Amid conflict-of-interest concerns, councilwoman reveals previously undisclosed consulting work

A Long Beach councilwoman facing questions of conflict-of-interest over her work with a Queen Mary executive has revised her 2018 financial statements to include previously undisclosed income. The revised forms showed she earned thousands of dollars from the cannabis industry and other political campaigns she worked on as a consultant.

Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce, whose 2nd District includes the Queen Mary, came under scrutiny this year when the Post revealed she is working with Dan Zaharoni, the chief development officer for the ship’s operator, Urban Commons.

In an interview in May, Pearce said she has been doing consulting work for Zaharoni since November to help him form a nonprofit foundation in the cannabis industry that is not connected to the Queen Mary.

The city is currently investigating whether her consulting work in areas including politics and nonprofits poses a conflict of interest.

Councilmembers are generally required to list their income unless it’s from a government agency, but, until recently, her statement of economic interest—a form required by the state—showed no income for 2018.

In a statement Friday, Pearce said she mistakenly believed she did not have to report income under $10,000 as she was a consultant. Her statement of economic interest has been updated in “full compliance with the law,” she said.

“I have since hired counsel to advise me on these requirements to ensure full compliance moving forward,” she said.

An amended version filed Wednesday with the city clerk’s office shows five independent consulting jobs last year, including two for cannabis-related businesses. The form shows she also worked on campaigns for Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and Long Beach City College Trustee Uduak-Joe Ntuk.

Jeannine Pearce, 2nd District Councilwoman. File photo.

City Attorney Charlie Parkin this week said Long Beach has hired outside council Gary Schons from Best Best & Kreiger to help determine whether Pearce has possible conflicts. Parkin said Pearce has hired a lawyer and is planning to meet with the city early next week to provide documents related to her consulting work.

Pearce is also working on revising her 2017 statement of economic interest form, Parkin said.

The councilwoman in the meantime has said she plans to proactively recuse herself from any City Council business related to the cannabis industry, the Queen Mary and the Carnival Cruise Terminal next to the landmark ship.

At last week’s regular council meeting, she recused herself from voting on whether to adjust cannabis taxes.

Parkin on Wednesday said Pearce was right to be cautious.

“We still have not made a decision as to whether there is a conflict of interest to either Urban Commons or cannabis, but it looks like, for now, she was right to recuse herself on that last action,” he said.

Parkin said the city is looking at Pearce’s past votes as well.

In a March 12 council meeting, she proposed a motion to ask the city to work with Urban Commons to determine whether a gondola system could bring more visitors to the Queen Mary.

Her proposal included a letter from Zaharoni asking the city for support. Pearce at the time did not disclose publicly that she was working with Zaharoni in an unrelated business.

The City Council, with Pearce voting, approved the plan unanimously.

Any gondola service would be a boost for Urban Commons, which signed a lease to run the city-owned ship in 2016 and is planning to develop the 64-acre waterfront as a premiere entertainment destination.

Zaharoni, a lawyer, serves as a spokesman for Urban Commons, but he also has other ventures and works as general council for From The Earth LLC., an El Segundo-based cannabis business.

Zaharoni has said he referred Pearce to a group of cannabis companies to work as a consultant on a nonprofit foundation that would raise money for underprivileged children and provide community information on the medicinal benefits of cannabis.

Pearce has said she spoke with the city attorney before she took the cannabis consulting job in November but she didn’t have any concerns at the time because she viewed the job as temporary. The councilwoman, a single mom, has said she needs to work because she can’t make it alone on her part-time City Council salary of about $35,000 a year.

Her newly updated economic interest forms show she earned between $1,000 and $10,000 from each of her five consulting gigs in 2018.

Elected in 2016, Pearce was the subject of a failed recall campaign last year following a late-night incident where officers found her on the side of the 710 Freeway arguing with her former chief of staff, with whom she was having an affair. In the fallout, she was investigated for driving under the influence and domestic violence—but no charges were filed. 

She is running for reelection in March 2020.

Editor’s note: This story was updated Friday with Pearce’s statement. 

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Kelly Puente is a general assignment and special projects reporter at the Long Beach Post. Her prolific reporting has taken her all over Southern California—even to the small Catalina Island town of Two Harbors. She is a Tiki mug collector and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and administration at Cal State Long Beach. Reach her at [email protected].
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