Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

Archive for the month “October, 2017”

Why This MID Election is Important to You

By  Emerson Drake  

Having gone to Modesto Irrigation District (MID) meetings regularly for more than ten years, researched their past, and following them with interest for more than twice that time, that there is no doubt that this election is crucial to MID’s and our future.

When you start to talk about MID people’s eyes have a tendency to glaze over after about 30 seconds, that is unless you are talking to them after they pay an electric bill during a hot spell when they have been using their air conditioning.   The fact is that MID was mismanaged for years by Tom Van Groningen (1993-2013) ,his cohorts on the Board and Allen Short, MID’s General Manager, during those same years.

A short look at MID’s history of business decisions shows an absence of, shall we say, critical thinking. It’s been suggested more than once if they’d flipped a coin instead of being led around by the nose or making the decisions themselves  they could have saved us about $500 Million dollars by the simple chance of the flip. From the geothermal fiasco, to a potential garbage burner to the overpriced (by 30 percent)  McHenry Ave solar farm contract north of town, it was one debacle after another.

Another fact is that a small group of business people led by Bill Lyons, yes the Bill Lyons of Mapes Ranch that wanted to sell our water to San Francisco, have controlled MID’s Board for this same period.  Bill has written checks for $5,000 to his special MID candidates (2 per election)  during contested election years. While his business partners, this year both developers and farmers,  took care of the third MID seat to the same fiscal level. His most recent beneficiaries were Paul Campbell and Jim Mortenson.  Campbell was elected and Mortenson was defeated by Jake Wenger four years ago.

So after they drove into almost $1 Billion dollars in debt what happened next?  Well first of all Larry Byrd, Nick Blom, followed by Jake Wenger two years later,  were elected to the MID Board.  Secondly the cost of natural gas plummeted.  This gave us the profit that people point to.  And what was the prudent course to take?  They started to pay down the debt.

Just as most of us learned as we matured you can’t live off of credit forever so the MID Board did the prudent thing.  It’s not sexy but it is necessary, you have to pay down the debt.  In the past MID, since they aren’t governed by the Public Utilities Commission, had the ability to our raise rates whenever they felt like it.

Our electric rates have been the same since 2011 so if you are feeling the effect of a high electric bill it means you used, like most of us,  a lot of electricity during the 31 days of 100 degree heat recently.

Now we’re faced with the decision of who to elect to the MID Board.  Both men are church going family men and business men.  But politically speaking that’s where the similarity ends. Stu has aligned himself with developers like Paul Zagaris, George Petrulakis, Mani Grewal, and special interest groups like Bill Lyons and company.  Jake has aligned himself with his friends, family, and the average working family.  Stu is a johnny come lately that admits to knowing little but what he’s read in the Bee, and has a penchant for making promises he can’t back up.  Jake has been fiscally responsible when it comes to being our voice on MID and is the most available person I’ve ever known in politics.  As an example if asked a question in person or online he’ll answer it immediately if time permits, and if it doesn’t or you have more questions he’ll give you his personal phone number and either give you the answer or get you the answer to your questions.  Unfortunately Stu isn’t knowledgeable about water or MID at all.  He’s like a one trick pony that looks nice but won’t take you anywhere.

The sound decision to make is to get up off you chair or couch and make sure you vote for Jake Wenger.

 

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We Deserve a Better City Council

By Emerson Drake    

Prior City Councils helped to guide us through the recession created by the 2007-2008 financial crisis.  Recently we’ve been  faced with the need to chart a new course for Modesto.   Unfortunately the current council seems to be taking a step backward.  In the last four years we’ve had transparency replaced with obfuscation and thriftiness with a spend-it-like-you’ve-got-it mentality. The most tenured council members are Bill Zoslocki, Jenny Kenoyer, and Tony Madrigal and they just happen to be up for re-election.

No Council oversight:  City staff has run amuck with contracts.  An example is with the Garrett Thompson contract for soft patch, first being signed in 2012, then being doubled in 2014, then tripled from its original numbers in 2016, and the most recent increase was without Council approval.   And Acting City Manager Joe Lopez, tried to slip it in under the radar under a consent item at a recent Council meeting.  He blamed it on human error and accepted no responsibility.

Most recently we’ve been informed about a second contract where we paid $426,452 more than the contract called for.  Again… no real answer as to why this happened.

Should this surprise us?  Probably not since Joe Lopez says more of these financial bombshells will be coming. When will they be coming?  After the election.

Now they want to buy a city block:  The senior three council members, Zoslocki, Kenoyer, and Madrigal, all want to but a city block for $3.1 Million.  They want to use money (steal it would be more accurate) that earlier councils from 1998 to 2008, and we the taxpayers put aside, to build a fleet maintenance facility.  A facility we need since the one we were using was on the land we overpaid for and subsequently sold to the state for the new courthouse.  It doesn’t matter to these three that the same block has been up for sale for years and several developers have been pitched the deal and everyone of them walked away because they determined it wasn’t financially feasible.  When asked what they intend to do with the property, to paraphrase,  their answer was “we don’t have a clue, but it sure sounds like a good idea doesn’t it.”

The Red Lion will never go bankrupt!  As a reminder to put it short and sweet… in Modesto’s past, the city bought and then used the property under what’s now called (oops spoiler alert) the Double Tree as collateral for the Red Lion hotel to be built. It went bankrupt and the city lost the land.  But maybe it’ll be different this time! After all Ryan Swehla and Benchmark have already been offering their management services (for a price) to the city.  Even Craig Lewis offered his services for financial management. Local businessmen always want to get their fingers in our pockets.

Don’t they say that doing the same thing over and over is a sign of insanity?

Under the senior three we watched former City Manager Ted Holgerson threatened to terminate then Fire Chief Slamon which would result in him losing his retirement, if he gave the benefit of his experience and his opinions rather than giving the party line that Holgerson and the senior three wanted.  Because of this, Chief Slamon eventually resigned from his position and took a position with a city half the size of Modesto.

Under the senior three Zoslocki, Kenoyer, and Madrigal, over 14,000 emails weren’t applied to Public Record Requests.  Using private email accounts instead of city accounts to conduct city business is unethical and obfuscating.  These emails went missing during their term in office.  The city attorney has delayed his response to requests for these emails for the last six months.  To date we’ve received approximately six months worth out of three and a half years.

Under the senior three the City’s situation with CalPers and the union retirement accounts has become more dire.  The issue is so serious that according to some the City could possibly face bankruptcy in the next five years.  But the senior three intend to keep on spending like there’s no tomorrow.

The senior three’s experience hasn’t made Modesto more financially sound.  They seem intent on having us crawl further and further out that proverbial limb and refuse to provide the accountability and guidance staff obviously requires.

The senior three have had their chance it’s time for a new starting line-up.

 

 

Is “The House” Breaking the Law?

By Emerson Drake  

During The House’s church service on October 1, 2017 Pastor Glenn Berteau took a few minutes at 36:30 into the service to allow Stu Gilman to ask for the congregations’ support and vote.  Pastor Berteau acknowledged he wasn’t aware that MID had a Board of Directors that the public voted on.  He reminds the congregation Stu is a personal friend of his and a friend of The House along with being a board member of The House.

The church has a large beautiful stage and video system with huge screens which works well for power point presentations in their sanctuary.  During the church service, Stu was invited up on the stage where Pastor Berteau said Stu deserves our support.

One of the first comments out of Stu’s mouth is to say “No one else is running for MID seats this year”.  Which is an outright lie, but hey lets cut him some slack, after all he wants to be a politician.   The Pastor uses Modesto Bee Videos to attack MID employees’ high rate of pay across the board but then claims not to be going after the working man just the Staff and Board.  But in reality the numbers cited in the video are bolstered by the working man, especially linemen, while the  Board makes only $1,000 a month. I guess it shows Stu’s supporters can talk out of both sides of their mouths too.

Stu offers ratepayer rebates (just pie in the sky) but isn’t willing to simply offer lower electric rates.  When pressed, Stu admits to having NEVER attended a MID meeting.  Now we realize working your schedule around meetings can be tough  but come on, Stu owns his own company so it begs the question, not even one meeting?  Why do people keep recruiting members of the public to run for the MID Board that don’t have a clue about what MID does but still think they know how it run it better?  So at the end of his political commercial in the middle of the weekly meeting Stu asks for volunteers to make phone calls and knock on doors and would they please join him at his table at the back of the room.

The big sendoff:  Pastor Berteau says “This is church.  Is this a church you say?  Absolutely! It’s not just in this building. We care for our city and the people in our city. I tell politicians that as a Pastor, I know more about this city than you do.”  He goes on to ask Stu to let him know when the other districts come up for a vote so he can let the congregation know so we can get the right people in there.

I don’t know about you but we don’t like non-profits to be telling people which candidate to vote for.  If they want to support a cause that’s fine but if you want to run a candidate or a slate of candidates then start by giving up your non-profit status and start paying taxes.

In the video the Pastor says he doesn’t shy away from controversy. But unfortunately Pastor Berteau was did not return our calls for comment regarding this article.  We will follow-up if he has anything  to say.

Addendum 10/18/2017:  The Freedom from Religion Foundation has been contacted and they will be filing a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service ( IRS ). So yes what The House and Pastor Glen Berteau  are doing IS illegal.

 

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