Education

Fresno Unified’s Brooke Ashjian hit by new complaint to state political watchdog

Fresno Unified School District board president Brooke Ashjian.
Fresno Unified School District board president Brooke Ashjian. ezamora@fresnobee.com

A Merced attorney who has been a thorn in the side of Fresno Unified School District board president Brooke Ashjian for more than a year is filing a new complaint against the trustee with the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

In the complaint to the political watchdog agency Wednesday, Kenneth Mackie asserted that Ashjian – elected to the school board in 2014 and chosen board president by his fellow trustees in December – failed to disclose on his required Statement of Economic Interest his ownership interests in five pieces of Fresno property.

In a separate letter also dated Wednesday, Mackie asked the commission to file a civil action against Ashjian “for intentionally or negligently violating the reporting requirements of the Political Reform Act of 1974.” The letter concerns not only the undisclosed real estate holdings, but also contends that Ashjian originally omitted several sources of income, including his Fresno paving business Seal Rite Paving, from his economic interest statements.

The economic interest statements are a mechanism for the public to monitor potential economic conflicts of interest for elected officials and political candidates.

Messages left by The Bee on Thursday for Ashjian at Seal Rite Paving and another phone number seeking comment on Mackie’s latest complaints were not returned.

The letter to the FPPC is “asking them to take civil action, not about conflicts of interest but failure to report numerous sources of income,” Mackie said Thursday. “A necessary first step to litigation is to ask the FPPC to go ahead and file a civil action.” The agency has 120 days to respond; if the commission declines to file suit, it clears the way for Mackie’s organization to sue Ashjian in Fresno County Superior Court.

The commission enforces state laws regulating campaign financing, conflicts of interest, lobbying and government ethics.

The letter and complaint are the latest salvos fired by Mackie against Ashjian with the FPPC. In October 2016, Mackie filed a complaint alleging that Ashjian did not fully disclose all of his financial interests when he was elected to the school board, omitting sources of more than $1 million in income including his paving company, which worked as a subcontractor for a company hired by Fresno Unified for a school construction project. That complaint spurred an investigation of Ashjian by the FPPC that remains open.

The commission expanded the investigation earlier this year following a second complaint by Mackie in April.

“When we get a complaint, it’s taken under review to determine its merit,” FPPC spokesman Jay Wierenga said Thursday. “If it doesn’t have merit, it’s dismissed. If it’s found to have merit, we open a case.”

Wierenga confirmed Thursday that the agency has received the latest complaint from Mackie. But, he added, “on things where we already have an open case, (additional) complaints are often rolled into that.”

Mackie represents a group of anonymous individuals that calls itself Fresno Watchdogs for Ethical Bidding. Another organization established by Ashjian in recent months filed articles of incorporation with the same name and served Mackie with a cease-and-desist order to stop using the name.

On Tuesday, Mackie filed a lawsuit in Fresno County Superior Court against Ashjian and his organization seeking an injunction ordering them to stop using the Fresno Watchdogs for Ethical Bidding name. In the suit, Mackie contends that his clients were the first to use the name and thus have “priority of use” for the monicker.

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