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SMMUSD Probes School Board Member Maria Leon-Vazquez Over Votes for Contractors Who Employed Husband

 

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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

November 14, 2017 – The head of Santa Monica-Malibu public schools Monday said the district has begun a probe into a series of votes cast by Board Member Maria Leon-Vazquez for contractors who employed her husband, City Council Member Tony Vazquez.

“At this time, we are in the process of gathering information and facts related to the board’s and Maria’s votes,” said Ben Drati, superintendent of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD). “We will have more information to share in the coming days.”

Drati’s statement came in the wake of an article in the Los Angeles Times on November 10 that found Leon-Vazquez voted multiple times for contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to two businesses which had employed her husband as a consultant.

The Times cited school board records and a deposition by Vazquez taken last November as part of a Civil Rights lawsuit against the City.

Leon-Vazquez did not comment in the Times story. She also did not reply to emails from the Lookout on Monday seeking comment.

However, Drati said both the district and the board “recognize the importance of avoiding conflicts of interest.”

“This is reflected by the fact that the Board has an adopted bylaw stressing the importance of making decisions free from conflicts,” the superintendent said in his statement.

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Vazquez, who heads his own political consulting business, Vazquez and Associates, filed no “reportable income” on income statements with the City Clerk for the years of 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, according to an investigation by The Lookout (“Santa Monica Councilmember Tony Vazquez Has Reported Earning No Income Since His 2012 Election,” November 1, 2017).

Vazquez, who is running for the Board of Equalization in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, told the Lookout he believed only income that could pose a conflict of interest needed to be reported.

In his deposition November 15, 2016 in Voting Rights lawsuit Vazquez testified that he has been a paid consultant to the East Los Angeles Community Union (TELACU), a nonprofit development company, and Keygent LLC, a financial consulting firm.

Vazquez testified that since at least 2008 he has been paid between $1,000 and $8,000 a month by TELACU.

As part of the job, Vazquez said he set up a meeting between a TELACU executive and Sandra Lyon, then SMMUSD’s superintendent, according to the deposition.

In his deposition, the councilman said it would not pose a conflict of interest since his wife had already told him she would recuse herself if a she ever had to cast a vote involving TELACU ("Santa Monica Councilmember Vazquez Acknowledged Potential Conflict Existed," November 14, 2017) .

"Matter of fact," Vazquez testified, "when we had those conversations -- when I've had those conversations with my wife, she said that, if it ever -- it never got that far, but if it ever got to a point where it was brought before the board to vote, that she was going to recuse herself anyways.

"Just -- even though I think legally, in talking to their attorneys, they didn't see a problem. But she -- you know, more of a perception issue for her. . . But never got that far."

This year, Leon-Vazquez voted to approve TELACU as an “on-call” contractor and cast votes for a contract to upgrade facilities at elementary schools worth up to $174,000, according to The LA Times.

Leon-Vazquez was first elected in 2012. When her term expired in 2016, she was one of three incumbents re-seated without a public vote after the board election was canceled due to lack of opposition.

Vazquez was first elected to the council in 1990, but did not win re-election in 1994.

He was elected again in 2012 and then re-elected in 2016.

 


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