My Turn: The long tentacles of the culture of corruption
What does the culture of corruption look like on the local level?Try this: An elected Republican official rewards a top campaign contributor with a job on a powerful commission. Subsequently, news emerges that the contributor has violated, or at the very least skirted, the very laws in which the commission is charged with enforcing.When asked about it, the elected official shrugs and sounds like George Bush addressing FEMA after Katrina: You’re doing a heck of a job, Brownie, he essentially says.Sound familiar? For those of us following the ethical downward spiral of Congressman John T. Doolittle, recent revelations that Doolittle protg, Placer County Supervisor Bruce Krantz, is entangled in an ethical and possible legal controversy are not surprising.The acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree.Late last month news broke that Placer County Planning Commissioner Michelle Ollar-Burris appointed by Krantz in 2005 has been engaged in land deals that can charitably be described as suspicious and very well could be in violation of state planning law. Placer County officials recently hired an outside special counsel to look into the matter and determine whether or not laws have been broken.Here’s the skinny: Over the past seven years Ollar-Burris, a real estate broker, and some of her clients, people to whom she’s loaned money, and business associates have been purchasing land in rural Eastern Placer County and subdividing the property without going through the normal county subdivision review process. During this time, Ollar-Burris sometimes used an alias Mary Smith to make purchases. The state’s Subdivision Map Act mandates that a parcel of land cannot be split more than four times by a single owner, or by a group of investors working together. In one instance, a 93-acre parcel purchased by Mary Smith (Ollar-Burris) was split 21 times in a two-year period.By skirting the review process, Ollar-Burris and her associates exempted themselves from paying developer mitigation fees typically used to improve infrastructure (roads, sewer, water, etc.) that is impacted by new development. These ad hoc subdivisions also bypass rigorous environmental review. Furthermore, by not adhering to the process the enforcement of which is why planning commissions exist Ollar-Burris and her cohorts jump to the front of the line, ahead of those developers playing by the rules. It’s a shameful practice on its face.Land deals are, by their nature, complicated. Ollar-Burris maintains that she’s done nothing wrong. We’ll see. One thing, however, is crystal clear: While an investigation will determine whether these deals are in direct violation of the law, we know without a shred of doubt that they violate the spirit of the law, which is to prevent hopscotch development without adequate review and appropriate impact mitigation.Ollar-Burris’s activities don’t pass the smell test.This practice would be dubious enough were Ollar-Burris simply a resident, but the fact that she’s also a Placer County Planning Commissioner is beyond the pale.Which brings us back to Krantz. What is it about these Doolittle Republicans and their refusal to recognize clear ethical lapses and to move quickly to fix them? Let’s be clear: Ollar-Burris should have resigned her post.But Krantz’s initial reaction was to stonewall and defend her. Which, I suppose, we should have expected. After all, Ollar-Burris and her husband donated several thousand dollars to Krantz’s political campaign and, as we’ve seen all too often recently, loyalty to campaign contributors trumps all.When I read Krantz’s first response to the news of Ollar-Burris’s land dealings, I literally laughed. After remarking that she’s doing an outstanding job (I kid you not.), Krantz said, That’s her personal business. She’s got to deal with her personal business herself. I purposely stay out of it.Only one word adequately describes that response: asinine.Bruce, she’s a Planning Commissioner. If she’s engaging in land deals possibly in violation of planning law, and clearly in violation of the spirit of the law, don’t you think that ruins her credibility?As political pressure mounted, the Placer County Board of Supervisors finally decided to act. Yesterday the board voted to vacate Ollar-Burris’s seat on the Planning Commission. But even as evidence of impropriety mounts, Krantz continues to argue that the Ollar-Burris fiasco should be judged only on whether laws were broken. In fact, at yesterday’s meeting, Krantz claimed that Ollar-Burris was a wonderful commissioner and that the reason for her removal was because the investigation is becoming a distraction for the county. Not a single word uttered on the ethical lapses of his commission appointment. Sad.Call me an optimist, but I think Republican voters in Placer County are getting sick and tired of having to defend their elected officials by asking us to wait until an investigation concludes to see if any laws were broken.Is this what public service has come to? I sure hope not.Auburn resident Rob Haswell, a graduate of Tahoe-Truckee High School, is the Region 1 Director of the California Democratic Party and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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