A Huntington Beach City Council candidate has filed a complaint with the state's political watchdog, saying two incumbents' living situation resulted in one receiving illegal gifts from the other.
Candidate Brendon Kenney alleges in the complaint filed Aug. 11 with the California Fair Political Practices Commission that Mayor Pro Tem Joe Shaw violated the maximum amount of gifts a candidate or council member can receive annually and failed to report it. The complaint says Shaw received gifts by paying less than market-rate rent for a room in Councilwoman Connie Boardman's townhome.
Kenney, Shaw, Boardman and eight other candidates are running for four available City Council seats in the November election.
Kenney said in an email that he had heard about the two council members' living arrangement and was compelled to investigate it.
"There have been lots of innuendos on the various blogs and Facebook pages and I decided that I was going to be proactive about it," he wrote. "One of the reasons I decided to run for City Council is that I think we need more transparency, integrity, less … bickering amongst council members."
In his complaint, Kenney says Boardman, who lives in a single-family home, rented a room to Shaw and charged him about $40 less than the average monthly rate from 2011 to 2013. Kenney interprets the discount as a gift Boardman was giving to Shaw.
Rooms for rent in the Huntington Beach area currently range from $700 to $1,500 a month, according to Craigslist.
According to the state Political Reform Act a candidate or an elected official cannot receive more than $440 in gifts per year. It includes rebates or discounts on "anything of value, unless the rebate or discount is made in the regular course of business to members of the public without regard to official status." A $40 monthly discount would amount to $480 in a year.
Boardman said Monday that Shaw rented a room from her for about a year and a half starting in fall 2011 and that she charged him $500 a month. "I don't think that's under market rate, and this is nothing that anyone tried to hide," she said.
According to Boardman's Form 700 filed with the FPPC in 2012, she stated that she had received rent during the calendar year. However, since the income was less than $10,000, she did not have to list her tenant.
Shaw's form that year did not report any gifts or discounts from Boardman.
Shaw said Monday that he and Boardman vetted the situation with the city attorney in 2011 and filed all necessary documents.
"This is just pure politics," Shaw said. "There are people in Huntington Beach who don't like us, and this is the result of those kind of politics that unfortunately is a little bit dirty."
Kenney said he also was concerned that the two council members may have been influencing each another while living in the same house.
"In my opinion, it is disgraceful that council members Boardman and Shaw would even consider cohabitating while both serving as elected officials on the City Council, presenting at the very least the appearance of potential impropriety, conflict of interest and/or undue influence," Kenney wrote in his complaint.
Boardman said Shaw was looking for a place to live that was pet-friendly but he was unable to find a suitable location. She suggested that he rent her guestroom.
"It's not illegal and there's no conflict of interest," Boardman said. "I have since learned that it's not uncommon for Assembly members to rent rooms to other Assembly members in Sacramento. It is unusual for a City Council member to rent a room from another City Council member, but I've known Joe for years."
Boardman added that the other council members in 2011 knew about their living situation.
"People had known for a while, and it's coming to light now because of politics," she said.