Despite the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments’ numerous legal troubles Glendora city officials still plan to support and maintain its membership to the COG.
In July, the COG settled on a lawsuit filed by open meeting activist Gil Aguirre charging the COG, a joint powers authority made up of 31 San Gabriel Valley cities, violated numerous provisions of the Brown Act, including failure to release last year’s Caltrans audit. The audit disclosed cases of financial mismanagement and oversight by the COG, leading to the arrest of Executive Director Nicholas Conway on conflict of interest charges. Conway pleaded not guilty to charges in July
The COG acknowledged in a public statement with the settlement “that there have been some inadvertent Brown Act violations and some disputes over compliance with the Public Records Act.”
As part of the settlement, the COG promised to adopt future policies that will ensure full compliance of public record and open meeting laws. The COG also promised to release the Caltrans audit, which they initially said was exempt from the Public Records Act, as well as any other Caltrans audits. The COG also agreed to pay Aguirre’s legal fees amounting to $50,000.
“We hope that this litigation has been a wake-up call, reminding our officials how important it is to keep the public involved in the process. Hopefully, the desire to do better is the carrot,” said Aguirre’s attorney Kelly Aviles. “But just in case, we believe our settlement, which includes both admissions of Brown Act violations and a court order requiring the agency to abide by the law, will serve as the stick.”
Aviles’ office sent letters to COG cities, including Glendora, urging them to reconsider their membership and funding of the COG with tax dollars, “unless and until there are wide-ranging, comprehensive changes made to this organization.”
Some cities are considering this route, with San Dimas deciding to withhold $15,000 in membership dues, according to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.
Still, Glendora city officials intend to fully supportive the COG and its mission.
“It is my sense that whatever changes are needed, we can only be part of the solution if we are members and actively taking part in the discussion,” said Glendora City Manager Chris Jeffers. “Those changes are happening as demonstrated by the placing of the Executive Director on leave; hiring away the staff to address the concerns of the DA and [the formation of a committee to develop] recommendations on possible restructuring scenarios.”
According to Jeffers, while the city pays $20,000 a year in membership dues to the COG, the city benefits of being a part of the COG have been far more valuable.
The COG, functioning as a regional advocacy group, was born out of the frustration of watching transportation dollars head primarily to the west side.
“Its structure allowed us to compete for grants directly, not only for transportation areas, but many other areas that would benefit the Valley,” said Jeffers. “As a result, we have obtained not only our fair share, but much more, especially in transportation.”
Jeffers estimated the city has received $288,000 in grants thanks to its membership in the COG.
Aviles said the aim is not to completely abolish the COG or an entity like it, but to implement a complete restructuring of the organization.
“I believe that local communities working together on projects that benefit the region is an excellent idea,” said Aviles. “Unfortunately, the SGVCOG, as has been implemented, is more of a detriment than a benefit to our region. Supporters of the SGVCOG would like you to believe that our mission is to destroy the agency. However, that is a complete mischaracterization of our efforts, and would be akin to likening those who cried out for change in the wake of the Bell scandal to wanting to destroy their city.”