Arroyo Grande commissioner accused of conflict of interest

July 18, 2014
Randy Russom appearing before the Arroyo Grande City Council on July 8

Randy Russom appearing before the Arroyo Grande City Council on July 8

By JOSH FRIEDMAN

The lead architect of a proposed housing development in Arroyo Grande is a member of the city’s planning commission, a scenario, critics allege, that creates an ethical conflict of interest.

Randy Russom, an architect with RRM Design, pitched a 59-home development to the Arroyo Grande City Council on July 8 as part of a preliminary review of the project. Russom’s involvement in the project has prompted allegations of him using his standing with the city to further his work with RRM, as well as to further the political interests of his significant other.

State law prohibits government officials from using their positions for their own financial interests. Since Russom is pitching the project as a member of RRM, as opposed to a member of the planning commission, it is unclear whether he is actually using his seat on the advisory body for financial gain.

Nonetheless, critics, like Arroyo Grande resident Otis Page, say Russom has created the appearance of a conflict of interest. The Arroyo Grande ethics policy forbids city officials from using their positions in any manner that even creates the appearance of a conflict of interest.

“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.

Page criticized Russom’s role in the project in a July 10 email to the city council.

“The fact a member of the planning commission presented the project and that he is employed by RRM design group raises the issue of impropriety and casts the unfortunate appearance of conflict,” Page wrote. Page then called for Russom to resign either from the planning commission or from his position with RRM.

In an email exchange with CalCoastNews, Russom would not address why RRM selected him, as opposed to another architect, to take the lead on the Mangano Homes development. Russom contended, though, that he has no conflict of interest in the matter.

“To bring forward a concept for discussion does not present a conflict of interest,” Russom wrote. “You should note that this project was not presented to the planning commission at any time.”

Arroyo Grande municipal code allows developers, upon the payment of a fee, to take their projects to the city council for a preliminary review before submitting a development application to city planning staff. Even though Mangano Homes opted for the preliminary council review, the project must still undergo planning commission review prior to the city council approving it.

Russom said he would recuse himself when the project reaches the planning commission.

Another potential conflict of interest exists in that Andy Mangano is a major donor to San Luis Obispo County Supervisor candidate Caren Ray, with whom Russom is in a relationship.

Last year, Mangano donated $10,000 to Ray’s supervisorial election campaign. From just the one donation, Mangano remains Ray’s second largest contributor.

Russom said the contribution has no relation to the project.

“As no project has been submitted for approval or vote, the suggestion that this has any relationship to Supervisor Ray’s election campaign would be a thinly veiled manipulation of circumstances at best,” Russom wrote.

Russom initially joined an Arroyo Grande advisory body by way of Ray appointing him. As a member of the Arroyo Grande City Council, Ray appointed Russom to the city’s architectural review committee in Jan. 2013, even though the two were already in a romantic relationship.

A few months later, RRM hired Russom as an architect. Several months after that, Arroyo Grande Councilman Joe Costello appointed him to the planning commission.

The proposed Mangano Homes development consists of 59 single-family homes on approximately 12 acres near Traffic Way and East Cherry Avenue. It has drawn criticism from residents for its density as well as its potential impact on a neighboring farm and proposed Japanese cultural center.

On July 8, Arroyo Grande Council members generally indicated support for the Mangano Homes project following Russom’s presentation.


29 Comments

  1. hijinks says:

    The news story was insightful as long as the subject was Russom/RRM/and planning commission (then it got lost in the bedroom politics — geez, folks, can’t we leave it alone!).

    This is vintage RRM — get your people onto all sorts of public committees from which they can swing their influence for the company’s benefit. I recall when one of the owners was appointed to the SLO Planning Commission just in time to influence a new general plan in ways from which the company stood to benefit. Why do public officials appoint people like that? Because they’re fascists (the classic definition of fascism is collusion between public officials and business for the benefit of business at the expense of the public). The fascist mentality is so embedded in public officialdom around here! It will not go away until we shame them by calling it for what it is.

    Otis Page is 100% correct — this IS a conflict of interest at a very basic level. It’s thoroughly ordinary in all our local towns. There should be a rule in each city prohibiting people who work for outfits with the sort of economic interest like RRM from serving on planning commissions and the like simply because there’s no way this cannot become a conflict of interest.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 31 Thumb down 4

  2. Pelican1 says:

    The pattern of misconduct on behalf of our public officials throughout this county is disturbing.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 39 Thumb down 6

  3. As the world turns says:

    No surprise the city of Arroyo Grande would appoint someone from RRM to a planning commission. The government officials in Arroyo Grande are clueless.

    An appointed government official is to put the public interest first, not their employer, projects and salary. If one does not like this reality, then resign from the planning commission.

    No professional sitting on a planning commission should present their projects to the government agency they allegedly serve.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 40 Thumb down 5

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