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Company Accuses Aliso Viejo Councilman

September 17, 2004|Jean O. Pasco | Times Staff Writer

An ambulance company says it was asked to contribute to the campaign of an Aliso Viejo city councilman at the same time it was seeking the city's business, triggering concerns that political corruption has arrived in Orange County's newest city.

A political consultant said he served as City Councilman Greg Ficke's middle man in seeking a donation from Doctors Ambulance Service in exchange for the councilman's support of its contract. Ficke has denied the allegation that he sought a contribution, saying he is the victim of a political smear.

Whatever the facts, the city needs to adopt its own campaign finance laws, City Councilwoman Carmen Vali-Cave said at Wednesday's council meeting.

The issue threatens to ignite an otherwise congenial council in Aliso Viejo, which became the county's 34th city in March 2001. Until now, the biggest City Hall dust-up occurred in March, when the city, in an attempt to limit hazardous substances, admitted it had fallen for an Internet hoax and drafted an ordinance to ban dihydrogen monoxide -- or, water.

The current scandal surfaced when Doctors Ambulance Service wrote city officials in August, complaining that a representative for Ficke told Doctors that Ficke wanted a campaign contribution before his vote on the city's ambulance contract.

In a follow-up letter sent Tuesday to Mayor William Phillips, Doctors asked the council to take "appropriate action" against Ficke and that the city give assurances that similar requests for campaign contributions won't occur.

Kay Kearney, the company's director of business development, complained in an Aug. 18 letter to Ficke and the city's law firm that a representative of Ficke asked for a contribution Aug. 4, the day the city voted unanimously to award the ambulance contract to Doctors.

Kearney wrote that Doctors was "insulted" by the request and had no intention of donating to Ficke's campaign.

Ficke said in an interview Wednesday that the request for money came from political consultant Paul Glaab without Ficke's permission. "This is downright dirty politics," said Ficke, who owns a company that imports and distributes products from China. "If Paul did anything, he did it on his own."

Glaab is now working on behalf of a slate of three council candidates opposing Ficke and a fifth candidate.

Vali-Cave suggested at Wednesday's council meeting that the campaign complaints be investigated. No action was taken because the issue was not on the agenda, but council members agreed to discuss the matter Oct. 6. Among the options, Vali-Cave said, are to drop the matter, censure Ficke or ask the Orange County district attorney's office to investigate.

Three seats on the five-member council will be decided in November.

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