SANTA MONICA—Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District board member Maria Leon-Vazquez is under investigation for hiding conflicts of interest she had when she approved contracts between schools and companies that benefited her husband, after a Los Angeles Times investigation.
Leon-Vazquez’s husband, Tony Vazquez, is a member of Santa Monica City Council and former Mayor Pro Tem. Vazquez is currently working as a paid consultant at two different companies: East Los Angeles Community Union Construction Management (TELACU) and Keygent LLC. Both these companies have done business with the SMMUSD. TELACU currently has a contract worth $174,000 as a construction or construction management contractor. Keygent LLC, although not currently contracted, has had deals with the school district in the past in municipal advisory roles.
Vazquez worked as a consultant for both companies. He first introduced the SMMUSD superintendent, Sandra Lyon, to TELACU in 2014 at a Superintendent’s Symposium in Monterey, CA. It was around then that TELACU raised Vazquez’s salary from $1,000 a month to $8,000 a month. According to the Santa Monica Daily Press, Vazquez commented that the introduction was “informal” and that the company did not even receive a contract until years later when Lyon had already left. Leon-Vazquez voted for this contract.
Vazquez promoted Keygent LLC, and Leon-Vazquez reportedly voted for the company’s services in reviewing employees’ health benefits. Vazquez was paid somewhere around $2,000 a month for his services at that company.
A requirement for all SMMUSD board members as well as Santa Monica City Council members is to complete a statement of economic interest and outline where their incomes are coming from. Neither Vazquez nor Leon-Vazquez reported the earnings from TELACU in their public statements. Leon-Vazquez’s votes to approve the companies may have violated California’s conflict of interest laws. According to the SMMUSD bylaws, no member can vote for an act that “uniquely affect a relative of the board member.”
Maria Leon-Vazquez has yet to make a statement, but her husband spoke with the Santa Monica Daily Press during an interview. He explained that his wife’s votes were part of lists of “consent” calendar items that were voted on with a single vote. His wife, he said, may not have known that the companies were in the vote or that they would benefit him. He also defended his decision to leave the source of income out of his paperwork, saying that “as long as I’m not doing any business in the city, I don’t have to claim it.”
Gail Pinkser, Public Relations Officer for the SMMUSD indicated in a statement on Tuesday, November 14:
“The District and our Board of Education recognize the importance of avoiding conflicts of interest. This is reflected by the fact that the Board has an adopted bylaw stressing the importance of making decisions free from conflicts. At this time, we are in the process of gathering information and facts related to the Board’s and Board Member Leon-Vazquez’ votes and working with legal counsel. We will be conducting an audit of our practices and process. We will fully cooperate with any investigation regarding this matter.”