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Surf City Official Resigns Over Conflict Claim

City workers say Keith Bohr, a planning commissioner, sought aid for real estate client. He says he only checked on the status of a project.

May 26, 2003|Stanley Allison | Times Staff Writer

Just as Huntington Beach was beginning to recover from a pair of conflict-of-interest allegations involving City Council members, another city official has been accused of improperly using his office.

Keith Bohr, a planning commissioner who was appointed in December, quit May 19 after city workers complained that he had asked them to assist some of his real estate clients and a contributor to his failed campaign for the City Council.

Bohr, who owns a real estate brokerage, management and consulting business in Huntington Beach, acknowledged that he made some phone calls but insists he did not violate any laws. He said he resigned at the insistence of Gil Coerper, the councilman who appointed him.

"I wasn't really given a heck of a lot of choice," Bohr said.

The matter ended quickly, compared with the scandal involving former Councilman Dave Garofalo, who was the subject of an 18-month investigation by the Orange County district attorney's office, a grand jury and the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

Garofalo pleaded guilty to a felony and 15 misdemeanors in January 2002 for voting on matters benefiting companies that bought advertising from his publishing business.

Councilwoman Pam Julien Houchen was the subject of questions over a vote to amend an ordinance that would allow the police chief to decide whether to permit a paintball event on the beach. The promoter of the event used Houchen as a real estate agent and hired her husband to remodel its offices.

City Atty. Jennifer McGrath said there was no investigation of possible conflict-of-interest violations by Houchen because one was not requested, adding that they are typically handled by the FPPC.

State law prohibits an appointed or elected official from using his or her position to influence a government decision in which the official has a financial interest.

The clients that Bohr allegedly sought help for had applications for land-use permits before the city. Bohr said he entered into the contracts with the clients before he was appointed to the Planning Commission, and that once a commissioner he would have had to recuse himself if their applications came before the panel. He passed all further work on the applications to an associate, he said.

Bohr said he did make several calls to the planning staff when the clients were unable to reach his associate, and made routine inquiries about the status of the application and whether a hearing date had been set.

"I did not vote on anything," Bohr said. "Nor did I attempt to use my influence or talk to any other planning commissioners."

But Bohr said that were he to do it all over, he wouldn't make any phone calls, "so there wouldn't be any question" about his intent.

Coerper, a retired Huntington Beach police officer, said he was clear with Bohr before the appointment about conflicts of interest: "You cannot have any direct or indirect communications [between] your business and City Hall. His response was, 'Yes, I understand.' "

McGrath and Mayor Connie Boardman have planned a council workshop on conflicts of interest because the city has four new council members and six new planning commissioners, Boardman said.

McGrath and Boardman said the past incidents do not define the ethical climate in Huntington Beach.

"Let's say I got food poisoning from a restaurant in Huntington Beach," Boardman said. "I wouldn't assume all restaurants in Huntington Beach are dirty."

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