This week, City Councilman Allen Settle defended himself against conflict of interest allegations brought on by the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). The FPPC responded to complaints that Settle voted on issues regarding the proposed Marketplace project , even though there was a conflict of interest because he owns a rental property adjacent to the Marketplace property.
Settle was mayor at the time of the votes, and the SLO C city council Council was split on the issue, with Settle representing the deciding vote.
The sparsely attended public meetings were held on Sept. 19 and 20 in a basement conference room at the Higuera Street Caltrans building.
The Environmental Defense Council filed the original complaint against Settle, for three votes he cast in 1999. It's unclear why it's taken five years for a hearing to occur.
Settle said he chose to defend himself because he did not want to negotiate a settlement with the FPPC. According to Settle, a settlement means he would have had to assume guilt. Instead, he said, he wants to show that there was never a conflict of interest because he did not vote to approve the Marketplace project. Settle said the votes he cast in 1999 , were votes to proceed with a funding mechanism for the Prado Road overpass.
"What the FPPC is saying is that the city City council Council voted to approve the Marketplace development in 1999. The city City council Council in 1999 didn't even have the Marketplace project on the agenda," said Settle. "We didn't vote to approve a project , we voted on a funding mechanism."
Settle , who recused himself from later Marketplace votes . Settle , said he even asked the FPPC for legal advice about voting on the Marketplace project but it took them years to get back to them him.
And Settle insists there was never a conflict of interest anyway . According to Settle ; according to him he talked to three appraisers who said his rental property would neither increase nor decrease in value if the Marketplace project went ahead. And, he adds, the Marketplace's developer never needed the city-approved funding mechanism to develop the property.
FPPC officials say there's a conflict of interest if an elected politician is set to gain "one penny" from a vote. But Settle says that rule cannot be reasonably applied in small towns like San Luis Obispo.
"If I vote to approve a public works project that paves the road in front of my house, is that one penny?" Settle asked.
Settle could be fined a maximum of $6,000. There are no criminal charges and the allegations cannot threaten his position in public office. But even if the judge in this week's hearing recommends a fine, Settle said he plans to take the case to a state commission hearing.