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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE

Garofalo's Sorry Example

January 20, 2002

Former Huntington Beach City Councilman Dave Garofalo is not the first elected official to violate the law and his public trust. And it would be hopelessly naive to believe that he will be the last.

But it's important for county residents, not just those in Huntington Beach, not to paint all elected officials with the same shameful brush.

Garofalo, after about 18 months of investigations and denials, has pleaded guilty to one felony and 15 misdemeanors. They stem from his actions in approving issues before the council involving advertisers in publications he owned and violating state financial reporting laws. He resigned from the council last month saying he wanted to give more attention to "personal issues and get on with my life."

Court records suggest there may have been numerous other cases than those involved in his guilty pleas. His votes over a two-year period, according to the district attorney, were "flagrant, repeated and consistent."

In addition to being placed on probation, fined nearly $50,000 and required to do 200 hours of community service, the convictions bar Garofalo from holding public office again, unless a judge clears his record.

Some officeholders have expressed fears that the public will now hold them in lower regard because of Garofalo's greed and sorry example. That's understandable.

It's also understandable that some residents would harbor such feelings of distrust because through the years they have seen other Orange County politicians who thought they could get away with wheeling and dealing finally get caught.

Cases like Garofalo's do make it more difficult to maintain the public's confidence in its government, and also to sustain the belief that elected officials, except for the rare exception, are honest. But they are. It's important to remember that and not let Garofalo's ethical and criminal shortcomings leave the impression that such actions are widespread or the norm.

But elected officials countywide can't entirely ignore what happened in Huntington Beach.

The question is not whether Garofalo learned his lesson. More important is whether others in office, who are there to serve the public rather than their own financial interests, have learned anything. They need to be aware of the limits set out in conflict-of-interest laws and scrupulously live by them.

Garofalo's convictions should have no lasting harm if they are not allowed to poison the public's confidence in its representatives and institutions. If that happens, Garofalo would have taken much more from the community than the profits he gleaned from his illegal votes.

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