Orinda’s voters must have elected officials who are free of conflicts of interest, especially any financial conflicts of interest.
Sadly, Orinda City Council Member Darlene Gee has serious conflicts of interest that disqualify her from sitting on the city council.
In view of these conflicts of interest, Ms. Gee should resign her seat on the city council immediately.
During her 2016 campaign for a city-council seat, Ms. Gee, a vice president of the HNTB Corporation, an engineering firm, has taken significant amounts of money from HNTB itself, HNTB employees, and the general manager of BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit). HNTB has done extensive paid work for BART.
In addition, Ms. Gee has backed ballot measures that could be — or are — of assistance to HNTB.
Ms. Gee was appointed to the Orinda City Council on July 15, 2015. She was chosen to fill the vacant seat of Council Member Steve Glazer, who, in May 2015, was elected to the California State Senate.
On November 8, 2016, Ms. Gee was elected to a full four-year city-council term.
In her 2016 campaign for a city-council seat, Ms. Gee received, on September 6, 2016, $1000 from HNTB Holdings of Kansas City, Missouri.
Also on Sept. 6, 2016, Ms. Gee received a $200 campaign contribution from Grace Crunican, the general manager of BART.
Anyone checking the HNTB website, will see various BART projects listed. (One can go to Google and type in the terms “hntb bart.”)
During her 2016 campaign, Ms. Gee received seven contributions from HNTB employees, six of whom live outside of Orinda. The names, locations, and dollar amounts of HNTB employees who contributed to Ms. Gee’s campaign are: Anthony Lee (Cranford, NJ, $99); Dina Potter (Piedmont, CA, $500); Joshua Englander (Sherman Oaks, CA $100); Shannon Gaffney (Moraga, CA, $100); Maureen Hays, Ladera Ranch, CA, $100); Jeff Watson (Novato, CA, $100); and Darryl Vice (Orinda, CA, $250).
All of Ms. Gee’s campaign contributions can be verified by examining records on file with the office of the Orinda city clerk.
In addition to campaign contributions, Ms. Gee has conflicts of interest in other areas.
HNTB provided $20,000 to the Yes on Measure X campaign. Measure X, which was rejected by the voters of Contra Costa County in November 2016, would have raised the county sales tax by one-half percentage point. Measure X would have needed a two-thirds vote to pass.
In Orinda, Measure X would have raised the sales tax from 9.0% to 9.5%.
Measure X would have raised almost $2.9 billion over 30 years. Some of the Measure X funds would have gone to BART.
Ms. Gee, in her 2016 campaign for a seat on the Orinda City Council, supported Measure X. By supporting the measure, Ms. Gee was also endorsing the funneling of funds to BART and, hence, to her employer, HNTB. Ms. Gee should have taken no public position on Measure X.
Another measure on the November 2016 ballot, Measure RR, was passed by voters in Contra Costa, Alameda, and San Francisco counties. The Measure will provide $3.5 billion to BART. Ms. Gee supported Measure RR. Again, Ms. Gee was in favor of a measure that ultimately would have benefitted HNTB. Why didn’t Ms. Gee remain silent on Measure RR?
Dan Borenstein, a columnist for the East Bay Times, wrote about Measure RR on Sept. 8, 2016. He said: “ I estimate that . . . homeowners could face tax bills averaging as high as $150 to $200 annually for nearly five decades.”
An Oct. 11, 2016, an East Bay Times article on Measures X and RR stated that “. . . Gee and Miller support the measures . . .” Miller refers to Inga Miller, a 2016 candidate for a seat on the Orinda City Council.
On three occasions (Nov. 28, Dec. 10, and Dec. 13, 2016), The Icon asked Ms. Gee, in writing, if she planned to return the campaign contributions from HNTB Holdings, Grace Crunican of BART, and the seven HNTB employees. No reply was ever received. The Icon is published by an Orinda resident and taxpayer.
The taxpayers of Orinda deserve better treatment than that offered Ms. Gee. There can be no crony capitalism or a lack of ethics.
The residents of Orinda have a right to be represented by city-council members who are free of conflicts of interest. Ms. Gee has violated the trust voters have placed in her.
Ms. Gee should leave her city-council post right away.