DEL MAR — Councilman Carl Hilliard is back in the saddle as the city continues discussions to potentially buy the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
In January Hilliard voluntarily resigned from two subcommittees that deal with the fairgrounds, including the one focused on the sale, after the District Attorney’s Office and Fair Political Practices Commission received complaints — none of them formal, he said — that because he owns and breeds race horses his participation in the proposed purchase presented a possible conflict of interest.
Since then he has also recused himself from council meetings during which the potential purchase was being discussed.
City Attorney Leslie Devaney said she was unable to identify any conflict based on public records as it pertained to her client, which is the city of Del Mar. However, her ability to delve into the matter “was and is limited given that the city attorney does not serve as independent legal counsel to any one council member,” she said.
As a result, Hilliard hired former San Diego District Attorney Paul Pfingst to conduct a “thorough review” of all his financial interests and relationships with the fairgrounds and horse racing to determine if he had any conflicts, Devaney said.
Based on Pfingst’s review of Hilliard’s business and financial relationships, as well as his required statement of economic interests, Devaney said at the March 7 council meeting she could find no basis “that would lead me to recommend to the city of Del Mar that Mr. Hilliard should recuse himself from any discussions or decisions on the fairground issues that Del Mar is engaged in at present.”
“Therefore, the decision whether or not to recuse himself from these discussions is Mr. Hilliard’s decision alone,” she said.
“I’m unrecused,” Hilliard said in response. “There was never any doubt about it at all but because of the serious allegations that were made it had to … be thoroughly investigated.”
Hilliard said Pfingst based his conclusion on a preliminary opinion given to him by the Fair Political Practices Commission. Hilliard, an attorney, said a formal decision from the FPPC generally takes about six months.
Hilliard said he owns or co-owns about a dozen horses in California and Kentucky. He said in the past two years he has entered only one in the Del Mar race and it earned him $400.
“I think I gave it (the horse) away,” he said.