Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Congressman Walks into Monrovia's Pawn Shop...

William Heisel's LA Times story yesterday on Republican congressman Gary Miller (R-Diamond Bar) contained some interesting tidbits about Monrovia's current Mayor.

We should note that congressman Miller denies many of the allegations in the article, many of which are likely a tad overblown but still damning. What I am interested in, however, is that Mayor Rob Hammond, owner of Monrovia Jewelry & Loan and a few other area pawn shops, admits that he asked Miller for an appointment to the National Park System Advisory Board at the same time that Miller was trying to sell a $12 million property to the city of Monrovia. Sure looks like Mayor Hammond figured he might as well try to wring something for Monrovia (and himself) from Miller's greed. He read Miller right, but Monrovia's Mayor reached a little too far. As Mayor Hammond admits to the reporter: "Hearing you say it, it doesn't sound so good." Heh, heh, heh.

With community activists packed into the Monrovia Community Center one winter night in 2000, U.S. Rep. Gary Miller (R-Diamond Bar) implored City Council members to purchase 165 acres he owned in the foothills and turn the land into a wilderness preserve.

Earlier that day, according to interviews with former Miller staff members and official correspondence reviewed by The Times, Miller asked one staffer to find a way to place one of the councilmen—a pawnshop owner with no parks experience—on the prestigious National Park System Advisory Board.

The aide said he was told to "make it a priority."

Miller then continued to push for the councilman's appointment even after staff members warned him that trying to secure the park board seat for the councilman could appear to be a bribe, internal memos show.

Robert Hammond, the Monrovia councilman for whom Miller had sought the park board appointment, said in an interview that he raised the idea with Miller. Now Monrovia's mayor, Hammond said he saw no conflict, especially because the appointment never materialized.

Hammond ultimately voted in favor of purchasing Miller's land for about $12 million. The deal was approved unanimously.
In one letter to Hammond, the Monrovia city councilman, the congressman took pains to point out that he was acting as a private citizen. The letter was written by an aide, one former staffer said, and signed by Miller.

That letter was dated Feb. 29, 2000. That same day, Miller made his impassioned plea before the council for the city to buy his land. After a decade of meetings and public hearings, he had all but given up on the idea of developing the property. At the same time, former staff members said, Miller ordered an aide to find a way to get Hammond on the National Park System board. Miller persisted even after members of his staff cited Hammond's lack of qualifications, the former staff members said.

The 12-member National Park System Advisory Board makes policy recommendations to the director of the National Park Service and the secretary of the Interior. Hammond said he broached the idea of a seat on the board with Miller about the time of the Feb. 29 hearing.

"He wanted to tell me how long this had been going on," Hammond said, referring to Miller's efforts to either develop his land or sell it to the city.

Hammond said he asked Miller how he could secure a position on the federal board because he thought that Monrovia would benefit by having a local member in that post.
Later, a Miller aide found that the board was composed mostly of academics, preservation experts and attorneys.

"I know that Gary only wants to help Mr. Hammond, but we have the potential to look foolish if we push to nominate a guy who may be totally unqualified," one staff member wrote in an e-mail reviewed by The Times.

Staff members also raised ethical concerns.

"I told GM that given his significant personal property interests pending before the Monrovia City Council, the nomination could obviously have a questionable appearance," an aide wrote to Miller's chief of staff.

Hammond, however, said he did not see a problem. "Hearing you say it, it doesn't sound so good," Hammond said. "It didn't cross my mind that it was a conflict." Ultimately, the effort to nominate Hammond stalled because there were no openings at the time and because Hammond, after learning about the qualifications of its members, lost interest.

(More on how Miller got a tax break on the Monrovia land deal here).

For more background on the nothing if not personable Mayor Hammond, see the cached Sonya Geis Pasadena Star article here. Barring divine intervention, Mayor Hammond (as well as City Council members Mary Ann Lutz and Tom Adams), are winners of yet another virtually automatic local re-election in March.


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