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The supervisors little junkets that Rob Davis revealed in an excellent report earlier in the week may be more of a sham than I thought.

Let’s review the facts: Supervisors Ron Roberts and Pam Slater-Price will be jaunting to opposite corners of the globe thanks to two local organizations.

Roberts and his chief of staff are going to China on a trip will cost the San Diego World Trade Center, or SDWTC, close to $20,000. That also happens to be the same amount of taxpayer funds Roberts gave the World Trade Center out of his current budget. But that’s a different discussion.

Today let’s focus on this gift from the SDWTC to Roberts.

It is illegal for an organization to give an elected official a gift that large. A company or organization cannot give an elected official or employee of a local government a gift worth more than $360.

Now, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization can give a government official a bigger gift, but the SDWTC is not a 501(c)(3). It’s a 501(c)(6).

So how did Roberts get away with taking a $20,000 gift from the World Trade Center? Well, he claims it was actually a gift to the county.

In his letter to the Board of Supervisors asking them to approve his trip, he actually technically asked his colleagues to approve a trip and then designate him as the trip taker.

Did this little dance actually make the gift legal? I guess that’s what they think.

I’m no lawyer, so I’ll just find the law and let all you attorneys out there pick at it. There are more of you reading these days, I know it, so chime in.

This is what I know.

An organization can’t give a big gift like this to a government official but it can give it to the government. It just can’t dictate to whom the gift should go.

Did Roberts cover his tracks enough?

Here’s the law describing what a legal gift is to a public agency (look at it for yourself here):

The agency, in its sole discretion, determines the specific official or officials who shall use the payment. However, the donor may identify a specific purpose for the agency’s use of the payment, so long as the donor does not designate the specific official or officials who may use the payment.

So that was the point of Roberts memo asking that he be the one to go on the trip. They want it to look officially like the Board of Supervisors just got this gift and then decided to let Roberts enjoy it.

But c’mon, we’re not a bunch of boobs here. Roberts, according to Davis’ report, has given $530,000 of taxpayer funds to the World Trade Center. He’s been to China with the SDWTC at least twice before – once in 2002 and another time just last year.

The trip was clearly meant for Roberts.

SCOTT LEWIS

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