associated with housing projects.

Former councilwoman Nancy Rikel has blasted Young and Hernandez in her newsletter for, she said, violating the city's ethics law, voted in by residents in 2010. The policy bars council members from accepting a campaign contribution of $250 or more from a developer, contractor or direct beneficiary for a year after a council vote on a development.

(Young announced Tuesday that he was dropping out of the state Assembly race to focus on defeating the campaign to recall him.)

Council members also are disqualified from voting on a project involving someone from whom they've received a donation of $250 or more in the last year.

Rikel and Ed Rakochy, spokesman for Yorba Linda Residents for Responsible Representation, are among those spearheading a petition to recall Young and Councilman Tom Lindsey.

Young, Hernandez and Lindsey voted Oct. 15 to approve Brandywine Homes' 51 townhouses across Yorba Linda Boulevard from the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum.

The next day, Young's Assembly campaign committee deposited a $300 contribution from Jim Burke, son of Joseph Burke, a trustee of a family trust that owns one of the four properties that comprise the future townhouse site.

Jim Burke denies being a property owner and said his father and uncle will be the primary beneficiaries of the sale.

Young said he has returned some checks to be extra cautious but he hadn't returned that one.

He stressed that donations flow through his committee's treasurer first.

"If I had seen it and noticed it, I would have returned it," Young said.

Hernandez's committee accepted a $500 check from Michael Recupero, a lawyer representing Brandywine Homes.

City records show that check being cashed by Hernandez's committee a week before the vote on the Brandywine townhomes, but also show him paying Recupero back after the vote.

Hernandez said he didn't know about the donation until after the vote.

He added that he decided to return the check because Recupero was a consultant for Sage Community Group, the developer of Cielo Vista, a project just outside the city.

(Lindsey has not been accused of improper use of campaign funds.)

Rikel said she didn't buy the council members' explanations that their treasurers handled the contributions.

"If you're not aware of your contributions that you're receiving, something is extremely wrong, because that's your responsibility," she said.

Concerning the city's ethics law, the city attorney can assign an outside lawyer to look at possible violations, which can be referred to the District Attorney's Office to consider prosecution.

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Contact the writer: 714-704-3704 or dlanghorne@ocregister.com

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(c)2014 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)

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Source: Orange County Register (CA)


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