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Rancho Adobe fire official fined by state's political watchdog agency

Published: Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 3:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 3:00 p.m.

State authorities have fined a Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District director for using his position to oppose a plan to remake Cotati's main street.

Harold Griffith was fined $3,000; he faced a maximum $5,000 penalty.

Griffith was president of the fire district board in 2011 when he spoke against the controversial Cotati plan, saying it would shut down his longtime real estate business on Old Redwood Highway.

In doing so, Griffith tried to use his official position to influence a governmental decision in which he had a financial interest, the state Fair Political Practices Commission said.

The commission launched an investigation after an anonymous complaint.

"I don't agree with it, and I have no comment," Griffith said Wednesday when asked about the fine. "I just want to forget about the whole thing."

In 2011, when Cotati officials suggested that his opposition to the Village Main Street Plan represented a conflict of interest because his store is on the strip of street that would have been affected, Griffith responded, "They are separate issues."

He told the city's design review committee that the fire district would oppose the plan. According to documents, he initially raised the issue at a fire district board meeting. He said the plan to narrow the street and install two traffic roundabouts would cause havoc for emergency responders. He then urged the district to oppose it.

Rancho Adobe Fire Chief Frank Treanor, who subsequently submitted a letter to the city articulating the district's opposition, asked Griffith to speak against it as well, the meeting minutes show.

Wulff Reinhold, also a district director, said Wednesday that the board had endorsed the opposition as Treanor presented it, but did not officially support Griffith's appearance at the design review committee.

Reinhold said he did not know about the Jan. 13 FPPC decision and fine until asked about it by a reporter.

"As far as where his business is, I personally was not aware of that, so I couldn't really speak to" whether there was a conflict or if the board disagreed with the FPPC decision, Reinhold said.

Asked if the district would pay the fine for Griffith, he said, "I'm sure were going to discuss it at our next meeting."

The downtown redesign plan, which was to be partially funded by redevelopment agency funds, stalled after the agencies were eliminated by Gov. Jerry Brown. The plan spurred a successful November ballot measure that banned roundabouts from the city.

You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or jeremy.hay@pressdemocrat.com.

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