- Terelle Jerricks
Kevin Walker, Long Beach Reporter
Long Beach City Attorney Robert Shannon blocked a request by the city council for an independent investigation of Harbor Commissioner Doug Drummond’s charges of cronyism and bribery amongst two of his commission colleagues.
Drummond made the allegation during a closed session of the Harbor Commission on Aug. 20 and came to public attention when a letter written by Commissioner Thomas Fields to Mayor Bob Foster and City Attorney Shannon was leaked to the Long Beach Press Telegram.
In the letter, Fields requested that city officials investigate claims that he and fellow commissioner Nick Sramek participated in cronyism and bribery while leading the Harbor Department’s efforts to find a new headquarters for its 300 staff.
Plans originally called for the the construction of a new $220 million building near the existing headquarters at 925 Harbor Plaza Dr., after it was found in 2010, that the structure was structurally compromised. This, however, was nixed by Mayor Foster due to cost.
In 2011 the Harbor Departments second option, the purchase of the World Trade Center building on Ocean Blvd., fell apart after the commission deadlocked in a 2-2 vote. Sramek and Fields voted in favor of the purchase but were defeated by Drummond and fellow commissioner Rich Dines after commission President Susan Wise was forced to recuse herself due to a conflict of interest. Wise’s husband was a tenant in the World Trade Center at the time of the proposed purchase.
Councilman Al Austin (District 8) and Councilman Steven Neal (District 9) proposed the investigation citing concerns that dispute would damage the port’s credibility with its business and trading partners.
“The success of the port is tied to the strong reputation and integrity that port leadership has developed with our trading partners throughout the Pacific Rim. When the reputation and integrity of the port’s leadership is called into question…that threatens to undermine the years and years of outstanding work that our port has undertaken,” Austin said.
He went on to argue that an investigation of the accusations at the center of the scandal was still warranted even though they were made during a closed session.
Shannon, however, disagreed citing privacy protections of the people named in the letter and laws governing closed meetings between public officials
“Public discussion by the city council of what occurred in a closed session is improper, just as improper as it would be for their to be discussion of what occurs at a closed session in the city council,” Shannon said.
The city attorney also indicated that his office had already investigated the matter and relayed the findings to Mayor Foster. Councilman Austin, however,expressed his discomfort about the city’s response to the scandal.
“I don’t think the process has been very transparent and I don’t think the investigation into the actions are transparent,” he said. “We’ve been told there’s been an investigation, but we don’t know what the scope of that investigation has been.”
The motion was received and filed in a 8-1 vote with District 6 Councilman Dee Andrews dissenting.