Sacramento County Board member Susan Peters, a republican, has announced she will not seek reelection in 2020, effectively ending her 15 year tenure on the board.
Unknown to many, Susan Peters was fined just short of $10,000 by the California Fair Political Practices Commission in 2016. Her crime? She voted on property development that she had an invested interest in.
The Mather Air Force Base closed for operations in the early 1990s and has since provided an economic boom for Sacramento developers, especially McCuen Properties. McCuen is the company started by Peters’ late husband Peter Mcuen and has been recipient of numerous landmark development projects, including the Ziggurat Office building pyramid and US Bank Plaza, now known as Park Tower Plaza.
The FPPC found that Peters was in violation of conflict of interest laws because she voted on the development of Mather projects. Apparently Peters owns property effected directly by her votes on the county board.
Case documents for FPPC No. 14/611 describes the nature of the charges as such;
COUNT 1: Abatement and Demolition: Direct Effect
Peters violated the Act by voting in favor of demolishing buildings within 500 feet of property she owned.
COUNT 2: Conveyance of Land from U.S. Air Force; Direct and Indirect Effects
Peters violated the Act by voting twice regarding the conveyance of land also within 500 feet of her realty properties.
Now, neither of these charges sound very exciting and clearly not much came from them considering the fact that Peters is still in office and that the most exposure this case received was a single story in The Sacramento Bee in 2016. There was also an incredibly short follow-up by The Bee in November of the same year when the fine was paid and the matter closed.
However, what is interesting about the situation is how much of Susan Peters’ investments have gone unscrutinized.
Though Peters has paid her fine, questions about her ethics record remain. For example, the case does not go into detail about the amount of money that McCuen Properties has made on the Mather Air Force Base Project, nor on other projects for which they have received contracts during Peters’ tenure with the county board. Now, why should we care about one property company profiting off of county board decisions? Because, according to FPPC case documents, Peters was still a partner to the business as late as 2015. There is also no info on how many other pieces of land Peters owns within the county. Peters did not admit to any intentional wrongdoing and has recused herself from voting on issues regarding redevelopment of Mather’s Air Force Base but has said little about her current stake in McCuen Properties.
In other words, Peters might be lying about how much of a financial interest she has in Sacramento County. Peters disclosed her financial holdings at the time of the investigation to the FPPC, which can be reviewed easily online. Aside from her personal holdings in McCuen, in 2015 she held stock in numerous corporations, including; ADT Security, Apple Inc. Costco, Ford, International Papers, Marriott Hotels, Lowes, McDonalds, 20th Century Fox, Oracle, Pepsico. The records also show stakes in insurance pharmaceutical companies Bristol Myers Squibb and Cardinal Healthcare.
This list is not even remotely comprehensive. I do not want to imagine how many deals have come before the county board that either directly or indirectly benefited these corporations and the others she holds stock in.
So, what is to be gathered from the fact Susan Peters paid nearly $10,000 in ethics fines to the FPPC?
Well, for one thing, McCuen Properties, which according to FPPC records she was still a partner of as late as 2015, receives millions of dollars from development contracts from Sacramento city and county. Peters has since claimed that she recused herself from votes regarding the redevelopment of the Mather Air Force Base, but is this enough? Can someone who clearly has invested interests in so many corporations be trusted to recuse themselves completely? How many other times have there been votes by the county that directly affect the profits of McCuen properties? How much property does she own personally? There is no way to tell.
What this whole case means is that a capitalist property developer can be caught in an ethics violation, arguably effective in the range of millions of dollars, and only be charged a few dollars in fines while never being forced to publicly admit to wrongdoing.
When asked if she was still a shareholder, no one from McCuen Properties responded. When Peters’ office was contacted with the same question via email her chief of staff, Howard Schmidt, referred me to the same FPPC documents I had already read.
Schmidt has also confirmed that Susan Peters will in-fact not seek reelection in 2020.