Conflict of interest (July 21, 2016)

As a part of our democratic republican form of government, even at the local level, we rely on a level of trust in our elected officials to be accountable to voters and taxpayers. Often times though, an unelected staff gets ahold of the reins of government, and that is where public accountability breaks down.

I recently filed a public records request of the Town of Apple Valley’s contracts with their selected Town Attorney, law firm Best Best & Krieger, in light of the Town’s effort to takeover over a private company in Liberty Utilities via eminent domain.

It appears that Best Best & Krieger has a conflict of interest in this matter, and the result is millions in legal fees that residents will have to bear, regardless of whether or not the eminent domain litigation is successful. Best Best & Krieger has a financial incentive to recommend and advocate on behalf of the eminent domain takeover. Given that they also are supposed to represent the Town as their legal counsel, they are severely compromised.

Will Best Best & Krieger, acting as Town Attorney, recommend against pursuing costly litigation as recommended by Best Best & Krieger, the eminent domain lawyers?

Beyond these factors, are two much more concerning issues. First, the eminent domain scheme promoted by Town staff and Best Best & Krieger stipulates that all acquisition costs, including legal fees, would be financed through the issuance of revenue bonds. Essentially they have a blank check to bill as much as they can, knowing that taxpayers will have to repay their bill, with interest.

One need only see how much Best Best & Krieger has billed in Claremont to recognize that they are simply trying to replicate their eminent domain profit machine here in Apple Valley too. It is no coincidence that Best Best & Krieger Partner Kendall H. MacVey is representing Claremont and Apple Valley for the eminent domain litigation.

Moveover, this whole effort has been conceived without any intent to allow residents to vote on whether or not they want the Town to proceed with the eminent domain lawsuit. A recent Daily Press poll of 800 residents revealed that residents oppose the eminent domain takeover by a 53-37 margin. Yet Best Best & Krieger Partner John Brown, who currently serves as Town Attorney for Apple Valley, Ontario and La Habra Heights, stated in the newspaper that the effort was moving forward without any delay.

Indeed things are moving forward aggressively, and in secret. One need only count the number of items Best Best & Krieger has addressed with the Town Council in closed session, since the last so-called Transparency Report last January. There have been dozens, too many to count, and each one is costing we voiceless residents money.

For a Town that has claimed to be transparent, it’s time that residents are given clear information, instead of another eight closed session items that appear on a regular Town of Apple Valley closed session agenda.

I would like to point out that Best Best, and Krieger was directed to produce an impartial analysis of the Right to Vote on Debt measure and produce a competing ballot measure of unknown content, with no public vetting, that will compete with the simple right to vote measure.

Once again, when Best Best, and Krieger is financially incentivized to promote the eminent domain litigation, these two measures can hardly be impartial or have any other objective than to discourage the citizen measure and protect the status quo.

Apple Valley Town staff are supposed to act on behalf of taxpayers, not to line the pockets of a private law firm that boasts of representing municipalities across California.

— Katie Manning, Apple Valley, CA

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