Conflicts of interest in the city of Hemet, or just business as usual?

A■ Melissa Diaz Hernandez / Editor

fter attending Hemet City Council meetings consistently for just about the last four years, I often wonder how the conflicts of interest continue. Has this been business as usual for so long that no one even considers the conflicts of interest anymore? Or is it simply that no one cares?

HPD, MPD and Anthony Norman
The Hemet Police Department hired Dylan Vrooman in July 2016. Vrooman is the son of Capt. Dennis Vrooman — the Murrieta Police captain who was in charge of determining whether to reopen the criminal investigation of Hemet Deputy Chief Rob Webb in the wrongful death of Anthony Norman after Vrooman received a letter from the family urging that the case be re-evaluated. No criminal charges were ever filed against Webb.
In March The Valley Chronicle quoted Capt. Dennis Vrooman in a written statement, that “the case was reopened at the request of a family member of Anthony Norman in October of 2016. The previous evidence was re-reviewed as part of this process. The re-investigation not only included the examination of the sworn depositions from 2015 of the Murrieta police officers involved in the case, but also the sworn deposition of the forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsy.” While everything in this case may be above board, the timing wasn’t optimal.

Bank of Hemet & Gosch Auto Group
Next we have Eric Gosch, who, according to the Bank of Hemet website, is president, Gosch Ford Temecula since 1984; president, Gosch Chevrolet since 1991; vice president, Gosch Ford since 2005; and vice president, Gosch Toyota since 2002.
Gosch, a major funder of Measure E and Measure U, was appointed to the Measure U Citizen Oversight Committee in February of this year. The City Council has awarded the purchase of vehicles from the auto group just after Measure U (General Fund Tax) passed in November 2016. Gosch was also a chair on the Keep Hemet Safe committee and donated approximately $13,000 to the PAC, according to the California Form 460.
The city of Hemet has investments in the Bank of Hemet where Eric Gosch is a board member. The Bank of Hemet contributed almost $20,000 to the PAC for Measure E and Measure U.
The Valley Chronicle previously reported that the city of Hemet invested $494,000 in a CD with the Bank of Hemet at an APY of 0.4 percent maturing on Sept. 6, 2021. Previously, the same amount had been invested at an APY of 0.5 percent and matured after three years on Sept. 6, 2016. According to the FDIC’s website, the current national average for a 60-month CD for a Jumbo Deposit (anything over $100,000) is 0.83 percent with a rate cap of 1.58 percent.
The city also invested $249,000 with Citadel Federal Credit Union at an APY of 2.0 percent maturing on Oct. 20, 2020 with a purchase date of Oct. 20, 2015. The city has money invested in Negotiable CDs with other banking institutions in amounts just under $250,000 with rates between 1.000 percent and 2.500 percent. Why is the city investing such large amounts with such low returns? Perhaps a political favor?

Water, water, everywhere…not a drop to drink
Bonnie Wright, a seasoned council member and former mayor who just won reelection to her seat in November, is an employee of Eastern Municipal Water District (EMWD), a subsidiary of Metropolitan Water District, and still votes on topics related to both organizations without recusing herself. This screams of a conflict of interest. Optics matter.
Additionally, MWD chairman and EMWD President Randolph “Randy” Record sits on the board of the Bank of Hemet. Everyone is so cozy in this town.

Real estate, planning and profits?
City Clerk Sarah McComas jointly owned a property in the downtown area and sold it for a considerable profit. With talks of downtown revitalization in the works for decades, does the ownership and subsequent sale of property in such an area by a city official pose a conflict of interest?
Mayor Pro Tem Michael Perciful works with Planning Commission member Tiffany Smith. Perciful served on the Planning Commission until he was elected to the Hemet City Council last November. Smith was appointed to the commission on March 28, 2017 to fill a vacancy. Smith stated on her LinkedIn page in July 2016, “I couldn’t be happier to join Michael Perciful and Steve Good at SoCal Realtors & Associates here in Hemet, CA!” It’s good to have friends in high places.
Special events funding
Council members sit on the boards of or are affiliated with organizations they vote in favor funding. The Valley Chronicle also previously reported on “The Hemet City Council unanimously approved spending $50,000 on special events funding for FY 17/18. The recommendation came from the ad-hoc committee, established in 2012 after the City Council approved a new program and policy for funding community events.”
Mayor Linda Krupa sits on the board of the Ramona Bowl, which traditionally receives funding from the city. This year they received $15,000 for special events funding. Krupa did not recuse herself from this vote, which passed unanimously.
Another organization that likes special events funding is the Central County United Way, which owns the Crime Stoppers Plus website to report crime tips. That site was recently offline for a few weeks but came back online when the Valley Chronicle asked why it was down. Connie Hall is vice president of operations and Crime Stoppers director for the Central County United Way, which also puts on the Tinsel Triathlon. Hall is also an at-large representative on the Mobile Home Rent Review Commission. Her term expires March 18, 2018. $15,000 was requested to fund the Tinsel Triathlon, but only $3,000 was granted.
Steve Covington, who is the owner of Downtown Deli & Coffee Company and requested in-kind funds for the Harvard Street Christmas along with the Shoppes at Harvard, sits on the Traffic & Parking Commission; his term expires April 1, 2019.” Both Hall and Covington were part of the outside organizations that received special event funding. Interestingly, Covington recently had outspoken citizen Judith McPherson removed by the police from a public meeting called by Councilwoman Karlee Meyer at his coffeehouse. The Council never acknowledged this incident. Several attempts were made to contact Covington after the incident, but the reporters who attempted to hear his side of the story were ignored and blocked for their efforts.

Measure U Citizen Oversight Committee
Robert Davis Jr. was appointed to the Hemet Unified School District (HUSD) Governing Board after his partner, Joe Wojcik, of the law firm Davis Wojcik Duarte, a Professional Law Corporation, moved out of the district boundaries, leaving the Trustee seat vacant. Davis resigned from his seat on the Measure U Citizen Oversight Committee, citing potential conflicts of interest as the reason but did not elaborate.
Newly appointed Measure U Citizen Oversight Committee member Jim Lineberger is the director of the Community Pantry, which has received CDBG funds in the past. Lineberger was selected to take Davis’ seat after Davis’ resignation. Lineberger was selected over a committee applicant who had spent his entire career in finance and accounting, which seems like a natural fit for an oversight committee. During his interview, Lineberger acknowledged having friendships with everyone on the City Council, and that even if he wasn’t selected for the committee, they would still remain friends.
The holiday card lists must be amazing in this town!
While a conflict of interest can be perceptual, and not everyone who volunteers their time is doing something wrong, just being in a position to feather your own nest will raise questions in the mind of the public. People who hold the public trust must bend over backward to ensure our institutions remain free – both in fact and appearance – of greed, self interest, and corruption.

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