California Department of General Services
A state watchdog agency has fined a former top administrator at California's real estate management agency for approving contracts worth $3 million with a company that had hired his wife's consulting firm.
The state's Fair Political Practices Commission issued a $3,500 fine last week against Theodore Park, who was acting deputy director of the California Department of General Services’ Real Estate Division until December.
Investigators found Park had approved the contracts with Vanir Construction in 2010, while his wife's consulting firm worked for the company. At the time, Luisa Park was a partner in the school facilities consulting firm of Hancock, Gonos and Park. She earned $40,000 from Vanir between 2007 and 2011, according to documents from the commission.
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Under the Fair Political Reform Act, public officials are prohibited from making a decision involving companies or nonprofits in which they have a financial stake, including transactions affecting a spouse’s income.
Theodore Park's violation was significant because his wife had a financial interest in the transactions, said Ann Ravel, chairwoman of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, which approved the disciplinary action against him on July 12.
“We take those extremely seriously," Ravel said. "This goes to the essence of an impropriety because public officials are supposed to be doing their job without any personal or financial interest.”
Park could not be reached for comment despite a voicemail left at his home. He retired from his position in December and is collecting an annual pension of $99,084.60, according to figures provided by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System.
When Park approved the contracts with Vanir in 2010, his division was required to save money by not approving new projects or initiating new work unless agency directors signed so-called certifications, declaring the work critical.
Park signed five certifications that stipulated the work done by Vanir was vital to the agency. Four certifications were related to one contract worth $793,245 for seismically retrofitting public schools and hospitals throughout the state. The fifth certification involved a contract worth $2.3 million to renovate a library and court buildings on the Capitol Mall.
Park reported on his 2009 and 2010 financial disclosures that his wife had earned more than $10,000 from Vanir. He also reported that his wife had an ownership interest in Hancock, Gonos and Park.
Park’s violation was punishable with a fine of up to $5,000. But the commission reduced his fine to $3,500, in keeping with the penalties imposed in previous cases involving similar circumstances and because Park reported the income from Vanir on his financial disclosure statements, said Galena West, senior commission counsel in the fair practices commission’s enforcement division. The commission began investigating Park after it received a complaint.
The commission fines for conflicts of interest vary depending upon the circumstances of each case. The average fine for conflict-of-interest violations is about $3,000, according to the commission.
Park spent roughly 40 years with the state's real estate division, working his way up from janitor to acting deputy director of the real estate division, a position he held for about two years before he retired last year.