Regional Government Committee Divided over Grant Management

By Nuria Mathog

The San Gabriel Valley Council of Government (SGVCOG) is experiencing significant internal conflict following two councilmembers’ requests for the immediate termination of the agency’s executive director. Since May, the council has been divided over allegations that it was responsible for mismanaging a quarter-million dollar Caltrans grant, as well as the role of executive director Nick Conway and his company in the allocation of funds.

Earlier this month, outgoing president Tom King called for Conway’s removal from the committee, alleging that Conway’s affiliation with the SGVCOG’s staff services company creates a conflict of interest that renders him unfit for his executive position. Diamond Bar councilwoman Carol Herrera seconded the suggestion a few days later.

Conway is the owner and president of Arroyo Associates, Inc., an Alhambra-based management consulting firm. The SGVCOG has an annual staff services contract with the firm for $782,154, an amount meant to be split between Conway, four other full-time employees, and two part-time employees. King has alleged that Conway’s true pay significantly exceeds the amount that he should be receiving under the terms of the contract.

In April, Caltrans delivered a lengthy audit to Conway, requesting reimbursement for a $245,130 Gold Line grant that it claimed the agency had mismanaged between 2006 and 2008. The grant was intended for developing the Gold Line Foothill Extension, a project that would link 11 communities east of Pasadena to the existing metro line.

The 19-page audit alleged that Conway and his company not only handled the grant poorly, but also received $36,937 in financial compensation for their work. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Public Integrity Division is currently investigating the matter on behalf of a complaint made to the department in May.

This is not the first time that the SGVCOG has received an audit from Caltrans. In 2006, Caltrans issued a comparable audit that criticized Conway’s conflict of interest as executive director, in addition to raising several questions about the committee’s management.

In response to the Caltrans audit, councilmembers voted to postpone the approval of the 2011-2012 fiscal year budget until the establishment of a part-time committee position that would oversee grant management.

Further complicating matters, San Dimas resident Gil Aguirre has sued the committee on grounds that its practices violated the California Public Records Act, a 1968 law mandating the disclosure of public records unless the governing body in question has a valid reason to conceal them. The lawsuit claims that the audit should be public record because various aspects have been addressed in a public setting, thereby rendering it a matter of public interest.

The SGVCOG is a joint powers authority comprised of representatives from the San Gabriel Valley’s 31 cities, along with members of the area’s three unincorporated communities and three water agencies. The agency, founded in 1994 to address pressing regional issues, is responsible for overseeing and responding to housing development matters, air and water quality concerns, and similar issues of public interest.

The SGVCOG has several policy-focused subcommittees, each one specializing in a different policy area: environmental issues, housing and economic concerns, and transportation. The agency also contains a series of advisory and technical committees, including an executive committee and committees in charge of engineering and community development.

Two councilmembers from each city are represented. Delegates and alternates from local cities include Peter Amundson and Gary Kovacic from Arcadia, Mary Ann Lutz and Becky Shevlin from Monrovia, Terry Tornek and Margaret McAustin from Pasadena, Nancy Walsh and Joe Mosca from Sierra Madre, and Fernando Vizcarra and Tom Chavez from Temple City.

The council’s new officers, elected in May, are scheduled to take office on the first day of July.

June 30, 2011

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