Three mid-level city officials apparently violated Los Angeles' ethics code--but not its ethics laws--by soliciting campaign contributions from subordinates on city time, according to a report obtained Thursday.
The report summarized a two-month-long City Ethics Commission probe into allegations that the three pressured officials of the Municipal Construction Inspectors Assn. to have the union make a $5,000 campaign contribution to Councilman Richard Alatorre.
The commission report, however, "found no evidence of violations of city law." But, it added, "the way in which the three city managers approached the complainants for contributions, however, does appear to violate the city's Guide to Disciplinary Standards and Code of Ethics."
Assistant City Atty. Bob Cramer, a personnel expert, said violations of the guidelines could be grounds for discipline.
Managers in two city departments were the targets of the probe: Richard Sanchez, a chief inspector in the Building and Safety Department; Robert Martin, chief of that department's Bureau of Community Safety Administration, and Charley Mims, a manager in the Bureau of Contract Administration.
A Building and Safety Department spokesman said no decision had been made on whether Sanchez or Martin would be disciplined. The head of the Bureau of Contract Administration did not return a phone call for comment.
None of the three union officials who filed the complaint returned phone calls Thursday.
According to the Ethics Commission report, the managers were officials of the Los Angeles Professional Managers Assn., which hosted a fund-raising barbecue for Alatorre, then seeking reelection, on Jan. 15, 1995, at the Northridge home of Sanchez.
In the days leading up to the fund-raiser, two union officials, Mike Gruett and Louie Botticella, alleged that their superiors urged them at work to use their influence to have the union contribute $5,000 to Alatorre. Eventually, the union made a $500 contribution to Alatorre's reelection campaign.
Such requests came as the inspectors union was seeking approval of its contract by a panel that included Alatorre.
Gruett, a senior inspector in the building department, told investigators that Sanchez summoned him to meet about the contribution.
Gruett told investigators that Sanchez wanted their talk kept confidential and, the report said, "made the statement that the contribution had nothing to do with MCIA's pending contract because you can't buy votes. Gruett felt Sanchez made the statement to send the opposite message, connecting contributions to favorable consideration of their contract, and said he felt coerced."
Sanchez disputed that he had Gruett summoned by phone or that the pair had talked in Sanchez's office, the report noted. But another city official corroborated Gruett's account, the report said.
Still in dispute was what happened at the meeting. "According to Sanchez, Gruett said that if Alatorre wants MCIA money he can vote in favor of their [contract] package. Sanchez said he told Gruett that you can't buy votes," the report said.
On Thursday, Sanchez refused to comment on the report.
Botticella also said in sworn statements to investigators that Martin, his superior, had called him in to urge the union contribution. "According to Botticella . . . MCIA would lose face [with Alatorre] if the contribution were not made," the report said.
Martin denied most of Botticella's account in his own statement.
The third union official, Ted Marko, said he was called at home by Mims, who "reportedly told Marko that giving political contributions was the way you get things done," the report said. Mims "denied completely calling Marko at home one evening," the report said.
Alatorre was not interviewed by investigators, and none of the union officials alleged he had a hand in pressuring them.