Pasadena’s top retail cannabis applicant helped fund Councilman John Kennedy’s 2018 annual holiday party, paying $8,800 at his request months before a consultant would select the company to receive one of the city’s six highly coveted permits.
The Nevada-based marijuana company, Integral Associates, hired local lawyer Richard McDonald to represent it in dealings with the city. Emails between McDonald and Kennedy show the attorney coordinating payments between his client and the councilman, then asking for a letter of recommendation two months later.
Kennedy declined to write the letter, according to the emails.
In an interview, Kennedy defended the behested payments, which are defined as money or other types of donations directed by a public official, specifically to charitable or legislative causes. In this case, the payments were made directly to party vendors the councilman hired for his annual holiday event, which Kennedy uses to connect with his constituents and members of the larger Pasadena community.
He said City Attorney Michele Bagneris reviewed all the donations before he accepted them. While Bagneris said Kennedy “regularly seeks legal advice” from her office, she declined to discuss any specific situations.
Under state law, behested payments are not illegal, although they have to be reported on public disclosure documents. However, Pasadena has a municipal law that forbids elected officials from accepting “compensation, gift, payment of expenses or any other thing of monetary value” if it creates the appearance of impropriety. Some city council members believe this fits that bill.
The cannabis permit process
Kennedy repeatedly said he had no influence over the cannabis permit selection process.
By design, that process was overseen by City Manager Steve Mermell’s office, which hired a third-party consultant to analyze all 122 applications. City Council members weren’t allowed to play any role in winnowing the list to six finalists.