A strange thing happened at the Council on Tuesday night. Mrs. Kathy McCullough got a sudden attack of ethics. For the first time she raised the issue of ethics and conflicts of interest. This was such a strange thing for her to talk about that the room was suddenly silent. After all, Mrs. McCullough has, in the recent past violated the City’s code of ethics on so many occasions it’s taken several articles to cover them all. For example –
- McCullough voted against the pleas of dozens of mobile home residents and in favor of the mobile park owners, talking about her “good friends” who owned one of the mobile parks.
- With absolutely no evidence in hand, McCullough referred to a citizen as a “liar” but failed to offer any examples of what he was lying about (FWIW – he wasn’t)
- McCullough accepted money from several companies who had contracts with the City, then voted to give them more contracts, or extend the contracts they already had.
- McCullough lied from the dais about how much money she took from vested interests and about who paid her.
- McCullough lied from the dais about how she spent the city’s money when she travelled on city business, failing to mention that she use city money to pay her husband’s share of the tips, delivery fees, cab and limousine rides, etc.
I could go on, but you should get the point. For Mrs. McCullough now to be worried about conflicts of interest seems strange indeed. It’s a bit like the fox being worried about mending the roof on the hen house.
McCullough’s specific concern in this case was her worry that Mayor Pro Tem Nick had a conflict of interest in considering whether or not 99 Cents Stores should have a license to sell beer and wine. Nick owns a gas station on Lake Forest Rd. at the corner of Dimension and he sells beer and wine from that store.
(FULL DISCLOSURE – I use Nick’s gas station because he sells the cheapest gas in town, but I don’t buy beer or wine from his store.)
McCullough is suddenly worried that Nick might have a vested interest in seeing that 99 Cents Stores doesn’t get a license, since they would be competing with his business. It mattered not to McCullough that Nick’s store and the 99 Cents Store in question, on El Toro Rd., are in different tracts, and the likelihood of someone who goes to 99 Cents Store in El Toro Rd not buying their beer and wine from Nick’s gas station is very small indeed. Nick should be more worried about the competition right across the street from him, in 7 Eleven, than he is with the 99 Cents Store miles away. In fact, there are already nearly half a dozen stores in the 99 Cents Stores tract currently selling beer and wine, and those stores (e.g., BevMo, Smart & Final, Chevron, 7 Eleven) should be worried about 99 Cents Stores taking away their profits.
So while it’s encouraging that after all these years, Mrs. McCullough finally mentions the words “conflict of interest”, perhaps now that she shows us she knows what this implies, she’ll turn her attention to her own behavior where it is sorely needed.
Interestingly enough the Council decided to explore the issue, and asked the staff to engage a “valuation expert” to determine if Nick had a conflict of interest. Voigts and Robinson joined Mrs. McCullough, which makes for an interesting list of suspects. Voigts and Robinson, you’ll remember, both accepted money from the developers of the Brookfield/Trumark project and then voted to give them special privileges, special exemption to use tandem parking, etc. Robinson no sooner cashed the check from CR&R haulers then he was voting for them to get the new trash contract. When I suggested that these actions needed to be investigated, all I got were blank stares from the dais. So it’s nice to see that Voigts and Robinson have now joined McCullough in being sensitive to conflict of interest charges.
Perhaps a new day is dawning in Lake Forest. When people like Kathy McCullough, Scott Voigts, and Dwight Robinson are concerned with conflicts of interests we can only hope they’ll turn their attention to their own actions.
For the 99 Cents Store lobbyists who have been trying to get two licenses to sell beer and wine for more than a year, the sudden attack of ethics means that they will be delayed further. That’s a good thing, because the last thing that Lake Forest needs is more stores selling beer and wine. When compared to our neighbors we are already one of the cities with a higher concentration of stores selling beer and wine, and with it, we have one of the higher rates of violent crimes as well as DUIs.
About Jim Gardner: