A Long Beach councilwoman is working as a consultant with one of the main players involved in the operation of the Queen Mary, which is in her district—posing a potential conflict of interest, the Post has learned.
Second District Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce, who works as a consultant for areas including politics and nonprofits, acknowledged in a phone interview Thursday that she is currently working with Dan Zaharoni, the chief development officer for the ship’s operator, Urban Commons, to help him form a nonprofit foundation not related to the Queen Mary.
Pearce said she plans to proactively recuse herself from future City Council votes regarding the ship and Urban Commons due to possible conflicts of interest related to her outside consulting work.
Urban Commons 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. The company currently has conceptual plans before the city that would need approval from the City Council to move forward.
Zaharoni, a lawyer, often serves as a spokesman for Urban Commons, but he has other ventures, including serving as general council for From The Earth LLC., an El Segundo-based cannabis business that focuses on cultivation, manufacturing and retail sales, according to its website.
In an email early Friday, he said the cannabis companies are establishing a foundation to raise money for underprivileged children and to provide information and resources to the community regarding the medicinal benefits of cannabis, among other things. He said he referred Pearce to this group to help establish the foundation.
Zaharoni declined to divulge any information on the councilwoman’s compensation.
Pearce said she does not work directly for Zaharoni and that he connected her with his business consultants. She said she is working with him on a nonprofit connected to From The Earth that will raise funds to reduce prison recidivism rates.
Pearce said she spoke with City Attorney Charles Parkin before she took the job in November and had considered the possibility that she might have to recuse herself from some City Council proceedings. She said she didn’t have any concerns at the time since she viewed the job as temporary. She said most of the Queen Mary-related projects have already “gone through the biggest part of the City Council.”
“I didn’t see the Queen Mary coming up for a vote (in front of the council) in the next 12 months,” she said.
Due to her work, Pearce said she also will recuse herself from city proceedings related to marijuana businesses and the Carnival Cruise Terminal next to the Queen Mary.
Parkin on Thursday said it’s not clear whether her work is a conflict of interest but he has advised Pearce to recuse herself from any related city business in the meantime while the city’s legal council “helps her sort it out.”
Parkin said the city could also could reach out to the California Fair Political Practices Commission for a formal opinion on the matter.
While the city in its Ethics Guide lays out the conflicts of interest guidelines for employees and elected officials, Parkin said he urges council members to come to him with any questions or concerns. But ultimately, they must police themselves, he said.
“We try to assist them, but at the end of the day I’m not their personal attorney,” he said.
Pearce said she has been doing the consulting work “on and off” since November, but her most recent statement of economic interest—a form required by the state—shows no income for 2018. She said she may have received her first paycheck in January, which would explain why it’s not on last year’s filing.
She noted that she’s not the only council member to recuse due to conflict of interest. For example, Councilman Dee Andrews, who works as a court liaison for Long Beach Unified, recuses himself on school district matters.
As a mom who has to pay the rent, Pearce said she can’t make it alone on her part-time City Council salary. Long Beach City Council members make about $35,000 a year.
“I’m a single mom that needs to work and fortunately I’m working for a good cause that I care about,” she said. “This is what happens when you have a part-time City Council.”
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