Volume XIX, Number 1
March 25 - April 1, 1993


By Bill Kirk

Do Sacramento City Council members face clear conflicts of interest when they vote on projects which financially benefit major contributors to the election campaigns?

For example, in 1981 Terry Kastanis and Sam Pannell, both currently on the Council, received nearly 37 percent of their total contributions from land development interests. More recently, of the $59,296 Kastanis collected for his 1992 recall election campaign, over 22 percent came from developers and real estate firms and another 30 percent from unions.

Among Kastanis' chief benefactors has been his friend of over 30 years, developer Angelo K. Tsakopoulos, who along with four other family members, contributed nearly $6,000 or 10 percent of his 1992 campaign total. Back in 1081, it was Tsakopoulos and some of his associates who helped Kastanis elected to the Council in the first place. In 1981, Tsakopoulos, his brother George, and a few other developer associates contributed $4,000 toward the first $8,300 Kastanis raised, enabling him to far outdistance the fundraising of his primary election rivals.

While Kastanis' recall election campaign heated up in South Sacramento last year, another battle was quietly brewing downtown. Tsakopoulos, along with realtor William C. Cummings and H.A. Edwards Joint Venture, filed permits for entitlements in the fall for two highrise office buildings to be located between 16th and 18th streets on the south side of R Street. A third project, proposed by Joe Benvenuti, would be located across the street.

These three project proposals will come before the City Cpouncil for what is known as an "early review" on April 20. Collectively, they are described by housing advocates as a clear challenge to the pro-housing, R Street Preferred Alternative concept which was previously adopted by the Council in 1991.

Given the volatility of the looming land use debate, the potential "conflict of interest" question may be overlooked. However, it remains an important consideration, particularly since two members of the Council have received sizable contributions in the past from a principal party in the projects being considered.

Richard Archibald, the deputy city attorney, told us that elected officials, such as the members of the City Council and the mayor, are specifically exempted conflict of interest restrictions. "The Political Reform Act, although much amended since being enacted in the early 1970s, is what we still follow today," Archibald said. In his view, there will probably not be any move to restrict voting on the Council based solely on arguments about conflicts of interest. "A more likely approach will be to limit campaign contributions. That seems to be the way campaign reform is moving."

Ruth Holton of Common Cause told us that in her opinion, conflict of interest laws at the local level are weak and are badly in need of strengthening. "The rules should be changed to prohibit voting on issues when elected officials have received substantial contributions and when their resulting vote will specifically benefit the contributors," she said.

She noted further that frequently the perception of a conflict of interest can be just as damaging as is the reality. "The public needs to be assured that Council decisions will be made on the merits of the projects being considered," she said. That assurance is now based solely on the goodwill of the elected officials whose links to special interests may make independent action difficult even with the best of intentions.

When Suttertown News recently contacted Kastanis about his views on the proposed R Street projects and the possibility that conflicts of interest might occur during the upcoming council review, he declined comment. Notably, however, in a previous interview with the News, Kastanis acknowledged his dilemma. "I couldn't accomplish anything if I refused to vote on anything (involving a financial contributor)," he said.

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Copyright © 1993 by the Suttertown News and 2002-2015 by billkirkwrites. All rights reserved