Barrios Was Paid by Union While Working for Council President - Voice of San Diego

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Barrios Was Paid by Union While Working for Council President

City Council candidate Kelvin Barrios acknowledged in a new filing that he was paid by a private-sector union at the same time that he advised Council President Georgette Gómez.

Council President Georgette Gómez and City Council candidate Kelvin Barrios / Gómez photo by Megan Wood; Barrios photo courtesy of the Kelvin Barrios campaign

Kelvin Barrios, a City Council candidate and former aide to Council President Georgette Gómez, collected a salary from his current union employer while he was still working in Gómez’s office. It is yet another potential violation of the city’s ethics rules.

The revelation of the overlap, which meant he was paid by a private-sector union at the same time that he advised the Council member who sets the agenda, came late Monday night, when Barrios filed an amended version of an economic interest disclosure that he first filed more than a year ago.

Barrios is policy and community engagement director for Laborers Union Local 89, which represents construction workers. He started working for the union one week before his final day at City Hall, according to his new economic disclosure form.

In that document, Barrios said his union job and the work in Gomez’s office overlapped by three workdays because the city requested he “train my replacement and conduct exit interviews.”

“No conflicts arose during this brief period,” he wrote.

Dominika Bukalova, Gómez’s chief of staff, said she learned of the potential violation when approached for comment.

“Our office did not know about the overlap,” Bukalova said.

Barrios and his campaign have come under increased scrutiny in recent weeks for various gaffes and omissions. The district attorney’s office has confirmed that it’s looking into a separate claim — made last year by Barrios’ political opponent — that he embezzled money from a local Democratic club.

In response to questions by VOSD late last week, Barrios’ campaign said it would correct other disclosure documents he originally filed in early 2017 after starting work in Gómez’s office. The first time around, Barrios failed to reveal more than $10,000 worth of payments from his time consulting for local political candidates. Tony Manolatos, a Barrios spokesman, sent VOSD the amended disclosure, but it has not been filed with the city as of Wednesday morning.

The campaign did, however, file Barrios’ amended disclosure from when he was leaving his position in Gómez’s office.

Barrios stressed in the new filing that “no conflicts arose” during his period of overlapping employment, but he could have run afoul of the city’s ethics ordinance anyway.

One section of the ordinance, which regulates behavior around elections, campaign finance and lobbying, bans so-called “incompatible activities.” That section says it is “unlawful” for an official to receive compensation for any work done for a private gain or advantage if it occurs at the same time the official is receiving compensation from the city.

In other words, it doesn’t require a conflict of interest. It’s simply illegal to get paid by a private entity for any work done during the hours paid by the city.

The ordinance also, though, covers conflicts of interest involving future employers. That section bars officials from making or participating in any decisions that would affect a future employer.

Filing the amended economic disclosure is itself an admission that the previous disclosure was inadequate. The Ethics Commission tends not to punish self-corrected violations harshly, though his latest amended disclosure could be viewed more critically than the previous instance. That’s because it came at the end of his time working at the city, after he had been responsible for filing disclosures for two years, and involved income he received while he was a city official, rather than money he had made in the months before he started with the city.

Stacey Fulhorst, the executive director of the city’s Ethics Commission, said she could not comment on any allegations against Barrios, because the potential violations fall within the commission’s purview.

In general, however, she said city law requires officials to timely and accurately disclose any income they receive while working for the city, bars participation in decisions affecting a future employer and restricts officials from being paid by a private entity for time during which they’re paid by the city.

Each violation of the city’s ethics ordinance is treated separately, and each is eligible for a fine of up to $5,000.

State law appears to be more lenient.

Robert Stern, a lawyer who helped write California’s Political Reform Act, said there’s nothing in state law preventing an official from having a second job, “as long as he wasn’t participating in decisions affecting his outside source of income.” In other words, if the Laborers Union had any business in front of the City Council during those three days and Barrios advocated for them, that would be a problem at the state level.

“The key question is, ‘What was he doing?’ as opposed to ‘What was he getting paid?’” Stern said.

Other records obtained by VOSD suggest that Barrios was, at the very least, using his final days in office to lay the groundwork for his private union work.

On Jan. 7, 2019, the same day he took the job with the Laborers, Barrios forwarded an email from his city account to his new union account containing a housing proposal that a developer had presented to Gómez’s office the year prior. It had been labeled at the time, “Confidential: Submission to MTS.”

Barrios also forwarded an email on Jan. 14, 2019, his final day in Gomez’s office, to his union account containing guidelines for submitting proposals to the California Natural Resource Agency grant program.

Manolatos, in a statement, defended his client as a victim of election-season attacks.

“I know it’s election season and Kelvin is running for office but I think it’s wise to step back and remember who he is, what has and hasn’t occurred, and why he’s running,” Manolatos wrote in a text message. “Kelvin grew up poor. A Latino kid from City Heights who worked extremely hard to get where he is today. He’s made some mistakes but who hasn’t in politics? His story is inspiring and moving. He’s going to excel at serving a community he’s called home since he was a boy.”

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