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Conflict of Interest Probe Findings Go to Santa Monica-Malibu School Board

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By Lookout Staff
Staff Writer

January 16, 2018 -- The findings of an internal investigation into possible conflict-of-interest violations by three Santa Monica-Malibu School Board members will go to the board at its meeting on Thursday.

“This summary reflects the findings of the investigation and recommendations,” according to the agenda item. “Next steps will also be discussed.

“In order to avoid actual or perceived conflicts in the future and to continue to ensure the public's trust is earned and maintained, additional direction to conduct further review of board policies and regulations and training for board members and senior staff will be discussed.”

The public portion of meeting starts at 6 p.m. (instead of the typical 5:30 p.m. start), with the closed board session, which is not open to the public, to begin at 4 p.m., instead of 4:30 p.m.

The change is meant to give the school board more time for items in private session, officials said. The meeting is at Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) administrative offices, 1651 16th Street in Santa Monica.

Superintendent Ben Drati announced in mid-November the district had launched a conflict-of-interest probe following reports Board Member Maria Leon-Vazquez had voted for contracts with firms that employed her husband, City Council Member Tony Vazquez ("SMMUSD Probes School Board Member Maria Leon-Vazquez Over Votes for Contractors Who Employed Husband," November 14, 2017).

Records show Leon-Vazquez voted multiple times for contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to two businesses that paid her husband as a consultant ("Santa Monica Councilmember Vazquez Acknowledged Potential Conflict Existed," November 14, 2017).

District officials subsequently expanded the probe to include Board Members Ralph Mechur and Oscar de la Torre.

Mechur's architecture firm designed Leon-Vazquez’s home remodel and a youth facility for a nonprofit that employed de la Torre before he joined the board ("District Probe of Santa Monica-Malibu School Board Members Reaching Conclusion," January 4, 2018).

Both Mechure and de la Torre have denied any wrongdoing. Leon-Vazquez has not publicly discussed the allegations.

SMMUSD’s investigation was handled with the help of the legal firm of Fagen, Friedman and Fulfrost. The firm will report the investigation’s findings to the seven-member board, the agenda said.

An estimated 20 minutes will be required for the report to be detailed to the board, with another 20 minutes for board member questions and comments.

The district can opt next to ask for an outside investigation.

The county District Attorney’s Office is reviewing the conflict-of-interest allegations agaianst Vazquez and her husband.


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