When area politicians shop in their hometowns, they have to walk the line. On one hand, they try to make their purchases in the cities they represent, which keeps tax dollars in town. On the other hand, they have to be careful not to appear to favor one business over the other – or to compromise their integrity when it comes to voting on city projects. “I guess you just have to feel it in your gut, what’s right and what’s not right,” said Glendora City Councilwoman Karen Davis, who is the pastor of First Christian Church of Glendora. “I’ve had a few instances where people offer to do such and such if I show up at their event, and it’s usually something really small. But I always say `no.’ Just the appearance could be considered questionable.” Recently, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office launched an investigation into the purchase of a car by West Covina City Councilman Roger Hernandez from a dealership owned by West Covina businessman Ziad Alhassen. Hernandez recently voted to allow Alhassen to receive $3.5 million – subject to conditions – in public funds from the West Covina Community Development Commission. Hernandez said he did nothing wrong by purchasing the car. Alhassen declined to comment. Although politicians contacted for this story did not want to talk directly about Hernandez’s case, some of them said it is can be tricky shopping in cities they were elected to represent. Almost all area towns have campaigns encouraging citizens to shop locally, because 1 percent of all taxable purchases go to a city’s coffers. So a big purchase, such as a $25,000 vehicle, would end up earning a city $250. “As council members, we always encourage our residents – in order to increase tax revenues – to shop, dine and make purchases in our community,” said Rosemead City Councilman John Tran, who is a close friend to Hernandez. “If we’re not doing the same thing, we’re hypocritical.” And just because a person is an elected official, he or she does not give up the right to haggle, Tran said. “I’m only human,” he said. “We always want the best deal. Haggling is part of human nature. As long as we are not using our influence to get a better deal, we’re OK.” In some cases, a politician will avoid a business or individual altogether, especially if the official knows a vote regarding the business will come up. “The best example of that would be Ibiza,” said Whittier City Councilman Owen Newcomer, who recently voted to revoke the alcohol-sales permit of Rome Fine Dining, which was previously called Ibiza Steak and Lounge. “I avoided going to the club because I knew I was going to have to vote,” he said. “If you are making a decision as a quasi-judicial body, such as revoking a \, generally the rule is to avoid talking to the people from the business in question.” It is better for a council to make decisions based on information presented at a public hearing, Newcomer said. The things that disqualify council members from voting on an issue are many, but the rule of thumb is: If the vote could make the official richer, in comparison to the majority of the people in a city or district, the official should not vote on the item. “If it’s reasonably foreseeable that it would have a material financial effect, they cannot participate,” Pasadena City Attorney Michele Beal Bagneris said. But the law is very nuanced, and the California Fair Political Practices Commission interprets the law as it sees fit, she said. Despite increased scrutiny, politicians say they won’t stop buying from businesses in the cities they represent. Newcomer, Davis and Covina Councilman Kevin Stapleton said they bought vehicles from dealers in their home cities. “I negotiated, like anybody else would,” Stapleton said of a 2003 GMC Yukon he bought at Reynolds Buick-GMC Trucks in Covina. “I never pointed out I was a council member.” Stapleton said he already knew what the vehicle was worth before he went into the dealership. “I think a person has got to know that if they are getting a deal that seems too good, somebody is messing with them,” he said. “It would be obvious.” One area car dealer said he wouldn’t be offering any area politicians special discounts. “George W. Bush, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, may- be,” joked David Wang, whose family owns CH Auto in Rosemead. “But with our local people, I don’t think so.” [email protected] (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2703 AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!