Mayor Probed Over Ties to Costco on Eve of Vote on Big-Box Ban

Story appearing in the East Bay Times, 10/28/16, written by Angela Ruggiero

Just days before the election, a former Pleasanton councilman filed a complaint against Mayor Jerry Thorne, launching a state commission to investigate potential political malpractice.

The state Fair Political Practices Commission said it was investigating a complaint against Thorne for allegations that he had a conflict of interest with Costco because he owns shares in the company. With Measure MM, Pleasanton voters will decide on Election Day if they want to ban big-box stores such as Costco on a development area on Johnson Drive near the highway.

A probe is launched after it’s determined that a filed complaint has merit, according to the FPPC. It could take up to a year to complete the investigation, which would determine if there was a violation and reach a resolution. Some violations, for example, result in fines for the elected official.

Thorne recused himself from discussions about Costco in July the when the City Council decided to put the measure on big-box stores before voters after Citizens for Planned Growth gathered enough signatures. Sullivan, in his complaint, states that there were several instances where Thorne advocated on behalf of Costco before he had to recuse himself.

Thorne said he reported his Costco stocks in his statement of economic interest or Form 700, a document that lists elected officials’ assets to spot any potential conflicts of interest. The stocks were in a mutual fund-like account, where a manager moves them in and out. Although Thorne has listed the Costco stocks since 2014 in his economic interest forms, he said he didn’t realize there might be a conflict until July.

“I don’t commit them to memory,” he said.

He said when he was filing out his Form 700 to run for mayor this year he checked with the city attorney, who suggested Thorne recuse himself. Thorne said he has since sold the Costco stocks, about 27 shares.

In addition to Measure MM, Pleasanton voters next week will choose City Council representatives. Incumbents Jerry Pentin and Karla Brown are looking to keep their seats, but are being challenged by newcomer Herb Ritter. Ritter has indicated he wants to unseat Brown. In the mayor’s race, Julie Testa is challenging Thorne’s seat.