Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

Archive for the month “January, 2012”

January 24th Modesto Irrigation Meeting

Let the War for our MID Begin

By Emerson Drake

It was nice to see one of our newest Board members asking question regarding expenditures.   In the distant past that was a mainstay of Cecil Hensley, requesting information and challenging what he considered frivolous spending on the part of staff.  Larry Byrd was just seeking background of the Warrants or ‘bills’ MID was paying this month.

We were forced to endure a 50 minute workshop by Carol Whiteside regarding Board members Roles and Responsibility or Board Theory 101.  Unfortunately it didn’t cover the topic everyone believed was going to be covered, the reason for November 22, 11 meeting, A Resolution approving Modesto Irrigation District Board Policies regarding Board Governance Process and Board –Staff Linkage.

I know that’s a mouthful but its the Resolution Allen Short attempted to push through for MID Board approval after the election but before the new Directors could be seated and vote on the subject.  Both of the new Board members requested it be delayed until they could discuss and provide input on the subject.

When the embattled long timers on the Board have no idea of which way to turn, they fall back and punt.

Watching Board President Tom Van Groningen crawl sideways in response to a question from a ratepayer and claim in today’s meeting that these were just guidelines and not cast in stone, had to be seen to be believed.  There’s no nice way to say it because he was literally lying through his teeth. Originally the plan was to pass this resolution word for word.

Many people spoke out during the input for the good of the district portion of the meeting but fireworks erupted when Dave Thomas of the Stanislaus Taxpayers Association spoke.  Dave has been instrumental in trying to get information out of MID through Public Information Act Requests.

As many are aware MID hasn’t been forth coming with these requests.  We’ve had to go so far as to have a Letter to the Editor Published in the Bee to hold MID’s feet to the fire.

It’s felt that MID General Manager Allen Short over stepped his authority when he went to Washington and talked with Senator Diane Feinstein regarding the sale of water to the City and County of San  Francisco.  When he pressed former Board President Director Paul Warda if he had made a special request of Allen Short, Director Warda stated he had not.

At this point Tom Van Groningen became combative with Mr. Thomas and used about a minute and a half (no I didn’t time it)  of Dave’s alloted time and when the buzzer went off indicating Dave was out of time, Tom Van Groningen became aggressive pounding his gavel repeatedly unwilling to allow Dave to finish his statement despite the fact Van Groningen had “stolen” time  from him against past MID Board policy. Director Van Groningen became so incensed his face turned beet red and spittle flew from his mouth as he repeatedly slammed the gavel down.  Van Groningen was so rattled he then declared the meeting in recess and had an armed security guard remove Dave from the meeting.  Dave being the gentleman that he is left without further incident.

 Dave had written a records request and he read it into the record. The following is Dave Thomas statement to the board in its entirety in its original letter format.

. To:   Chairman of the Modesto Irrigation District Board of Directors, Tom VanGronigan

Tom, my good friend, we have served on several committees and boards since the early 1990’s.  We pretty much know each other.  I meant to write this request Tuesday afternoon, but just could not get to it.  I am pretty sure that we are quite busy, and you understand that this request is less timely than I want. 
In any case, I, and the Association are in need of information regarding Allen Short’s October visit to  Washington D. C. to visit Senator Diane Feinstein, Congressman Jeff Denham’s assistant, Nancy Pelosi’s Policy Advisor and two FERC officials.  This means that I am required to make a request under the tenets of the California Public Records Act, we request the following information:
    1.  MID counsel O’Laughlin responded to my PRA request by sending me a letter signed by Allen Short and addressed to Senator Feinstein, the first sentence of which thanks the Senator for meeting “…with the group from Modesto Irrigation District and City and County of San Francisco.” regarding Allen’s “deal points” for a 27,200 acre foot water transfer of MID water to San Francisco. 
        During the Jan 24th MID meeting, you refused to identify the “group” of people from MID and CCSF who met with the Senator.  This refusal requires me to make a PRA request to tell us exactly who visited the Senator with Allen.  Please tell us the name and title of every person who visited with Allen and the Senator.
    2.  Please tell us if you were one of the people who were in the group mentioned in #1, above.  Moreover, identify any other MID AGM’s, managers, any MID employee, spouse, relative or friend that accompanied the MID entourage whether they paid for their expenses or their expenses were paid by MID
    3.  Please tell us the dates, locations and reasons for the visits, of every meeting you have had with Allen Short and/or Tim O’Laughlin, from July 1, 2011, to Jan 23, 2012.  This includes every non-scheduled MID Board meeting, whether just you and Allen, or you and Tim, or both Allen and Tim and others.
    4.  Please tell us what expenses MID has paid for your travel, entertainment, any auto expenses, any other payments or reimbursements whether cash or credit card, from July 1, 2011 to Jan 23, 2012.
    5.  Finally, during Tuesday’s meeting, last year’s Board Chairman, Paul Warda, admitted that Allen’s trip to Washington D. C., as described in #1 above, was not authorized by the BoD.  Please confirm, as current Chair, that this trip was outside the authority vested in Allen.  Or, if you know that Allen’s trip was appropriate under Resolution 95-66,or any other Board sanction, please tell us.

    Thank you, Tom, I appreciate your candid, transparent and complete response to our request.  I know you are committed to total transparency in all your efforts to protect the MID customers.

I have made similar Public Information Requests since the meeting and will be following them up.


Church Denies Communion To Child

Seven year old Denum Ellarby has been denied his first communion because he has Down Syndrome.  His parents have received a letter from the Diocese of Leeds telling them that Denum lacks the “concentration” they deem necessary to prepare for communion.  Apparently you can only have communion when you “take part in the Church’s life and understand the Church’s faith”.  So much for compassion.  Remember when the rubber bracelets became so popular a few years ago – the ones with WWJD on them?  What Would Jesus Do – certainly not this.  Jesus loves everyone, especially those who aren’t perfect.  But the Catholic Church certainly doesn’t.

Disgusting that the Catholic Church will protect its child molesters but deny communion to a little boy because he isn’t perfect.

Racy Photos Uncovered Involving Modesto Police

MODESTO, Calif. (KCRA) — Modesto police have launched an internal investigation into an officer after several questionable pictures became public, the department said Tuesday.


Modesto Police Officer Photos


Eight photos show several half-dressed women on top of a Modesto police squad car.


Some pictures show an officer pretending to handcuff one woman.


The officer was on duty at the time the photos were taken, according to the Police Department.


“Very disturbing — that’s our taxpayer money that is supporting this,” resident Lee Chee said.


Said Lt. Rick Armendariz: “This is definitely a blemish. This is a mark against the Modesto Police Department, but does not reflect the hard work of the men and women of the department.”


The officer involved in the photos with the women on the squad car has not been employed by the department since 2010, police said.


The reason he is no longer working there is based on a personnel issue, officials said.


Two other photos in question involve a current eight-year veteran. Police said an internal investigation is underway.


Police said the officer in the pictures will remain on duty, pending the outcome of the investigation.


The Gutting of the Tin Cup By the Modesto City Council

By Emerson Drake

Time Is Now Clean Up Politics – Tin Cup

Tin Cup Change 6/7/05

TO:  Mayor and Councilmembers

FROM: City Attorney

SUBJECT: Proposed Revision to theModestoMunicipal Code

CONTACT: Michael D. Milich, City Attorney, mmilich@modestogov.com, x75284


Introduction of an ordinance amending Section 2-8.01 of Chapter 8 of Title 2 of the

Modesto Municipal Code increasing the amount of campaign contributions over the prior 48

months that triggers a conflict of interest from $1,000 to $3,000, clarifying that campaign

contributions received by councilmembers in connection with their candidacy for any other

elective office do not count towards the $3,000 limit, and eliminating the limitation on

contributions in the week preceding the election.


Modesto Municipal Code Section 2-8.01, et seq. (“TIN CUP Ordinance”) prohibits a

councilmember from exerting any influence on a City decision in which he/she has reason to

know they have a financial interest.  The ordinance states that a councilmember has a prescribed

financial interest if the decision will have a material effect on a major campaign contributor to

that member.  A major campaign contributor is defined under the ordinance to mean a person or

entity that has contributed $1,000 or more in the aggregate over the past 48 months.  The

ordinance was adopted by the City Council in 1986 and has basically remained unchanged since

that time.

The ordinance also imposes a reporting requirement in addition to those imposed on

candidates by the Fair Political Practices Act.  Finally, the ordinance prohibits contributions

exceeding $99.00 in the final week preceding the election and continuing until the certification

of the election results.

On May 10, 2005, the Modesto City Council considered a letter from Rob Ellett, Chairman

of the Government Relations Committee of the Chamber of Commerce which requested that the

Council eliminate the TIN CUP ordinance.  By motion of the Council this issue was referred to

the Audit Committee.  The Audit Committee met on June 2, 2005, and unanimously

recommended that the TIN CUP ordinance be amended in the following respects:

· The $1,000 limit be raised to $3,000.Mayor and Councilmembers

Proposed Revision to theModestoMunicipal Code

Page 2

· The ordinance be amended to clarify that it does not apply to campaign

contributions received by a councilmember in connection with that

councilmember’s candidacy for any other elective office.

· The limitation on contributions in the week preceding the election be eliminated.

The changes recommended by the Audit Committee are set forth in the attached



City Attorney



cc: City Manager

City Clerk

How it was passed: 6/28/05

This item removed from Consent.
B. Ordinance 3391-C.S. amending the Section 2-8.01 of the Modesto Municipal Code and repealing Section 2-8.03 of the Modesto Municipal Code relating to campaign reform (Tin Cup).
· Motion approving final adoption of Ordinance 3391-C.S. amending the Section 2-8.01 of the Modesto Municipal Code and repealing Section 2-8.03 of the Modesto Municipal Code relating to campaign reform (Tin Cup) recommended.

ACTION: By Motion (Keating/O’Bryant; majority; Dunbar, Jackman no; Marsh absent) approved the final adoption of Ordinance 3391-C.S. amending the Section 2-8.01 of the Modesto Municipal Code and repealing Section 2-8.03 of the Modesto Municipal Code relating to campaign reform (Tin Cup) recommended.



The GOP Plan to Steal The Election

By EOM Staff

Wisconsin, Florida and Ohio have passed laws recently which RESTRICT VOTER REGISTRATION DRIVES!  They are not just attempting to disenfranchise voters, they are trying to prevent them from even registering to vote. 
Take Joy Leiberman of Missouri.  She is 80 years old and has been voting for 60 years.  She won’t be able to vote this year because her birth certificate DOES NOT LIST HER MIDDLE NAME!  Really?  Is it appropriate to prevent someone from voting because birth certificates from 80 years ago don’t contain all the information they do now?
Or Larry Butler, born in 1926 in South Carolina, when birth certificates were often not issued to blacks.  If Mr. Butler wants to vote in the presidential election this year, he will have to pay $150 to get the documents now required by South Carolina law.  Many people born in the 20s and 30s do not have birth certificates because they were delivered by mid-wives.  They simply do not have the documentation necessary for some of the new voting ID laws.
The Republicans know that if they can shave off 1% – 2% of the voting public, they can swing the election.  But what an under-handed, un-American way to win.

Good Taste or Tastes Good?

Last night we got an example of what kind of politician Councilman Dave Cogdill is going to be. He received a $1,000 campaign contribution from Chris Tyler and then in committee voted for Mr. Tyler for the Planning Commission.  Good Taste would suggest he recuse himself from the vote. Tastes Good is the flavor of large campaign contributions to a politician.

While he likes the taste it leaves a sour sensation in our mouths.  

How about you?

Today’s MID Meeting

Well it was as rowdy and contentious as any I’ve seen. The public’s distrust of the senior members of the Board, Tom Van Groningen, Paul Warda, and Glen Wild and especially General Manager Allen Short was not only palpable but jumped right out at all of those present.

No one trusted Allen Shorts benign comment “it’s just a sale of 2,200 acre feet to the City and County of San Francisco (CCSF) that could end up at over 25,000 acre feet per year for 60 or more years.  But today we’re only discussing the sale of 2,000 acre feet.”

This was in the Board agenda report that was available at the door and on the website www.mid.org

The first speaker was John Duarte, who laid it on the line regarding his belief the water was more important to the citizens and farmers of the valley than it was to the CCSF. John was a nonstop ball of fire or to better describe it he came out both guns blazing, loaded for bear and I hope he’ll send us his speech for publication here.

His finish was greeted by resounding applause from the audience, which irritated Board President Van Groningen to no end.  Speaker after speaker got up and deplored the thought of selling our water to the bay area.  The audience, many who attend on a regular basis, were obviously fed up with Van Groningen’s restrictive controlling ways and continued to applaud the speakers.

Several asked why the public meetings and the accompanying comments hadn’t been recorded.  Due to schedule conflicts I only went to one of the four public meetings which were held and the sentiment there was overwhelmingly against any sale what so ever.  According to comments made today the others were the same.

When Van Groningen claimed he had heard many comments for the sale at meetings he was laughed at.  Another speaker suggested this was why they didn’t record the meetings so they could spin the responses and deny what really happened.

Dave Thomas, President of the Stanislaus Taxpayers Association, during his allotted five minutes, tried to delineate the mismanagement of MID since the arrival of Allen Short but even though he hurried he ran out of time for the obvious reason there are just so many to recount.

Among the ones he mentioned were the Mountain House debacle which is still losing us Millions each year, the under funded MID pension plan, the four cities fiasco where we still have approximately $3.5 Million worth of equipment just sitting around wasting away that will never be used, the $6 Million Don Pedro warrantee allowed to lapse on a roof there, a ‘new’ water treatment plant that could cost $80Million to replace or repair, and of course the Bio-mass plant which cost ratepayers 2 plus million to get out of the lawsuit that attorney O’Laughlin said we didn’t have to worry about.

MID attorney Tim O’Laughlin snarled at Dave Thomas within seconds of Thomas’ 5 minute signal sounding.  Why he did that could be considered obvious.

O’Laughlin has been taking fire in recent months for dragging his feet and placing unnecessary obstacles in the way of Public Information Requests (see today’s editorial page, letters to the Editor of the Bee.)  But apparently he felt the need to personally attack Dave Thomas for his remarks about Allen Short and Thomas wanting to finish a final sentence.

At the end of the meeting Director Larry Byrd made a motion to shelve the project, which died for lack of a second.

Nock Blom explained he wanted to get all of the information before he made a decision.

The outcome was 4-1 with Larry Byrd being the only dissenter.

I only wish I could do justice to all of the eloquent speeches given today but I can’t.  So please everyone take a moment and comment to www.EyeOnModesto.com   You all deserve to be heard and I’ll make sure everyone gets posted.


Will Candidate and now Councilman Dave Lopez Make Good on His Word?

By Emerson Drake

On October 24, 2011, Dave Lopez was being interviewed on Athens Abell’s “On Watch” television show when he made some promises to his constituents. One of them was in response to Ms. Abell’s question regarding the misuse of SCAP and NSP2 funds.  “If the audit comes back and it says there has been a misappropriation of funds and it’s this persons department will you personally call for their resignation?”

Dave Lopez’s response was “Absolutely, absolutely, that is what you should count on your local officials for. You find the bad piece and you cut it away.”  Yet the findings are in and Joe Muratore has been potentially threatened with debarment because of his misdeeds. Which means he could be prevented from ever having anything to do with government funded financing and the question we’ve asked Susana Wood, City Attorney, is will Modesto be barred from future participation in federal funds if Mr. Muratore remains on the City Council.  To this point we haven’t received an answer.

Quite honestly we don’t expect to receive one since she’s the council’s attorney and not the attorney for the citizens ofModesto.


Muratore’s fellow City Council members have remained completely silent including Dave  Lopez. This is an extremely sad state of affairs forModesto.  We have enough black eyes in the nation’s perception without having a councilman spreading his particular form of greed throughout the city’s business.

We can’t forget the $48,000 dollars still in question between Mr. Muratore and his business partner Ryan Swehla and Swehla’s business partner Scott Monday.

It appears these men have conspired to keep as much of the NSP2 money for themselves as possible by controlling the disbursement of funds from the city (remember the contractor couldn’t apply for more money because of the $1.2Million saved for Muratore’s Benchmark Realty’s use on the apartment on which Benchmark made the $62,500 commission).

Will Dave Lopez follow through on the ideal his campaign promise was based on, or is it business as usual in the family owned and operated Modesto?

It’s time for Modesto’s citizens to clean house and get respect back for their City Council. If any one on the city council remains either quiet or in support of Mr. Muratore they are part of the problem and not the solution.

To listen to Dave Lopez’s words go to


Does Mitt Romney Know What’s Going On?

EOM Staff
During last night’s Republican debate, Mitt Romney was asked if thought states should be allowed to ban contraception.  He hemmed and hawed and the question was repeated.  His comment was that “contraception is working just fine.  I don’t know if a state has a right to ban contraception.  No state wants to!” he told moderator George Stephanopolous.  He then wondered why he was being asked such a silly question.  He also said he couldn’t imagine a state pursuing such a policy.  Obviously this man who wants to be our President is completely unaware of what is going on in America.  Missouri recently voted down the personhood amendment on their ballot.  There are a handful of states that will vote this year on a personhood amendment.  So, yes, Mitt – several states are hoping to ban birth control!
While proposed amendments don’t exactly say that granting “personhood” to a fertilized egg will end birth control, it will, in effect, ban IUDs and the birth control pill.  Both of these methods simply prevent the fertilized egg from implanting itself in the lining of the uterus.  If a fertilized egg is considered a person, these methods will be banned.
Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are the only GOP candidates who have not signed a pledge with Personhood USA to declare that a fertilized egg is a person.  However, they have both stated that they believe life begins at conception, which certainly leaves the door open to the next step – preventing American women from using birth control.
Yes, there are many important issues to consider when you vote.  The economy, jobs, health-care, preventing future wars….but if women lose the right to determine how many children they have and when they have them, they are losing one of the more basic human rights.  Consider the long-term effects.  If a young married woman can’t use birth control, she will probably start having a baby every other year.  That prevents her from having a career. The more children she has, the harder it will be to provide for them.  Doctor’s visits, immunizations, dental care, vision care, clothes, food, text books, shoes, college…  Our schools are already over-crowded.  There are more Americans living in poverty now than since before World War II.  The programs to assist low-income families are strained and in many cases, closing down.  And if birth control is banned, all of these problems will become even more severe.
So before you vote in November, carefully consider all the things that are important to you.  And remember, birth control is important to millions of American women.  If you have a mother, a sister, an aunt, a wife, a daughter…birth control is important to them.  And it should be important to all the men in their lives, too.

Why Are Voting Rights Being Restricted?

By EOM Staff

Right wing politicians have long been opposed to a national photo identification card, but are making a massive effort to institute a photo ID requirement for voting.  The Republicans are now waging a battle against the American voter.  Laws are being sought that restrict access to the voting booth.  Laws that will disproportionately harm people of color, low income people and both young and elderly voters.
Many of these bills have been modeled on legislation drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council.  This is a conservative advocacy group whose founder explained:  “Our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down”.
The Justice Department recently blocked South Carolina’s new law requiring voters to show photo Ids at the polls.  They did this based on data submitted by South Carolina that showed minority voters were about 20% less likely to have the acceptable photo ID required at the polling places.
The number of voters who may be disenfranchised by this wave of legislation is estimated to be upward of 5 million.  Statistically, most of these would be expected to vote along Democratic lines.  These efforts to quash voter participation are not genuine, grassroots movements, but have relied on funding from people like the Koch brothers.
Here are some examples from the Modesto Bee’s recent opinion page about the results of voter restriction:
In Nashville, 93 year old Thelma Mitchell had a state issued ID.  An ID that she used as a cleaner at the state capitol building for over 30 years.  This ID allowed her access to the governor’s office, but she was recently told that it wasn’t good enough to get her into the voting booth.
Darwin Spinks, an 86 year old World War II veteran from Tennessee, went to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get a photo ID for voting purposes, since drivers over 60 there are issued driver’s licenses without photos.  After waiting in two lines, he was told he had to pay $8.  Requiring a voter to pay a fee to vote has been unconstitutional since the poll tax was outlawed in 1964.
Another elderly Tennessee woman was initially denied a voter ID when her birth certificate with her maiden name did not match her married name.  She was unable to locate her decades old marriage license.  To read the Bee’s entire opinion, click here: http://www.modbee.com/2012/01/05/2013369/voter-id-laws-often-end-up-restricting.html
Civil rights groups say the restrictions amount to an attack on voting rights on a level not seen since segregation.  An estimated 100 civil rights organizations marched from New York City’s Upper East Side to the United Nations last month to draw attention to the mounting problem of voter suppression in communities of color across the nation.  Many of the proposed laws will require extensive documentation in order to obtain a voter ID card.  It is typically minorities, low income and again the elderly or young who lack the necessary documentation.
The real election outcomes in 2012 will most likely hinge more on the battle between billionaire political funders like the Kochs versus the thousands of people in the streets demanding – ONE PERSON, ONE VOTE!

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