Although we would like to be a 24 hour news source, the Examiner (volunteer) Staff actually have jobs and lives outside of the blog (that may come as a surprise to some commenters). Matthew Owen responded to our post this morning, with an attachment to the requirements for reporting investments and property owned. Based on the highlighted sections, Mr. Owens believes he and Virginia Bass are not required to report how much their house is worth, since it is their personal residence. Obviously, they must not be taking any reportable tax deductions on that property. If that is true, then it might be possible they don’t have to report any information regarding the home they own in Eureka.
One of the other areas that he highlighted was in regards to investments in mutual funds, credit unions, and other types of diversified fund accounts. We don’t know what funds he and Virginia have invested in, and we’re not accountants so we can’t say for certain what funds they should be reporting. Again, we just have to take Matthew and Virginia’s word that they are reporting what they are supposed to report.
However, we should note that Rex Bohn reported investments in MFS Global Funds and Wells Fargo Advantage Fund. Those appear to be diversified investment funds. Rex felt that he should report those investments, even though Matthew’s logic is that they don’t need to be reported.
That’s where we got the title for this post, “The Tangled Web of Personal Finance and Local Government”. For us, it seems strange that anyone elected to office should feel that they need to hide their investments and properties they own. In fact, the law doesn’t even require you to give addresses for your property, so privacy issues concerns seem a little hollow.
People choose to enter elected or appointed office for many reasons. However, entering into the governance, law making, and public service of local government means that you have chosen a higher calling. With that higher calling, comes less privacy then the average citizen. If you don’t want the scrutiny, feel free to go into the private sector to stay under the radar. Otherwise, recognize that giving more information than “required” might help quell any perceived conflicts of interest regarding your positions of power.
Last week’s Eureka City Council meeting received very little attention in the local media void, which isn’t a surprise given that very few meetings are ever covered. We were hoping that some seasoned reporter or an astute new person trying to make a name would have caught on to the potentially huge scoop that was contained in the fine print of last week’s agenda.
Item 7 was titled “Local Agency Biennial Conflict of Interest Code Resolution”. You see, certain government employees are required to disclose their investments, real property holdings, and business positions. For example, you can go online to see that Matthew Owen (husband to Virginia Bass) earns over $100,000 a year from Wells Fargo. However, strangely enough, Virginia didn’t report any real property interests (homes owned) or any investments. I guess we’re supposed to just take her word that Matthew, the banker, doesn’t invest any money and they don’t own their home.
On the other hand, Marian Brady truthfully disclosed that she has an investment in Chevron stock for less that $10,000. Rex Bohn reported owning two homes and having hundreds of thousands invested in stocks and other funds.
We didn’t think that the local press would pay attention to Item 7. If local media was doing their job, they would have been asking tough questions for the past several years about why the reports from people like Frank Jager, Virginia Bass, Mike Newman, etc., which seem to indicate that they don’t own homes in Eureka or invest any of their money. The law requires reporting when “An official has an “interest in real property” when the official, or his or her spouse or dependent children have a direct or indirect equity, option, or leasehold interest of $2,000 or more in a parcel of property (e.g., ownership, mortgages, deeds of trusts, options to buy, or joint tenancies) located in, or within two miles of, the geographical jurisdiction of the official’s agency (e.g., within two miles of city boundaries for city officials).”
The press would also want to take a hard look at the filings by people like Dave Tyson, to see if he has directly benefited from the pipeline to Cutten because he might have owned property to be developed in Cutten. If we had an active press, they would have asked for and reported on these records already.
Well, its never too late to make a fresh start Humboldt Media. The law governing these disclosures makes it clear that anyone can access this public information. The law reads, “All statements of economic interests are available for public inspection during regular business hours. Persons wishing to examine statements may not be required to identify themselves…” That’s right, not just the media but local citizens can go in to your local City Hall and get copies of these records for a small fee, without identifying yourself!
The Eureka City Council approved a sweeping change to the City policy about disclosure by including a host of new city positions to be included. These disclosures should be closely looked at by the press and the public, so we can get a better idea of whether there are conflicts of interest. Some of the new positions are Assistant Fire Chief, Assistant to the Finance Director, City Clerk, Finance Director, Personnel Analyst, Police Captain, Police Chief and Zoo Manager.
With these new positions, and more, now is the time for some accountability in Eureka Government. These disclosures could shed some light on the financial interests of people like Eureka’s Finance Director or the Deputy City Attorney. The disclosures might also shed some light on who is and isn’t honest in their reporting.