Ray brings boyfriend into political fray
May 1, 2014
By JOSH FRIEDMAN and KAREN VELIE
A San Luis Obispo County supervisor currently running for election has used her political position to further the career of her boyfriend, in violation of an ethic’s policy.
Last October, Governor Jerry Brown appointed Caren Ray to the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors to fill a seat vacated by the death of Supervisor Paul Teixeira. Ray is currently running for election to keep her seat on the board.
Prior to joining the board of supervisors, Ray served on the Arroyo Grande City Council. As a member of the council in Jan. 2013, Ray skirted the city’s ethics policy and appointed her boyfriend, Arroyo Grande architect Randy Russom, to the city architectural review committee (ARC).
An Arroyo Grande ethics policy prohibits any decision making by government officials that even appears to create a conflict of interest. The policy strictly forbids making decisions that relate to financial interests or personal relationships.
“Officials and employees shall not use their official positions to influence government decisions in which they have a material financial interest or where they have an organizational responsibility or personal relationship that may give the appearance of a conflict of interest,” the policy states.
Still, Ray said she did nothing wrong by appointing her boyfriend to the ARC.
“There is no conflict, there was no gain for me,” Ray said.
Just a few months after Ray appointed her boyfriend to the ARC, San Luis Obispo architectural firm RRM Design hired Russom, according to a post on his Facebook page. In addition to doing architectural work, RRM provides land use consulting services and often brings projects before the board of supervisors and city councils in the area.
In October, Arroyo Grande Councilman Joe Costello appointed Russom to the Arroyo Grande Planning Commission.
Ray said that on her second day with the board of supervisors, she spoke with County Counsel Rita Neal about her relationship with Russom. Neal informed her that she could vote on matters pertaining to RRM, so long as Russom is not working on the project, Ray said.
Neal did not respond when asked for confirmation. Neal’s county email said she is currently out of the office.
Ray and Russom have been dating for at least a few years and are now living together, according to multiple sources. On March 18, Ray purchased an Arroyo Grande home where the couple now resides.
On March 4, 14 days before the closing of Ray’s home, the Arroyo Grande Planning Commission meeting minutes note an administrative decision to designate her recently purchased home as historical. Because of the Mill’s Act, this decision is slated to significantly lower Ray’s property taxes.
State law prohibits officials from making any governmental decisions on issues in which a party involved has a shared investment or interest in real property. Government Code Section 18730 bars office holders from deciding on any issue when a conflict of interest of such has surfaced within 12 months of the hearing.
Multiple requests for a copy of the San Luis Obispo County’s ethic’s policy to the board of supervisors, county council, and the county clerk recorder’s office over several days were unsuccessful. However, several employees responded noting that they were attempting to find the document.
During the past few years, questions about officials violating conflicts of interest codes have arisen because of the romantic relationships of two other county supervisors.
Board chairman Bruce Gibson has dated his legislative aide Cherie McKee for several years, and Supervisor Adam Hill is engaged to Dee Torres, the homeless services manager for the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo, for which the supervisors approve millions of dollars of funding.
Gibson hired and rehired McKee as his aide, a position that pays a base salary of $70,000 a year. Hill has advocated that the board increase the homeless services funding to CAPSLO while decreasing the amount of support given to competing organizations.
But, Neal has exonerated both supervisors of any wrongdoing and of failing to recuse themselves when they had conflicts of interest.
In addition to creating a looming conflict of interest, Ray has left Arroyo Grande with an advisory body member who has admitted to financial misconduct.
Shortly before meeting Ray, Russom went through a divorce. During the end of the marriage, Russom took loans and credit cards out in his then wife’s name swindling her out of almost $100,000 she inherited following the death of her father, according to notarized statements signed by Russom.
“I have forged her name to use her checks and signed for credit cards she knew nothing about,” Russom says in a notarized security document he signed at the time claiming he planned to pay his wife back. “I, Randy Russom, have stolen, cheated and lied to my wife.”
Russom did not respond to a request for comment.