RIVERBANK -- A state agency said Mayor Richard O'Brien violated state conflict-of-interest law when he voted to approve $46.72 in purchases from a supermarket owned by his brother.
The Fair Political Practices Commission sent O'Brien a warning letter over the Sept. 24 vote, which involved delicatessen items and beverages purchased from O'Brien's Market in Riverbank for a city committee lunch.
The O'Brien's chain, which includes two Modesto stores, is owned by Chuck O'Brien. Richard O'Brien manages the Roseburg Square store in Modesto but said he does not have an ownership interest in the chain.
The mayor, who disclosed the letter to The Bee on Wednesday, was a city councilman when the vote took place. He said he had received legal advice beforehand that the vote was proper.
Gary Winuk, chief of the FPPC's enforcement division, disagreed in the Dec. 31 letter.
"Your actions violated the (law) because you have a financial interest in O'Brien's Market and you made a governmental decision that directly affected your source of income," he wrote.
Winuk said no fine would be levied because the grocery purchase was "minimal" and O'Brien had sought legal advice. The agency can fine officials as much as $5,000 for such violations.
The investigation resulted from a complaint by Patricia King of Riverbank. She could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
City councils and other elected bodies routinely approve recent purchases near the start of their meetings, usually with no discussion. Riverbank's agenda packets go into detail, including copies of receipts from O'Brien's Market for the Aug. 14 lunch.
The items were for the Riverbank Designated Local Authority, which has assumed the obligations of the city's defunct redevelopment agency. It was one of many such agencies shut down in a state budget- balancing move last year.
O'Brien said he has asked city staff to list payments to the grocery chain separately in the future so he can avoid a repeat violation.
He was elected mayor in November in a close race against incumbent Virginia Madueño, who later sought and then abandoned a recount.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be used at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2385.