County Counsel Opines - Joe Harn is Wrong!
As is more often the case than not, Auditor/Controller Joe Harn is slapped-down when he ventures beyond accounting. In what may be political slash-and-burn by a politician facing backlash on his lavish bonuses, Joe Harn has spent much of the last year politicking outside of his of county auditor's job, even going on TV and radio shows to comment about political issues, siding against old political opponents.
His latest venture has been to inject himself into the EID Board of Directors election. In the heat of the election cognizanti expect interested parties to take every opportunity to highlight their side, and diminish the opposing side. This is what has happened in the last two weeks, but with the twist of Joe Harn going back on TV to opine about something he did not know, again!
In Politics, large donors are always a badge of courage, as well as, a target. The EID campaign is no different and the large donation made by a developer to a political action committee that is supporting the campaigns of two candidates has drawn the ire of the other two campaign's supporters.
Of the flyer the Mountain Democrat wrote,
"Earlier this month, a tempest in a teapot arose when a flyer advocating the election of one of those running for the EID board, Rich Englefield, went out using the return address of the El Dorado County Chamber of Commerce. While the chamber has its own Political Action Committee and had already endorsed Englefield, the mailer was sent out instead by a different PAC ...of the El Dorado County Farmers Businesses and Homebuilders For Responsible Water Policy (EDCFBHFRWP). One of the entities supporting EDCFBHFRWP is Parker Development Co...the company is also a member of the El Dorado County Chamber of Commerce."
Inexplicably, Auditor-Controller Joe Harn then went on TV in Sacramento to call the flyer inappropriate, referencing Code 8314(a). Specifically referring to, “It is unlawful for any elected state or local officer, including any state or local appointee, employee, or consultant, to use or permit other to use public resources for a campaign activity, or personal or other purposes which are not authorized by law.”
This was so incorrect that people questioned what Joe's real motives were in making a statement he, as a county auditor-controller should have known to be false, on its face.
These facts are public knowledge:
1) The Chamber is NOT a government body;
2) The county RENTS the building to the Chamber;
3) The actions of the PAC is lawful and within the Chamber's tenancy;
4) The provisions quoted by Joe Harn do not extend to county property that the county lawfully rents to private parties.
El Dorado County Counsel Ed Knapp said, “In my view, Government Code Section 8314 does not allow the county to ‘permit’ a campaign activity on county property, but it does not restrict the activities of the Chamber of Commerce on property it rents. The county leases the 542 Main St. building to the Chamber of Commerce on a five-year lease. The chamber as the tenant can decide how it is going to use the building it rents, and once that building is rented out to the chamber, the county as landlord cannot control the day-to-day activities that take place there by the chamber. Section 8314 does not allow a county employee to ‘permit’ others to use county property for a campaign activity, but no one with the county ‘permitted’ the use of the 542 Main St. address as a return address — that was presumably done by someone with the chamber and 8314 does not govern the chamber.”
Kirk Bone said it was the decision of Laurel Brent-Bumb, CEO of the El Dorado County Chamber of Commerce, to use the chamber’s address on the flyer and not Parker’s. The chamber had already endorsed Coco and Englefield, so Brent-Bumb felt it was alright to use the chamber’s address on the mailer from farmers, businesses and builders PAC. “It was my decision alone,” she said. “It was me and not my board or the chamber PAC that made the decision. I was just trying to be helpful. But perception is reality and once I realized it was not a good idea, I didn’t do it again.”
Nevertheless, the choice to not do it again was because it may have given a misleading perception that it was a Chamber PAC, not because it violated any prohibitions on campaigning from rented facilities as Joe Harn claimed.
This has left the public to wonder why the County auditor is involved in the operations of the Chamber. He must have known his claim was disingenuous when he said it on TV. Is it a personal grudge that he is avenging? Is it that he is aligned with Greg Prada? Joe Harn has said he does not know if he will run after his current term expires. Is this his parting blow?