“There’s the law and then there’s perceptions of bias. Just having a relation to an industry is not enough to create a conflict of interest.”
Mono County Counsel Marshall Rudolph made the above statement during a conversation with The Sheet regarding District 3 Supervisor-Elect Tim Alpers.
With strong ties to the fishing industry, the question has been raised as to whether or not Alpers can make fair decisions when it comes to County contracts with Inland Aquaculture Group (IAG) and/or the Conway Ranch Foundation (CRF). Alpers was formerly a controlling partner of IAG and the Conway Ranch Foundation is the non-profit that is used for the Alpers fish hatchery at Conway Ranch. The County has contracts with both IAG and the CFR.
Rudolph explained, citing the definitions in the Political Reform Act and the terms spelled out by the Fair Political Practices Commission, that by strict legal definition, the most important thing to consider when determining whether or not someone has a conflict of interest is financial interest.
“If something has been a source of income in the last 12 months or if a supervisor owns real property [near the topic of discussion] then there could be a conflict,” Rudolph explained. He didn’t believe Alpers had either.
“Is he still involved, that is the question,” Rudolph continued. The answer is no. Alpers divested himself of interest in IAG in 2011. When it comes to conflict of interest law, there is a 12-month wait period after divesting yourself from a financial interest (in Alpers’ case IAG) before you can then make decisions on that topic.
“By the time he [Alpers] takes office in January, the 12 months will be up so I don’t see why there would be a conflict,” Rudolph said.
And Alpers plans to take the precaution one step further. He told The Sheet this week that he plans to recuse himself from topics that could raise an eyebrow for at least the first year of his term.
Alpers pointed out that he had addressed the issue from the get-go in his candidacy letter earlier in the year.
“I am officially out of the aquaculture business,” he said. “I split my controlling interest [in IAG] between my two partners in the form of a gift.”
He will allow the term Alpers Trout to continue to be used for marketing purposes, but stated he would not be receiving any monetary compensation for the use of his name.
“I want to channel my experience to help,” he said. “I will use my expertise to help save the state hatchery system. A lot of people want that from me; it was part of my campaign.”
He pointed out that when you are as deeply involved in an industry as he has been, it’s hard to separate yourself.
“Dave McCoy is going to be 97 this week [see related story in this week’s issue] and people still don’t think he’s retired [from the ski industry],” Alpers said. “You can’t get around it.”
Alpers, however, firmly stated that he had no intention of going back into the aquaculture business due to numerous surgeries he’s had over the years.
“I’m just happy to be able to walk up the stairs to the Board room at this point,” he concluded.
Ultimately, Rudolph said, it’s every individual officials responsibility to avoid conflicts.
“Each decision has to be looked at individually,” he added. “You can’t make a blanket statement.”