Ethics Commission Will Decide Whether To Hire Outside Law Firm To Look Into Segarra Matter
By Jenna Carlesso
April 12, 2011
The city's ethics commission will investigate whether it needs to hire an outside law firm to look into a potential conflict of interest involving Mayor Pedro Segarra and his spouse, Charlie Ortiz.
Segarra has not disclosed on his annual statements of financial interest that Ortiz collects about $2,000 a month in federal Section 8 rent subsidies as the landlord for low-income tenants under a "housing choice voucher program" administered locally by the city.
Ortiz has received more than $120,000 through that arrangement in the nearly five years since May 2006, when Segarra became a city councilman. Segarra took over as mayor last June when predecessor Eddie Perez resigned after his conviction on corruption charges.
Segarra sent a letter to the city's corporation counsel on Monday requesting that an independent opinion be solicited as to whether any conflict of interest exists, and whether he violated any city ethics code provisions. He requested that an outside law firm be hired to look into the matter.
"As you know, I take great pride in running a city government that is open and transparent and I believe that I have been honest and forthcoming in filing previous years' disclosures," Segarra wrote in the letter.
Members of the ethics commission said during a meeting Tuesday that they would investigate whether to hire an outside firm. The issue will come up at the panel's May 10 meeting, but members said they may not have a decision by that time.
"It's too premature to hire an outside attorney at this point," said Arnaldo Sierra, a member of the commission.
Segarra has offered to pay for the expenses of retaining outside counsel, commissioners said, but they declined.
"That would be a conflict of interest within itself," Sierra said.
Earlier Tuesday, state Rep. Kelvin Roldan, who is considering a run against Segarra in the upcoming mayoral election, called upon the ethics commission to "conduct an expedited, thorough and independent investigation of the recent media reports concerning the previously undisclosed payment of more than $120,000 in city housing funds to Segarra's spouse."
"Mayor Segarra needs to take responsibility for his actions and -- in the interest of transparency -- disclose all federal, state and city payments to members of his household; all property owned by members of his household; and all affiliated business interests since he became a member of the City Council in 2006," Roldan said.