RIVERBANK — Here is some advice for people serving on local government boards.
Be careful about voting to give yourself an appointment if the position comes with a raise.
Former Mayor David I. White was slapped with a warning letter this month from the Fair Political Practices Commission for his vote in favor of appointing himself mayor last year.
The FPPC, which enforces the state's Political Reform Act, said in a Feb. 10 letter that White violated conflict-of-interest laws because the position gave him a raise of $50 a month, or $600 a year.
Riverbank council members get a stipend of $350 a month and the mayor gets $400 a month.
The watchdog agency did not assess a fine, but the letter serves notice that future violations could result in a monetary penalty. Conflict-of-interest violations may result in fines up to $5,000 per violation.
White, who was mayor for 3½ months before resigning to take a job in San Diego, could not be reached for comment. City Manager Richard Holmer said Tuesday he had not read the FPPC letter and declined to comment.
The commission's staff said the violation occurred at the Jan. 30, 2009, council meeting. Instead of calling for an election that would cost $40,000, the council decided to appoint to fill the vacancy after Mayor Chris Crifasi resigned to take a job in the Bay Area.
A motion was made to appoint David I. White, then a councilman and vice mayor. Fellow council members Dave A. White and Jesse White concurred in the 3-1 vote, making David I. White the first black mayor in Stanislaus County. Sandra Benitez voted "no." (Dave A. White and Jesse White are related, but neither is related to David I. White.)
One councilman disagreed with the watchdog agency's reprimand, saying the former mayor had little to gain from voting for himself.
"A $50 raise? Give me a break," Dave A. White said. "Four hundred dollars is not enough for all the meetings they have to go to and the different functions the mayor attends."
Riverbank resident Dotty Nygard, who said she filed the complaint with the FPPC, countered that conflict-of-interest rules should not be taken lightly. City staff should have warned White about voting on the motion, she said.
Under state law, public officials are expected to abstain from decisions in which they have an economic interest. FPPC officials declined to elaborate on the warning letter, but simply said complaints are considered on a case-by-case basis.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2321.