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Probe clears labor talks

Councilman’s business does not pose conflict of interest, political commission finds.

January 02, 2010|By Christopher Cadelago

CITY HALL — State elections officials have determined that Councilman David Gordon can participate in city employee labor negotiations, even if they include talks on a vision-care plan that his optometry practice accepts.

In a Dec. 8 letter from the California Fair Political Practices Commission, released by Gordon on Thursday, officials said that Vision Service Plan, a vision-care insurance company that covers city employees, is not considered a significant-enough source of income to the councilman to create a conflict of interest.

The commission also determined that because employees have the freedom to choose their optometrist, the vision plan did not directly benefit Gordon.

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The City Council in 2008 approved an agreement with the Burbank City Employees Assn. providing vision insurance through Vision Service Plan. The insurance has been accepted at Gordon’s practice for the past 30 years, earning him at least $10,000 annually since he took office, according to city records.

Councilman Dave Golonski expressed “serious concerns” about the validity of contracts before seeking to convince Mayor Gary Bric and Vice Mayor Anja Reinke that it should be referred to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office for prosecution.

State law prohibits public officials from participating in contracts in which they stand to make money. In the strictest laws, officials with remote interests in a contract who fail to remove themselves lose the ability to later claim an exemption.

The question of whether Gordon breached conflict-of-interest laws spurred some political tussling throughout the fall. Gordon questioned whether Golonski had his own conflicts while working for Health Net between 1992 and 2003, because a plan through the company was offered under the city’s employee retirement program.

Gordon reported to the state Fair Political Practices Commission that three of his patients in 2008-09 were city employees covered by Vision Service Plan, which paid him a total of $352 for his services.

“I feel that it vindicates me,” Gordon said. “I never felt I did anything wrong or violated any laws, and as far as I understand the document that’s what it says.”

Gordon self-reported the figures, Roman Porter, executive director of the commission, said.

The commission stipulated that if a potential conflict of interest disqualifies Gordon from participating in labor negotiations, the decision on vision-care benefits could be segmented from the main contract.

He has since made arrangements not to accept city employees who carry Vision Service Plan insurance and has not been participating in labor discussion that involve vision benefits.

Still in the balance is a request a three-member City Council panel filed with the state attorney general’s office for an opinion on whether Gordon may have violated other conflict of interest laws in the past.


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