Thursday, March 12, 2009

Conflict of interest alleged: Document claims Sutton should recuse himself from MLPA

San Diego Union-Tribune

A mystery man who identified himself as Ken Barnes delivered a document to the state Fish and Game Commission on Thursday stating that Commissioner Michael Sutton has a conflict of interest and should recuse himself from matters regarding the Marine Life Protection Act.

The document, obtained by The San Diego Union-Tribune, introduces evidence that Sutton continues to benefit from a more than 10-year association with the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, which over the past three years has funneled more than $18 million to the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation. The RLFF, working off a Memorandum of Understanding with the state, saved the Marine Life Protection Act by keeping it afloat when most of its state funding dried up.

The document states Sutton made over $138,000 in 2006 as a corporate officer with the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which from 2005 to 2007 received over $123 million from the Packard Foundation. Prior to working for the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Sutton headed the Marine Fisheries Conservation Program for Packard for five years.

The document states Sutton has had a “vested interest in advancing the interests of Packard et al. for almost 10 years.”

And now the document says Sutton is continuing the Packard Foundation's mission, part of which is to fund marine protected areas off California, as a member of the state's Fish and Game Commission.

Sutton does not believe there is a conflict of interest.

"Before I went on the Commission I went through a vetting process to determine if there were any issues like that or any conflicts of interest as defined by the state," Sutton said. "There weren't any and nothing since then has changed. I have a deep interest in helping the ocean and working with the Commission to continue that process."

The document points out that Sutton has a “material financial conflict concerning the Marine Life Protection Act.” It charges that Sutton has “filed incomplete/inaccurate statements of economic interests to the FPPC on Form 700.” That means Sutton allegedly wasn't as forthcoming as he should have been when he filed his Statement of Economic Interests form, California Form 700, with the Fair Political Practices Commission on May 3, 2007. It states that “the conflict is actual and material and requires his disqualification, should he not voluntarily recuse himself, from any discussion or consideration of the MLPA at the Commission.”

No individual or organization claims authoring the document that Barnes delivered. It is signed, “Concerned Citizen.”

As a matter of background, the MLPA calls for a network of marine protected areas along the California coast. It was passed by the state Legislature in 1999. It has closed off key fishing zones off California's Central Coast and threatens to do the same along the entire California coastline, including key areas off San Diego, such as the Point Loma and La Jolla kelp beds.

As much as Sutton wants to speed through the MLPA process and rubber stamp it into being, Fish and Game Commissioner Dan Richards of Upland has called for details about whom will be impacted by these marine protected areas and how they will be paid for in terms of law enforcement, scientific monitoring and public outreach. They squared off about this issue and others at Wednesday's meeting.

A Department of Fish and Game analysis shows that the entire MLPA will cost the state between $30 million and $40 million a year to run. This in a state where resource managers can't afford to buy food for its hatchery trout right now.

Sutton and two representatives of environmental groups were upset Thursday when they discovered the public comment period for the North Central Coast of the MLPA was delayed until later this summer.

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