RODEO -- The chairman of the panel that advises Contra Costa County on land use and planning issues runs a nonprofit agency partially bankrolled by Phillips 66, whose Rodeo petroleum refinery has a project currently undergoing county review.
But Anthony Hodge, executive director of New Horizons Career Development Center on Parker Avenue, says the refinery does not influence his decisions, or the decisions of the other members of the Rodeo Municipal Advisory Council (MAC). That view was echoed by spokesmen for Phillips 66 and Contra Costa County Supervisor Federal Glover.
"We are partners with Phillips 66, but we have many benefactors," said Hodge, speaking of New Horizons.
Hodge, who also is pastor of Rodeo's Zion Hill Baptist Church, said the county was the biggest contributor to New Horizons' $289,000 budget last year, while Phillips chipped in $50,000, the same amount it contributed each of the previous three years. In 2009, Phillips 66 contributed $100,000 to New Horizons, Hodge said.
Hodge also does not list his jobs with New Horizons and Zion Hill on the required Statement of Economic Interests he filed with the clerk for the county board of supervisors in April 2013.
"I have no reportable positions, no community-based resources," he explained.
The advisory panel's conflict of interest code says members must report "all investments, income, and any business entity in which the person is a director, officer, partner, trustee, employee, or holds any position of management ... if located within the Rodeo Community Area." That includes anyone doing business in the Rodeo area.
Bob Stern, former president of the Center for Governmental Studies, said income from nonprofit organizations is often mistakenly assumed to be non-reportable.
As far as whether the funding of a nonprofit organization which employs an advisory panel member presents a conflict, Stern said, "Anything over half (of the total funding) would start raising questions," and that lesser percentages would fall into a gray area.
In July, the Rodeo MAC voted 4-2-1, with Hodge in the majority, to endorse the refinery's proposed propane-and-butane recovery project. Phillips 66 spokesman Mark Hughes cited the advisory panel's support moments before the county Planning Commission endorsed Phillips' project in November.
The project was scheduled for a hearing before the board of supervisors April 1, but the matter is postponed to May to give the county staff and Phillips 66 time to address some issues raised by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, said county Principal Planner Lashun Cross.
"To those paying attention, the RMAC's consistent support of Phillips 66 has always been a bit perplexing," said Dave Black, a Crockett resident. "Now it makes more sense."
One of the advisory members voting against endorsing Phillips' project was Marina Ramos, who quit the panel a short time later. She said she wanted more information on potential safety issues raised by the project, which Phillips says will create jobs and reduce pollution.
One of those safety issues, echoed by several residents at the meeting, is potential hazards of transporting and storing hydrocarbons in railroad tank cars in populated areas.
"I resigned from RMAC, because I felt we were supposed to be there to represent the people of Rodeo, not the corporation," Ramos said.
The advisory council, with seven members at full complement, advises the county board of supervisors and county staff on land use, planning and zoning issues. The supervisor whose district covers Rodeo selects the members with the consent of the full board of supervisors. Rodeo has been in Federal Glover's District 5 since 2011, when district boundaries were reshuffled.
Hodge, who lives in Hercules, was appointed to the panel in June 2012 shortly after the county board of supervisors expanded eligibility for membership to nonresidents who work in Rodeo."
Hodge and Glover praise Hughes and Phillips 66 on a YouTube video recorded at New Horizons in November during Glover's annual turkey giveaway, but that has no bearing on the panel's decision-making, Hughes said in an email.
"We strive to be a community partner working in concert with nonprofits to address social needs, not to influence decision-making," he wrote.
Ed Diokno, senior district representative for Glover, likened the relationship of Phillips 66 and New Horizons to a personal relationship in which one person is generous and the other one gives thanks.
Hodge was more blunt.
"We are not at the beck and call of Phillips 66," Hodge said. "We make conscionable decisions. We have to answer to this community and the powers above."Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760. Follow him at twitter.com/tomlochner