Blackwater Opponents Say County Employee Has Conflict of Interest
KPBS Full Focus (2007-07-24) Amita Sharma
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Opponents of a proposal to build a training camp in East County for military and police personnel say a San Diego County employee -- who until recently was working on the review process for the project -- has a conflict of interest. Full Focus reporter Amita Sharma has more.
The opponents have honed in on Lori Spar. According to Raymond Lutz, coordinator for Citizens' Oversight Projects, Spar's work history raises questions about whether the review of the Blackwater project for Potrero by the county's department of planning and land use is truly objective.
Lutz: She worked at the department of planning and land use as a planner and then went out and got her law degree and passed the bar exam and so forth, and was working at the law firm that was representing Blackwater -- and you can see the file at the department of planning use that she was the person at the meetings representing their point of view. And then just a month later she had gotten a job back at the department of planning and land use, was working on the Blackwater case, and was now representing the county.
County officials, including Lori Spar, did not return phone calls to Full Focus.
But earlier this year Glenn Russell, chief of the regulatory section of the department of planning and land use, confirmed at a meeting on the Blackwater Project that Spar used to work for the county as a planner. He said:
Russell: Then she decided she didn't like being a lawyer and wanted to be a land-use planner and then she came back to us. She actually was working on the project team. As soon as it was brought to our attention that her firm was actually the firm representing the applicant, we took her off the project. We are very concerned that there might be an appearance of a conflict of interest.
Lutz says county officials need to rethink whether Spar should be on the payroll at all while the department of planning and land-use assesses the Blackwater project.
Lutz: We should take a look at these hiring practices because to hire someone and then to just assign them to a project that they're on, this doesn't make any sense to anyone I can talk to -- except for the people at DPLU, they think it's fine.
Legal observers are split on the appropriateness of Spar's employment at the county. Some say it's legal but ethically questionable. Others say Spar has a conflict because working for the county requires her to disclose all she knows about Blackwater.
But her prior role as that company's attorney precludes her from such disclosure because of attorney-client privilege rules.