Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

Archive for the month “September, 2017”

Modesto’s Police Chief Used Public Funds to Hide Energy Theft By Chamber CEO

By Emerson Drake   

In a Public Record Request (PPR) just received yesterday it was revealed that Modesto Police Chief Galen Carroll is using taxpayer  money from his budget to pay for electricity being stolen by Chamber of Commerce CEO Cecil Russell for his gated community’s security cameras.

We’ve told this story before but the recent developments are disturbing to say the least.  In July/August of 2016, Cecil Russell fronting for the his Chateau Provence Homeowners Association, used Rank Security to mount three cameras from city light poles and then had Rank’s workforce illegally tie into the poll’s power supply without Modesto Irrigation Districts’ knowledge or approval.  This theft of electricity went unnoticed until a sharp eyed MID worker spotted the illegal cameras and power hook-ups.

In an email to the city December 6th, 2016, MID pointed out the theft and asked the city to make the appropriate disconnect.  In a series of emails obtained through a PPR it was learned that city staff was preparing to unhook the illegal instillation until the MPD Chief Galen Carroll intervened.  This was all documented in our 3/3/2017  story.  We also learned that Chamber lobbyist and CEO Russell had not applied for any of the easily available permits despite suggestions to the contrary by Chief Carroll.

Why the deception?  As Dave Boring (member of the Chamber of Commerce) told the Council a few weeks ago: “We’re the movers and shakers, you need to take care of us”, talk about self entitled. The way we see it the only thing that makes sense is they just didn’t care.  After all if you have the Police Chief pulling strings to keep your little project afloat (by avoiding being arrested and by paying for electricity) and away from the public eye, why bother following the law. And don’t buy the story that there should be an easier way to get this approved because only an elitist wouldn’t even bother to pull the necessary paperwork to apply, which by the way was discovered in another PPR.

Grand Theft?  Well if you total the monies owed to MID  and now the city for the illegal instillation, electricity theft, meter instillation and having to rewire at least one of the connections for being faulty, it comes to significantly more than the $1,000 threshold required by law for Grand Theft.

The most current claim they are making, which we’ve only heard since this malfeasance of using public funds to pay for a politically connected, well-to-do gated community’s electric bill,  is the city is going to create a program where the city will have the camera’s bill sent to them for the gated subdivision to pay.  But why the delay you ask?  After all the theft has been going on for over 14 months and the city has been paying for over 6 months.  We don’t have the answer to that but the city started paying the bill in May and is still paying the bill and yet there’s no program for reimbursement.  It seems the only thing moving them forward is us exposing what’s been going on.

So you probably won’t surprised to learn the Graceada Park camera bill has been going to the city and hasn’t been being paid by Rank Security like you’ve been told (yes the Bee was given erroneous  information too).

Just so you know the City Council has been made aware several times of the electricity theft by the Chamber’s CEO.  It is one of the reasons Councilman Bill Zoslocki melted down at a recent City Council meeting and started attacking the citizen informing them.  But we can’t say for sure if they were aware of the MPD using taxpayer money to support certain ‘special’  neighborhoods electric bills.  We do know that Joe Lopez has been aware the whole time and it’s just another reason to pass on him for the Permanent City Manager position.

It’s time for the silence to end.

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Modesto, Transparency, and City Attorney Adam Lindgren

By Emerson Drake  

Every time we have a change in regime change in politics,  local or national the incoming politicians promise transparency in government.  In this regard Modesto is no different.  But promises from candidates are many times forgotten as soon as the votes are counted.

Sometime the promises are just so much hot air and sometimes the recently elected have no idea the challenges they’ll face trying to make staff holdovers understand their true commitment.  After a short conversation with Mayor Brandvold I came away with his desire for more openness in Modesto’s government.  At the time I expressed concerns about this NOT happening  because of City Attorney Adam Lindgren.

After a somewhat longer conversation with the City Attorney we feel our concerns were well founded.  The topic was the recent Ethics Workshop held in council chambers with Council members, the Modesto Police Department higher ups, and the decision makers on city staff.

Workshops, especially Brown Act Workshops, (meaning three or more members of the council are scheduled to attend) have been a touchy issue for years.  The City liked to schedule the workshop meetings in smaller venues than the council chambers.  Whether it’s the small room under the stairs in the basement of 1010 10th or on the second floor, room 2005, these rooms aren’t setup for video recording.

Attorney Lindgren reminds us that in the past (already a resistance to change or an desire to maintain status quo?) the city hasn’t recorded and then made available to the public ANY workshops.  For the record we’ve protested this decision repeatedly.  Why is this important you ask?  The groundwork for many of the decisions the Council will be making comes from these workshop/meetings.

Just one example is since December of 2013 and Bill Zoslocki, Jenny Kenoyer, and Tony Madrigal taking office more than 14,000 pieces of correspondence (read emails) have been kept from public scrutiny.  We wondered if this was due to the ethics training they received from the City Attorney so we made a Public Record Request.  At first we were told even the most recent one would not be available to the public.  This seemed strange since they had created a ‘lending library’ of copies for any city employee to sign out that missed the training.  But we wanted to be able to compare the instructions they received recently to the ones they received when they first took office.

The City Attorney’s office finally relented and agreed to give us a copy of the most current disc but the only other disc that could be found (surprise, surprise) is from 2012. Notice that’s from before the current occupants of the council seats were present.  Adam actually said the city doesn’t have to give or make available to the public copies of workshops.  Lets think this through.  Brown Act meetings, workshops,  paid for by the tax payers that are none of the citizens business?

Lets compare this to the Modesto Irrigation District.  The MID has ALL of their workshops scheduled for after regular meetings, which the public can attend, can participate in, and  are streamed live and available to be watched 24/7/365 online.  Now that’s transparency.

In Modesto the City Attorney says (paraphrased) these are workshops and they don’t need to be recorded and if you can’t make the meeting that’s just too bad.  This includes all of Modesto’s workshops from Finance, Community and Economic, to Parks and Rec, to the Utility Dept.

Is this Transparency?  We don’t think so.  Do you?

 

City Staff’s SNAFU or is it something Worse? The $2.1 M Boondoggle

By Emerson Drake  

The Council meeting last week 9/12/17 was confusing and disconcerting so lets go over the numbers, so we’re all on the same page.

On 9/25/12 the Council authorized a five year contract with Garrett Thompson for hot patch work (street repair from water meter installation and small water main repairs) for $749,700 per year totaling $3.748 Million. Within two years the city had spent 75% of the money. So on 12/9/14 two years into the contract staff came back and asked for and received another $3.1 Million to be added to the original agreement.

On 12/15/15 the Finance staff increased the purchasing authority to $9.6 Million WITHOUT the Council’s approval.  And last week staff tried to slide a $2.2 Million catch-up/increase on the consent calendar on a week when it was known it was going to be a short meeting because the Council had to be in Riverbank for joint meeting with the Riverbank City Council.

First of all it’s almost the old bait and switch. Staff tells the Council that $3.748 Million will pay for five years of hot patches and then the amount spent goes up 250%.  It wasn’t cost overruns or because of change orders like Tony ‘the clueless one’ Madrigal  wondered.  Yes, Garrett was the low cost bidder but the contract was by the square foot and that price didn’t go up, city staff just kept ordering more patches and spending money that hadn’t been authorized.

Deanna Christensen claimed someone had entered erroneous numbers multiple times into the city’s Oracle financial system.  The Oracle system was purchased in 2010 at the cost of $7.4 Million and was supposed to prevent just this kind of problem. And to protect the citizens the questions of whether inducements were offered to make the mistakes or could the missing contract language and oversight be intentional?

Among other questions we have are did staff intentionally put out to bid a RFP that could never cover all the worked scheduled/planned?  Was easier to get Council’s buy in for a much smaller amount than was needed figuring then it would be easy to up the approval in the future? If it was the latter then it worked.

Talk about a lack of trust.    Kristi Ah You asked Mayor Brandvold how the search was coming for an in house auditor. His reply was he’d been working on it the last few weeks. But why the questions about an auditor?  We already have an independent outside firm, Moss Adams, auditing anything they’re asked to audit.  The Council wants someone that reports to them at more than twice the cost and not to the City Manager.  If you don’t trust Joe Lopez, and we don’t, then get rid of him and look outside for someone else.  As an aside you might not want to hire someone that works for the headhunters you hire like you did the last time.

Zoslocki, Kenoyer, and Madrigal all voted for the second expansion of the contract and have been there during the boondoggle.  All of them seemed concerned but appeared to be willing to vote to pay the $306,000 that night (but only Kenoyer was willing to verbalize her thoughts).  Doug Ridenour made some of his usual comments that he doesn’t believe in emotional decisions or feelgood proposals but never actually said what those might be.

Zoslocki claimed he talks with respect and doesn’t let emotion enter into his thinking.  That would have drawn a laugh from the audience the night of the General Plan discussion after he melted down and verbally attacked a speaker who showed Zoslocki was hiding his council communications from the public.  And talking about Kenoyer, there is still the video where she rants “If you work for the city, I’m the boss of you”.

The bottom line is it doesn’t take 10 to 12 weeks to discover how and when the erroneous changes were inputted.  It doesn’t take 10-12 weeks to know who was involved.  You don’t get a contract from the city and not know how much it’s worth. For trying to slide this by on consent, Joe Lopez should be gone.  Zoslocki, Kenoyer, and Madrigal by their actions and disconnect don’t deserve to be on the Council.  All three would like nothing better than to have this be swept under the rug until after the elections. And last but not least Garrett Thompson should not be allowed to bid in the current RFP.   People need to be held accountable starting with our elected officials.

 

 

 

EyeonModesto is coming to the Airwaves Near You

By Emerson Drake  

In order to help the residents of Modesto and Stanislaus County stay better informed  about what is going on in local government and maybe even more importantly, why it’s happening, we’ll be going on the air on 93.3 FM KPHD Modesto and 104.9 FM KGIG  Salida.

 

This answers the burning question of  “Who Will Tell The People?”   With,  “We will tell the people.”

 

We’ll be interviewing on air, politicians and candidates for you to get to know and giving you our honest opinion supported by public record requests and actually being at or viewing the MID,  City Council,  and County Board meetings, and talking with our elected officials.

 

A big Thanks to Brad Johnson and everyone involved in bringing the show to a radio near you.  Details to follow.

Should Modesto’s General Fund be Used For Monopoly Money?

By Emerson Drake  

The Modesto City Council wants to buy an entire city block downtown for $3.1 Million dollars. We don’t have money for more police officers, fire equipment, maintaining our city tree program, or proper care for our homeless population BUT we can afford to buy a block of downtown property?
The Northern and Southern boundaries are F and E Streets and the East and West by 10th and 9th. Now the city isn’t going to play landlord so they’ll probably hire Benchmark for property management.
It’s just another game of insider monopoly. The local NAI Benchmark is managed by, yes you guesses it, Ryan Swehla and Joe Muratore of Modesto’s infamous NSP2 program where Joe had to payback $58,000 or be charged with a felony.
Of course it’s being powered by the Modesto Chamber of Commerce’s developer connection.
We can’t help but point out Councilman Mani Grewal, best known for renting to massage parlors involved in prostitution and having his property used for a raucous  car sideshow in Wood Colony, is campaigning hard for this idea to be accepted.  According to those we’ve spoken to, Bill ‘the broker’ Zoslocki is pushing for approval also but couldn’t be reached in time for comment.
We think Modesto has better places to spend $3.1M  don’t you?
A special workshop, today, before the meeting?  What’s the rush?

AGENDA

City of Modesto

 CITY COUNCIL WORKSHOP
Chambers, Basement Level
Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th Street
Modesto, California

Tuesday September 05, 2017, at 3:30 p.m.

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