In Closed Session

Can someone please tell me why Jeannine Pearce is still a Long Beach City Council member?

Oh, you're right — she hasn't been convicted of a crime.

That brings up a whole other issue of why this city molly-coddles its elected officials, tiptoeing around what are blatant instances of wrong-doing. This isn't the first example, nor will it be the last.

But back to Pearce and the latest revelations.

I'm speaking, of course, about the conclusion by the law firm Best Best and Krieger that Pearce has violated the city's conflict of interest rules. That conclusion came after an investigation into Pearce's financial disclosure forms — forms she filed with inaccurate information even after she had been given a chance to at least not lie there.

Here are the facts as we understand them. When Pearce was elected to represent the Second District on the City Council, she put herself out there as available as a consultant.

She had been working as a union advocate, but it appears she's not working there anymore. At least she hasn't had any problem supporting union issues such as hotel regulations and project labor agreements at the council.

Pearce, like so many of us, is not rich, and has to supplement the $35,000 or so City Council members get paid for what is classified as a part-time job. Most of the rest of the council hold other jobs too.

So Pearce sets her shingle out, and a guy named Daniel Zaharoni comes knocking. Zaharoni is the development manager for the Queen Mary’s operator, Urban Commons Queensway, but he also owns other companies, including some involved in the California cannabis industry.

In 2018, Zaharoni paid Pearce $11,222, according to the law firm's investigation. It's not clear what he paid her for, but the immediate problem is she didn't put that money on her disclosure form.

Then this year, Zaharoni ponied up an even $30,000, this time from his marijuana company. Again, no financial disclosure.

There's still some back and forth about exactly what should go on the disclosure forms and whether Pearce has complied. But Best Best and Krieger's recommendation to City Attorney Charles Parkin is that Pearce should recuse herself — not talk about or vote on — in any matter relating to the Queen Mary or the cannabis industry for the next year or so.

At least before Tuesday night's council meeting, nothing had been done.

Now I've watched enough police procedurals, read enough political thrillers and watched enough real-life political shenanigans to know what this looks like. It's not gainful employment.

Zaharoni has given Pearce money in the hope it will give him a friend inside City Hall — a friend who happens to represent the district the Queen Mary sits in. It's hard to believe Pearce offers any unique expertise on the issues Zaharoni is interested in, except for her position on the City Council.

Pearce's response is classic.

“I do applaud this new level of close scrutiny of council conflicts as a critical step forward for the city,” she said. “The relaxed atmosphere of the past has led to many questionable decisions and practices, doing a disservice to all Long Beach.”

Seriously?

I think she thinks everyone else is doing it, so it must be okay for her to do it too. That's simply wrong.

Yes, council members support issues important to their supporters, and some political contributions are pretty blatant attempts to buy influence. But as soon as a politician pockets any of that money, he or she has crossed what should be an uncrossable line.

As most Long Beach politics followers recall, this isn't Pearce's first brush up against any code of ethics that might pertain to a City Council member. Her handling of an employee/paramour — or was that paramour/employee — was a blatant misuse of public funds. I'm not interested in her personal life — I am interested in what she does with our money.

What happened after that debacle? The council censured her — said bad girl, don't do it again — and moved on.

It's past time to call Pearce to account for her actions. We should no longer accept the excuse that she's inexperienced, or isn't getting the proper advice.

Maybe everyone's hoping she will be voted out of office — she does have to run again in 2020, after all.

Where have I heard that before?

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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