ESCONDIDO — Former Escondido Mayor Sam Abed wasted little time finding a new job after losing a mayoral race to new Mayor Paul McNamara.
During his farewell address at the Dec. 12, 2018, City Council meeting, Abed said he will begin working with the firm Brush Real Estate, an Escondido-based company founded and owned by Glen Brush.
Brush was a candidate for Mayor of Escondido in 1996.
Abed will work as an associate broker at Brush Real Estate, a position which generally lands brokers a cut of all of the commissions on properties sold by the company.
Abed, according to the California Department of Real Estate, earned his broker license in February 2018.
The Department of Real Estate lists Abed as earning his real estate agent permit in May 2013.
Brush Real Estate primarily focuses on home sales with occasional dealings in the commercial real estate sector, according to Brush.
Even less, albeit some, of its real estate deal brokering centers on land sales, including a 12-acre piece of land listed as recently put up for sale for $850,000 on the real estate website Redfin at an intersection on Centre City Parkway near the Police and Fire Headquarters and the Escondido Community Gardens just north of downtown Escondido.
In an interview with The Coast News, Brush said that he first met Abed during the former mayor’s days working as a gas station manager in the 1990s. He added that they were both active members, at the time, of the East Valley Business Association.
“I started going to all of the meetings and all of that kind of thing and we got to know each other,” Brush said. “Sam and I kept in touch. He became a councilman and I always donated to his campaigns … I don’t agree with all of his politics, but I don’t agree with anybody 100 percent. He’s a nice guy, we became friends, and that’s the extent of the relationship.”
Though Abed only recently announced the career move to Brush Real Estate, Glen Brush said that Abed has actually worked as an agent at the firm for the past four to five years.
Brush said that during that time frame, Abed worked as a referral agent, only earning a 25 percent referral fee — taken out of the commission earned on the sale of the property — if he provided a referral to another agent at the firm which led to the sale of a property.
A review of Abed’s Form 700 documents filed with the California Fair Political Practices Commission, however, did not show any disclosure of income earned from Brush Real Estate.
The California Political Reform Act, which created the Fair Political Practices Commission, mandates that elected officials must disclose the “name and address of each source of income aggregating five hundred dollars ($500)” earned outside of the public office sphere.
Abed, in response to questions sent via email, said that he believed anything under $10,000 did not require disclosure by name, but merely as a source of income.
Abed’s Form 700 for 2017-2018, he said, includes the Brush Real Estate income in the amendments section, but it does not name it by name because it totaled less than $10,000. He said that he filled out the Form 700 in compliance with Fair Political Practices Commission guidelines.
Abed said that the only actual real estate transaction he carried out during that time period was brokering a deal on behalf of his brother, who at the time lived overseas, in an effort to avoid conflicts-of-interest and comply with Fair Political Practices Commission regulations.
Jay Wierenga, a spokesman for the Fair Political Practices Commission, said that certain guidelines around accuracy exist when filling out the Form 700 for public officials.
“(A)nyone required to fill out a Form 700 must do so to the best of their ability and as truthfully as required, and if mistakes are made, to correct and amend as quickly as possible, preferably before being notified,” Wierenga said. “If done so on their own, that can be seen as a mitigating factor if any violation did occur.”
Glen Brush also donated money to Abed’s campaign, according to a review of campaign finance documents published by the city of Escondido.
The documents show that, throughout the 2018 election cycle, Brush gave $100 per month to Abed’s campaign.
In total, Brush donated $1,000 to Abed during the campaign cycle as of Oct. 20, 2018.
Brush maintained that he did not donate campaign money to Abed in return for any political favors, but as a token of their long-tenured friendship.
“I have supported Sam for a long time and we have not benefited from any decisions regarding real estate decisions from City Council beyond what every licensed agent in San Diego benefited,” Brush stated.
Brush said that Abed approached him about a possible job working at his firm not long after the finalization of the results in the mayoral race.
“In Sam’s case, given his political background, he understands land use, he understands the process of putting something in front of the Planning Commission, getting approvals done and making sure the usage is correct,” Brush said. “So, he has a lot of experience on that side of things. Long-term, I think he would like to focus more on the commercial and development process because he has an expertise in that.”
But Brush also said that the company does things in a “straight up” manner and would not seek to utilize Abed’s access to city officials to steer business toward Brush Real Estate.
“We don’t represent brokers or development-type people,” Brush said. “All of our clientele are people we have worked with now for 20-plus years and they refer their friends, neighbors and kids to us. That’s how we do business. I don’t try to get involved in large-scale projects; it’s not what we do.”
Under the Political Reform Act’s Section 87406, former public officials must have a one year cooling off period after governmental service as it relates to advocating for policies on behalf of a private company in front of their former colleagues.
Those colleagues can be either elected officials or regulators.
Bob Stern, the first legal counsel for the Fair Political Practices Commission and co-author of the Political Reform Act, said that Section 87406 can be difficult to enforce unless city governments implement robust ethics precautions and best practices.
That includes halting private meetings held between elected officials and their former elected office colleagues turned private sector advocates.
“Well the question is, I don’t know that there are many of them going on,” Stern said about private advocacy meetings. “I don’t think there are a whole lot going on, but maybe there are. If that were the case and there was a whole bunch of these going on and it’s not being reported or being stopped, then you could have regulations requiring anytime someone was meeting with a former public official they have to keep a record of it. I suppose that would be a way to take care of it.”
The Fair Political Practices Commission, in 2009 advice letter, wrote that for “a small meeting to discuss a particular administrative or legislative action, or other specific action or proceeding involving the issuance, amendment, awarding, or revocation of a permit, license, grant, or contract” it can “be inferred that the former employee’s presence at the meeting is intended to influence agency action.”
Steve Horn is a San Diego, CA-based reporter covering Escondido and San Marcos. He works in a full-time capacity for The Real News Network, an online broadcast news outlet, covering climate change. He has worked as a staff investigative reporter for the publications Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News and as an investigative reporter for the climate news website DeSmog.com. Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org.