From the Escondido Democratic Club
The City of Escondido has announced a settlement in a Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) complaint by EDC member and former Mayor Jerry Harmon. The complaint accused the City of violating FPPC rules when it sent a mailer to voters about Propositions N and P, which were on the November 2012 ballot. Proposition N asked voters to approve a General Plan Update. Proposition P asked voters to approve a change to charter city status and a new charter. The City said the mailer cost $20,000.
The mailer was presented to the City Council for approval as “informational,” but the final product struck Harmon as “one-sided” campaign material. It carried, in large letters, the phrase “Moving Forward” and presented only positive information about the two measures. There were no opposing views to provide be.
Harmon filed the FPPC complaint before the election claiming that “the alancstyle, tenor and timing of the mail piece indicate it is campaign material intended to unambiguously urge a ‘yes’ vote on Propositions N and P, and not simply impartial informational material that presents voters with the pros and cons of these propositions.” Negotiations dragged out for more than a year, but an agreement was reached in early December.
Under the agreement, the city agrees that the mailer might be considered campaign material and files the required FPPC Form 461 to declare the amount it spent. The city will, during January 2014, “adopt rules and regulations preventing City funds from being used in the future to pay for activities that could constitute campaign activity.” The City will pay $36,500 in plaintiff’s legal fees. The City was also required to issue a news release announcing the settlement, which it did on December 24, 2013. As part of the agreement, the FPPC will not force members of the City Council or City staff to personally reimburse the City for the cost of the mailer.
“I felt it was important to call the City on this mailer so they will think twice before using City funds for campaign materials,” said Harmon. “It took a long time, but I think they got the message. ‘Informational’ mailers need to be objective and unbiased, and should present both sides of an issue.”