Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

Archive for the month “April, 2014”

Thursday’s Debate for Sheriff and District Attorney

By EOM Contributorcountymontage

Last night (April 24th) was the first public debate between the candidates for Sheriff (incumbent Adam Christiansen and Deputy Tom Letras) and District Attorney (incumbent Birgit Fladagher and attorney Frank Carson).  I attended the debate as did approximately 80 other people.  First, it was nice to see that the sheriff did not wear his uniform while campaigning, as he was reprimanded by the Civil Grand Jury four years ago for violating California Government Code 3206.  This reprimand came as a result of a citizen filing a complaint.

The candidates were each allowed an opening statement, then responded to questions from the audience and ended with a closing statement.  The debate was moderated by Steve Madison (Chamber of Commerce and head of StanCo which oversees the county’s investments in housing) and Sandra Lucas, a Republican’s Democrat.

The first question asked by the audience was “the Sheriff’s Department has been hit with many lawsuits over the last several years.  What would each of you do to prevent future lawsuits?”

Sheriff Christianson claimed to have “won all the lawsuits.”   Deputy Letras contradicted this by saying that the Sheriff had just lied to the audience.  He believes there is a difference between winning a lawsuit in court and settling to avoid going to court.  He does  not consider it a “win” when the county pays hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlements.

Deputy Letras believes that open communication with employees can both improve morale and lesson the likelihood of lawsuits (50% of the lawsuits have been filed by employees).  He believes the sheriff needs to have an open door policy and be willing to meet with and discuss employee concerns and that by doing so problems can be solved before they become legal issues.  He indicated that the sheriff does not have good relationships with his subordinates and that is what leads to lawsuits and a high turnover in the department.

Sheriff Christiansen claims to have an open door policy and blames the rash of lawsuits on the fact that we live in a litigious world.  He believes that it doesn’t matter who the sheriff is, lawsuits will be filed.  He said that some of the employee lawsuits were “frivolous” and were filed because he was attempting to make employees be accountable.

The lawsuits have ranged from sexual harassment (a new female employee being pressured to attend an after work party at a strip club in order to “bond” with her co-workers), to racial prejudice, discrimination against injured workers, deputy brutality and the deaths of several people in custody.

Forty-one suits have been filed.  The county pays the first $250,000 in expenses (which comes to $10,250,000) settlements and expenses after that amount are covered by insurance.  The county maintains a general liability fund to cover the the deductibles, but administrators of the fund had to triple the amount during Sheriff Christiansen’s tenure.

One heart-breaking lawsuit was filed by the family of Craig Prescott, a former deputy himself.  Mr. Prescott was forced to resign and as a result began to suffer serious stress and anxiety to the point of becoming mentally unstable.  His family phoned the sheriff’s department when they became afraid for Craig’s safety, believing that his former co-workers would be able to help him.  He was placed in a cell and because a person in the next cell didn’t like the noise Craig was making, a decision was made to transfer him to a safety cell.  In order to transfer him (because he was mentally unstable), he was Tasered and shot with bean bag guns.  He was dragged into a safety cell at which time he was face-down, unconscious,  and deputies sat on him for several minutes, suffocating him.

Sheriff Christiansen defended the actions of his deputies and made every effort to delay an investigation.  After the lawsuit was filed, a video tape was released to the family’s attorney.  That video tape did not match the written description of the tape that had been viewed by the Assistant D.A.   The tape had been altered so parts described by the Assistant D.A. were missing.

Another question asked of all four candidates was “do you believe arresting and prosecuting drug offenders will reduce the drug problem, particularly where marijuana is concerned?”

D.A. Birgit Fladager expressed the opinion that we have to arrest them to help them hit bottom so they can then begin to recover.  She said that being in prison is the bottom and the rehabilitation can then start.  Ms. Fladager refers to marijuana as a “gateway” drug, believes it is addicting and leads to increased crime.

Attorney Frank Carson opined that we need more early education in the schools and more intervention.  He also said that it was a waste of time and resources to prosecute someone for growing a few plants in their back yard.

Sheriff Christiansen hammered on the point that even though California has legalized medical marijuana, it is still a federal offense and people should be arrested and prosecuted.

Deputy Letras believes that this issue will be settled by the voters in the near future and it’s best not to waste time and resources (and jail space) prosecuting people who smoke marijuana in their homes.

Questions were asked about the Sheriff’s Department budget and vacancies.  During the last two years, while complaining about vacancies (due to budget cuts) and fewer deputies on the street, the department has come in $1,000,000 under budget.  Sheriff Christiansen indicated that there is a lack of qualified applicants.  Deputy Letras questions why there is such a lack of applicants, noting that only 1% of applicants ever go very far into the application process.  This is true even for clerical positions.  He agrees that law enforcement needs to be held to a higher standard, but wonders if the standard Sheriff Christiansen has set is eliminating qualified applicants who would make very good employees and is also the reason there is a lack of diversity in the department.

Closing statements by the four candidates re-hashed what had been said in answering the questions, except that attorney Frank Carson said it was important to stop the 26,000 wiretaps put in place by D.A. Birgit Fladager (at a cost of $300,000) which have resulted in zero convictions.

In addition to lawsuits, there is an incident involving Sheriff’s Deputy Kari Abby which resulted in the death of Rita Elias.

To read more about the Sheriff’s Department

To read about Deputy Kari Abby

 

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Marsh, Zoslocki, Lewis, Russell, and Nyhoff were Collaborating All Along

By Emerson Drakechamberslargeplan

We’ve all listened to the Modesto Chamber of Commerce tell their story, some of us six or seven times,  of how their Transportation Committee met over a six month period (it gets longer every time they tell it) met to discuss Modesto’s land expansionist  planning needs for the next twenty years.  In previous articles we  chronicled how the Chamber went from needing 1,000 acres to over 25,300 of land during their series of presentations to various civic groups and  public entities. The above map is from their July 2013 presentation. This represents their goals and is an early view of what the comprehensive General Plan scheduled to begin two years from now will look like if they get their way.

As usual when it comes to people attempting to manipulate the public for their own selfish interests what they don’t tell us is just as, and sometimes more important, than the information they disseminate.

For example during these ‘planning meetings’ that Mayor Marsh and City Manager Nyhoff attended along with members of the Chamber’s Transportation Committee, they discussed how best to seize Wood Colony land for an industrial park and sneak Salida’s already zoned business park land from them to be placed under Modesto’s control.

I admit after hearing Mayor Marsh paint George Petrulakis and the Chamber as  ‘evil’ and a position we don’t totally disagree with, as the people we really had to worry about compared to himself and his friends,  I was surprised to learn of the initial collaborations. When his friends, Councilwoman Kenoyer of  (I don’t have to worry about Wood Colony because they can’t vote for me) fame,  and Councilman Gunderson who just can’t stop repeating “no one is talking about annexation”, while the Mayor keeps using the terms annexation and eminent domain, don’t make anyone feel they can be trusted.

Part of the ‘art of the deal’ was the watering down and delay of Denny Jackman’s Residential Urban Limits proposal.  An arrangement was made so the Chamber wouldn’t fight it when it came on the ballot but at the council meeting where it was proposed, a little ‘kicker’ was added.  Councilman Cogdill proposed that Modesto would repeal the Measures A and M  which deal with the public’s ability to control land acquisition and development(sewer expansion) by the city by requiring public advisory votes.

All of the General Plan Amendment discussion has been orchestrated from the beginning by just a few people. For example the rank and file of the Modesto Chamber of Commerce don’t get to vote on the Board of Directors, they’re appointed, the same is true of the Alliance.

The Modesto Planning Commission and Staff spent the better part of a year holding workshops for the public where Bill Zoslocki and Craig Lewis passionately advocated for a much larger footprint for Modesto.   People came forward and expressed themselves very succinctly.  And the Planning Commission’s meetings,  Brent Sinclair and the rest of Modesto’s planning staff listened to the public’s wishes and proposed a footprint which was in line with Denny’s original RUL proposal.

Then the politicians stepped in.  For a while you needed a score card to understand where each one of them stood.  From Nyhoff’s open mic fiasco where he dissed everyone who disagreed with the Chamber, we learned why Jenny turned her back on both her campaign promises, to protect prime farmland and keep Salida for Salida. The bumbling John Gunderson, so elated  the Mayor was finally talking to him as an equal, rubber stamped every proposal Marsh made whether he understood them or not.  For Cogdill and Zoslocki the mantra is “more is better.”  But Zoslocki added “but I can’t be caught voting/going on the record for it.”  Lopez, after being warned about people willing to energetically campaign against him in the Board of Supervisors race, disavowed any interest in Wood Colony. And Madrigal, well Tony is still out collecting prom dresses, rather than focusing on the larger tasks needed by the city.

But it all began with a few greedy real estate men (Zoslocki and Lewis), a small handpicked few from the Chamber,  a City Manager who spent more time working for the desires of a few in the Chamber of Commerce than he did the people of Modesto, and a Mayor who though he could write his own legacy by stealing the land from the residents of Salida, the farmers of Wood Colony and the German Baptist Brethren who, to take a page from Jenny Kenoyer’s book,  don’t vote anyway.

And We, the Citizens of Modesto are the only ones who can stop this.  And what have we been doing?  We’ve been  saying…. Sir, can I please have another?

It’s time to take back our City Government from the greedy special interests that are intent on ruining Modesto.

 

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