SOUTH PASADENA — Mayor Lee D. Prentiss accused City Councilman Robert Wagner last week of being "less than honest" about his financial ties to a shopping center next to the city's only redevelopment project.
"If a family stands to gain in the long or short run, this in my opinion is improper even if it may not be illegal," Prentiss said at a council meeting Wednesday. "We must be above reproach and eliminate even the slightest amount of impropriety."
Wagner, who did not respond to Prentiss' statement at the meeting, resigned from the city's Redevelopment Agency on Sept. 3, conceding that he could have a conflict of interest. But he has maintained that he has not violated any laws or benefited financially from any vote he cast.
Leased From Children
Wagner has said that he sold the Squires Square shopping center in three installments in 1977 and 1978 to his children, who lease it back to him as part of a complicated real-estate deal for transferring land within a family.
"There is a conspiracy with the good ol' boys attempting to defame me personally and my family's reputation," Wagner said in an interview after the meeting.
"I am the maverick," said Wagner, who was elected to the council in 1984 and is often at odds with his colleagues. "I don't expect the nit-picking to quit. I can stand the heat and I won't get out of the kitchen."
He dismissed the mayor's statement as simply "untrue." In January, Wagner formally notified the Redevelopment Agency that, on the advice of an attorney with the state Fair Political Practices Commission, he would abstain from voting on any projects within the entire four-square-block Downtown Redevelopment Project area, according to agency minutes.
Wagner told the council last month that the shopping center is owned by his children but is leased back to him.
Prentiss previously has said that he believes Wagner never directly benefited from any votes he made while on the redevelopment agency.
Doubts About Propriety
But in his statement Wednesday the mayor questioned the propriety of Wagner's and his family's involvement with Squires Square.
"While the question of who owns property where is important, it is also important to see who stands to gain from action of either the City Council or the agency," Prentiss said at the council meeting. "I won't make any further accusations except to say that you have been less than honest with us your colleagues, your constituents and yourself."
Prentiss also thanked Wagner for resigning from the agency, but added that the councilman only did so under pressure.
Wagner blamed any confusion over a possible conflict of interest on the "city management and the city attorney" and said he took the initiative to contact the Fair Political Practices Commission about a potential conflict.
"It is their responsibilty to hold briefing sessions with newly elected officials to inform them as to the parameters (within which) they can conduct themselves," said Wagner in the interview.
Prentiss said that Wagner should have resigned from the Redevelopment Agency sooner. If he had, "we would not have reached this point," Prentiss said. The City Council also sits as the Redevelopment Agency.
Questions over Wagner's connection to the shopping center first were raised last year when he abstained from a vote to develop a preliminary redevelopment plan in the central business district, indicating that he owned property there and it was best not to participate, according to minutes of the July 3, 1985, meeting.
In an earlier interview, Wagner said that he receives more than $100,000 a year in purchase payments for the property from Robmaric Trust, which is operated by his 31-year-old son, Richard, on behalf of all three children.