Irvine Mayor Larry Agran recently came under harsh scrutiny after some of his friends and political allies accused him of engaging in unethical behavior. Among the most vocal of his accusers are city council member Chris Mears and UCI professor of political science and city planning commissioner Mark Petracca.
In spite of their claims, Agran defends his two terms as mayor and believes their accusations are part of a campaign to ensure he isn’t elected to city council this November.
After the California energy crisis in 2001, the City of Irvine began plans to develop its own energy utility. This was intended to provide electricity for new developments and decrease the city’s dependence on Southern California Edison, the public utility from which Irvine currently gets its electricity.
Critics of Agran claim that instead of exploring different utility providers, he attempted to steer Irvine towards giving a multimillion-dollar utility contract to Enco Utility Services. Critics say that Ed Dornan, Agran’s political advisor and close friend, had a financial stake in Enco and would thus profit through this deal.
Mears says that Dornan told him explicitly that he stood to make a financial gain through the city’s contract with Enco and that Agran knew about his interest in Enco as well.
‘[Dornan] stood to get a percentage of the revenue that would be generated by this deal when the city entered into an agreement with Enco … He told me and he’s told others,’ Mears said. ‘[Agran] has publicly denied knowledge of that, but privately, he has acknowledged the deal to me, Mark Petracca and to others. So he’s simply not telling the truth.’
Agran countered by saying, ‘[Dornan], in testimony before the city council, denied [any connection with Enco]. I will tell you that I believe him … This accusation [of Dornan’s financial interests in Enco], which is repeated over and over again, is a libel, it is a slander, it is defamation against [Dornan] and against me.’
Mears claims that Agran was planning on giving the utility contract to Enco to benefit Dornan, and he wasn’t considering contracting with any other utility companies.
‘The city, as of last March, was only considering whether to move forward with Enco, and [Agran] knows that perfectly well,’ Mears said.
Agran believes that although the city was working closely with Enco, Irvine was never close to signing a contract with them.
‘We worked very close with Enco because they were the ones who came forward with the idea [of a private utility],’ Agran said. ‘There was no contract … They gave us the benefit of their analysis, of their perspective, of their experience, in the hope that ultimately … we would contract with them. But we made no contract with them. And we’re far away from any contract with any private provider. So this idea that I was steering [the contract] to Enco is, frankly, just a big lie.’
Agran believes he knows why his relationship with Mears has gone sour, and why Mears would come out and make these claims against him and Dornan.
‘Mears and I have had a pretty serious falling out, which is traceable to my refusal to [appoint] to the Great Park Corporation board of directors … Milton Gordon, president of Cal State Fullerton,’ Agran said. ‘I preferred, instead, Mayor Miguel Pulido of Santa Ana. From that moment on, [Mears] was angry, in my judgment, beyond all reasonable measure, angry at me. I also indicated to him, some time after that, that I would not be supporting his candidacy for mayor, if he chose to run … I believe his anger has no bounds.’
Mears, while acknowledging his disappointment at Agran’s refusal to appoint Gordon to the Great Park board of directors, believes his 20-year relationship with Agran began to fall into shambles last year, before the Gordon incident.
‘I was absolutely angry at [Agran] for that … But why would I engage in all of this over something like that? That’s just absurd,’ Mears said. ‘The beginning of the end in my personal relationship with [Agran] was a year and a half ago when I told him that I wasn’t going to run for mayor, and that screwed up his plans. At that point in time, his plans were not to run for city council. I would run for mayor and presumably get elected and have a majority that would be friendly to him. He intended to leave the council and become a highly paid executive director of the Great Park Conservancy.’
Agran disagreed with this claim as he believes the Gordon incident was what caused the break.
‘[Mears] has an entirely different interpretation of things,’ Agran said. ‘The fact of the matter is that after I refused to vote for Milton Gordon, [Mears] wrote me a very, very nasty letter. That … was a breaking point in our relationship. I regret it, but it’s happened.’
Agran also said that Petracca joined Mears in going public with these allegations, which have appeared in newspapers around the state, because he believes Petracca is indebted to Mears.
‘[Mears] has enlisted Mark Petracca in all of this, because [Petracca] is his appointee to the planning commission, and as his appointee, [Petracca] is bound and determined to do what [Mears] tells him to do,’ Agran explained. ‘[Petracca] is simply grabbing onto this for political purposes because he wants to tie himself to Chris Mears in the hope that he can continue to serve as a planning commissioner, in connection with the Great Park, who knows what their designs are.’
Mears believes this reason is incorrect.
‘What political motivations? I’m leaving the council, [Petracca] is losing his job in November, for goodness’ sake.’
Petracca disagrees with Agran’s claim as well.
‘The mayor knows better than to be so dismissive. He knows me better than this,’ Petracca said. ‘Unlike the mayor, I have no political ambitions. I will be pleased to conclude my four-year service to the city as a planning commissioner at the end of the current term. I have no interest in ever running for elective office.’
Mears says that although Agran’s actions with Dornan and Enco are not illegal, they are still unethical.
‘It’s not illegal, nor am I making the claim that what has happened here is illegal,’ Mears said. ‘Of course, whether something is illegal or not is only part of the equation … Simply because somebody manages to thread the needle of conflict of interest law so that he isn’t committing an illegal act, doesn’t mean it’s right.’
Because of what they believe is unethical behavior from Agran, Mears and Petracca have thrown their support in the upcoming election to Mike Ward and Greg Smith, long time political adversaries of Petracca, Agran and Mears. Mears also says he is leaving politics because of this situation.
‘I’ve said Larry Agran is the reason I got into politics, and he’s the reason I’m getting out, that’s essentially true,’ Mears said.
Agran believes that all of this is an effort to make sure he is not elected to a city council seat this November.
‘This is all political,’ Agran said. ‘This is all a contrived attempt to sling mud at me, and I’m not going to put up with it. I’m going to stay focused at what’s right for the city.’