Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

Archive for the category “Uncategorized”

Is the Modesto City Council Just a Stepping Stone for Some?

By Emerson Drake  

We all remember how Kristin Olsen abandoned the Modesto City Council in 2011 when she won the State Representative position after being reelected to the City Council just 8 months before.  After all Olsen was known for loving public money by keeping her position as top communicator at Stan State throughout her membership on the Council and of course she kept her well paid position at Stan State until the last possible minute before being sworn in as State Representative.

And then Councilman Bill Zoslocki decided to try a preliminary temperature test of state legislative interest in himself.  Unfortunately for us, citizens of Modesto,  no one was willing to donate money to his candidacy. Maybe it was his roll as Building Industry Association President, construction company owner,  developer and profiteer associated with Modesto’s Village I debacle.

Now it appears we have another Council member chomping at the bit to run for a state wide position.  Councilman Mani Grewal has been whispering in friendly ears about running for the State Senate.  His only claim to fame that I’m aware of is him sending George Petrulakis the latest financial reports he could get his hands on when George was creating Modesto’s budget for Mayor Brandvold.  And before anyone one asks, yes it was discovered through Public Record Requests.  What we do know about him are his close ties to the Modesto Chamber of Commerce, the local Republican party, and more specifically, last but not least, behind-the-scenes string pulling master manipulator/ land use attorney George Petrulakis.

 

Modesto Irrigation District Wastes $75,000 on Outsourcing

By Emerson Drake   

Among today’s action items on MID’s agenda was one to hire third party administration of their basic retirement plan. So in layman’s speak they intend to outsource the insurance part of the retirement plan.  MID has had two positions designated for handling questions and assisting retirees but for two years now only one has been filled.  I wanted to provide the two-step song and dance given to the Board by the Human Resources head but the video isn’t up yet.  I was so captivated with the jargon used I wanted to share it but that will have to come later.

Suffice to say the head of H.R was unwilling to commit to doing away with a position they haven’t needed in two years because it might become necessary AFTER they outsource the majority of the positions duties.  Interestingly enough only Director John Messinger agreed that MID wasn’t saving money but spending an extra $75,000.

When John asked if Human Resources was going to come back before the Board to request the unused position  be filled concerns were voiced by other Board members that the Board had never micro-managed the staff before and they shouldn’t start now.

So lets summarize the issue.  They have two positions designated to perform the job tasks and one of them has been vacant for two years.  They intend to out-source the majority of the job for $75,000 a year yet aren’t willing to give up the unused position.

Believe it or not the final vote was 4-1 (Mensinger being the one “no” vote) to spend the extra money and to leave the position available to be filled without oversight.

At today’s meeting being fiscally responsible wasn’t what you would call their long suit.

 

How Does a Park Become ‘Surplus’ in the County’s Eyes?

By Emerson Drake   

Mono Park is a pretty two acres of green consisting of large beautiful trees,  picnic and play area on Mono Drive between Santa Ana and Santa Rita Ave in Modesto’s Airport District.  It is an oasis of green with its large/huge trees and lawn in an area that has very few comforts the rest of us have come to rely on, you know, like sidewalks.  Sidewalks should not  be an exception in residential areas instead of the rule but that’s the fact of life in many of  the County’s unincorporated areas.

Now the County has staff exploring whether Mono Park should stay a park or be labeled ‘surplus’  then sold to friends and possibly be turned into warehouses for the likes of the Gallo’s or one of their many subsidiaries.  Of course the County doesn’t want to speculate as to who might purchase the site. But their flyer specifically mentions cutting down the beautiful trees in the park

A community meeting was held March 13th at Orville Wright Elementary school by the Airport Community Collaborative. According to the County approximately 20 people attended. The County dangled the carrot in front of the people suggesting maybe sidewalks or a new roof for the Legion Hall.

Improving the Quality of Life By Selling Our Parks?   If we sell Mono Park to the Gallo’s for warehouse space then even  more trucks will be coming into the Airport District. Our local Air Pollution Control Board says the single biggest polluting factor in the central valley are the diesel trucks driving up and down Highway 99.  So the County’s answer to how can we improve the quality of life in Modesto and specifically the Airport District is to have more trucks with the accompanying dirt, dust, noise, and pollution at all hours in our neighborhoods.  But then again why should they be concerned, none of the Board of Supervisors lives anywhere close to there.

So the County is using slight of hand, mixing in a little community involvement, Gallo money, and Presto Change-o, you have one less park for the children to play in and for families to picnic in.

The next park they decide is surplus may be YOURS.

The City Attorney, Adam Lindgren, Just Can’t Get It Right

By Emerson Drake  

When it comes to making important decisions that effect the public, City Attorney Adam Lindgren often falls more that just a bit short, personally it’s my opinion he fails miserably.

Back when the City Council was going through the Wood colony debacle Adam Lindgren interpreted case law to say  that signs could not be shown in the Council Chambers and anyone doing so could and would  be removed.  This was enforced throughout the meeting until a Modesto citizen, Gaetana Drake had the chance to speak.  She cited specific case law relating to Adam’s decision. After further review as they say, Adam changed his decision and signs, which had been ruled free speech by the courts,  were resentfully allowed to be displayed  accompanied by a cheer from the 200 plus attendees.  At another City Council meeting regarding Wood Colony the city had allowed people to speak and then significantly changed what they were going to be voting on.  At first they refused to allow people that had already spoken to address the change.  Then once again a Modesto citizen, Gaetana Drake, pointed out case law which specifically say they had to allow it to be addressed once they significantly changed the motion.  You would think this would be City Attorney 101.

Starting to see a pattern?  We’ve recently discussed the 14,000 emails the city wants to keep out of the public and they actually started making up new policy and law.  Here is part of a follow-up email from the City where they try to charge for processing the same emails they avoided using in Public Record Requests.

The City Clerk’s office also communicated with you and asked you to narrow the requests in a manner that describes identifiable records which may be located by City staff with reasonable efforts. You informed the City that you do not wish to narrow your requests. Without more focused requests, the City considers these requests to be overly burdensome and cannot process them any further, without further action on your part, for the reasons stated below. Should you wish to contact our office and narrow your requests, and/or submit a deposit as explained below, we will be more than happy to work with you to provide the information you seek.

The City has determined that where staff time and expense necessary to respond to such broad and voluminous requests is not reasonable, the public interest in not wasting taxpayer resources to process the request clearly outweighs any public interest to respond to such requests, particularly when no attempt by you has been made focus the requests.  (Gov. Code section 6255; American Civil Liberties Union Foundation v. Deukmejian 32 Cal.3d 440, at 452-453.)

In order to begin processing this request, the City requires a $250.00 deposit, as printing and data extraction time (10 cents per page) is necessary to ensure that privileged, private, or personnel-related exempt records are not released in violation of the law.  Upon remittance of the deposit, the first 2,500 pages will be reviewed and then all non-exempt public records from those pages will be available for your inspection.  Additional deposits would be required to continue processing this request.

So in effect the City Attorney Adam Lindgren want $1,400 to process the 14,000 emails he should have been including all along in Public Record Requests. $1,400 in data extraction time?  And if the money isn’t paid in advance they processing of emails would stop!

It’s not only illegal  it’s unethical and more importantly it isn’t what the law says.    When we started this Public Record Request(PPR) for the private emails the Council has been using we were told the total email numbers were probably few and the topics inconsequential.  If, when they say a few, they mean 14,000 you have to wonder what inconsequential means.

But there’s more:  The 14,000 emails are only those on the City’s servers. Any emails sent from private email accounts to private email accounts are NOT included in the 14,000, and the city refuses to supply the email addresses saying the Council members will be given guidelines to follow and they will be going through their own emails to see what is relevant and what isn’t.

So the Mayor and Council that claim to be completely transparent and yet are using private email accounts, to conduct city business, are now going to police themselves?

Most reasonable people if asked would say that’s inconceivable. And to borrow a line from the Princess Bride, I don’t think that word means what you think it means,  especially when it comes to Modesto politics.

Public Record Request Uncovers 14,000 Emails Hidden From the Public

By Emerson Drake 

Many times Public Record Requests are the only way to find out what is going on behind the scenes especially when your topic is Modesto politicians and you’re discussing City business.  They aren’t a tell all, yet sometimes a glimpse of light slips through.  Recently we discovered that Cecil Russell and his Chateau Provence Home Owners Association, with the help of Rank Security, had illegally mounted cameras on city light poles and were stealing electricity from MID.

Now using the same method we’ve uncovered 6 private email accounts that the Mayor and members of the City Council are using to conduct city business. At first we were told that it was probably just a few emails and they were mostly about meetings.  But they didn’t realize  we already had in our possession emails to and from Modesto Mayor Ted Brandvold and land use attorney George Petrulakis.

So we did a Public Record Request on the six emails. The scope was from the time each had taken office until present. Never did I expect the response I received via email.

 

Hi Emerson,

Regarding your Public Record Request of March 8, 2017 for all emails since taking office, including attachments to and from: 3 from Ted Brandvold, 2 from Bill Zoslocki and 1 from Tony Madrigal.  (the actual email addresses have been redacted)

Our IT Department is working on this to pull all the emails, however they have gotten over 14,000 hits on this request. 

Is there any way we can narrow this request?  Are you looking for something specific that we can narrow with some keywords?  Perhaps we can narrow the time frame?

If you can let me know as soon as possible, I can let IT know how to proceed with your request.

Sincerely,

Dana Sanchez

Administrative Office Assistant III (Confidential)
City Clerk’s Office

Since then we’ve learned of even more email addresses being used.

Modesto seems to be admitting every single Public Record Request made by us  and others in the last several years is incomplete. And now we’re told the city will NOT be going back and supplementing the requests.  They are telling the very people that withheld the information by using private accounts to ‘police’ themselves.  Only one member of the Council, Kristi Ah You,  has stepped up to the plate and placed her emails up for review.

No guidance has been given other that the term ‘city business’. And as City Attorney’s staff has pointed out there is currently NO policy or requirement that Mayor, Council members or city staff use ONLY their government email accounts for city business.  And who had his hand in (wrote the majority) from the beginning when the Modesto City Charter was written? Why George Petrulakis of course.  If you want the rules to favor you, you write the rules.

We always need to keep in mind that the title of City Attorney is misleading.  His title should be Mayor and Council’s attorney because in my opinion he works against the public’s best interest.  He liberally uses Brown Acts exemption clauses and with his silence on other aspects advises them on how to avoid the Brown Act and the best way to mitigate the damage if they are caught.  He should be firmly suggesting to them they need to use ONLY City email accounts and City cell phones.

What or should I say how much are they trying to hide?

Maybe it’s time to go after their text messages too.

Informative article printed in the Bee today from the Orange County Register

Modesto City Council says business as usual..SPEND…SPEND…SPEND

By Emerson Drake  

Tuesday night the council had the chance to slow down on spending by implementing a freeze on hiring (except for police numbers going from 218 to 240), promotions, and spending but they chose not to.   With the exception of Tony Madrigal, who made a motion supporting the freeze. Unfortunately the motion died for a lack of a second.
 
There were two lengthy closed secession discussions regarding evaluating City Manager Jim Holgersson.  Holgersson’s machinations became public when Fire Chief Slamon resigned to take a job with a Department  one third the size of Modesto’s.  Between forcing the Chief Slamon  to change his mind or else  on accepting grant money and Holgersson’s recently come to light involvement regarding Cecill Russell, Chateau Provence, and Rank Security involving illegal camera placement and electricity theft which was discussed by MID General Manager Greg Salyer at Tuesday’s MID meeting the Council’s tolerance for Holgersson’s antics  may be waning.
 
So the Council intends on spending money we may or may not have And Brandvold said the plan needed more work and with George Petrulakis and the Chamber pulling his strings things just might get a little interesting.

Special Rules For Special People, Cecil Russell and the Chateau Provence

By Emerson Drake  

This falls under the category ‘You Can’t Make This Stuff Up’

Do you think you have friends in high places?   Maybe you do and maybe you don’t, but  Cecil Russell certainly does.  On Friday December 2, 2016 a Modesto Irrigation District employee,  Ms. Queta, called the City of Modesto to inform them cameras had been placed on three street light poles outside Chateau Provence which just happens to be the gated community where Cecil Russell lives.  Ms. Queta said they had been illegally installed and the power was being stolen.

Just as interesting according to MPD Chief Carroll, these cameras can be viewed in real time by Modesto Police.  So without knowing for certain, we can presume Cecil Russell at least helped to make arrangements for cameras to be installed on city light poles using stolen city power. In one of the emails Chief Carroll said he was working with Cecil and the Association and in good faith he believed they (Cecil and the Association) had worked something out with MID.

And people at the City like Mark Murphy, Traffic Operations Engineer, believed they needed to be removed. When the questioning went further Jeff Barnes asked  if anyone took out an encroachment permit. Dan England responded that the city had NOT issued any permits for cameras on the poles. Jeff Barnes then jumped in and told Chief Carroll “We are not planning on touching them.  However MID might since the cameras ware using MID power without paying. MID would be well within their rights to stop the power theft.”

Chief Carroll came back with a lengthy response: “Just to clarify, I was working with the neighborhood association to have this done.  It would be my bad if there were not permits pulled.  I believed we could give approval for the cameras, and we did have a meeting about it 6-8 months ago.  The issue was MID power the association and Cecil Russell I believe had worked something out with MID.  I have contacted them and they will reach out to MID.  As a side note, those cameras are able to be viewed in the PD real time crime center and I believe we should figure out a protocol in conjunction with MID that would allow public / private partnerships if a neighborhood association is willing to purchase cameras.”

So apparently even if you live in far North Modesto where there are very few homeless and live behing high walls and an iron gate you are ‘special’ and the MPD will provide a real time video security watch on your neighborhood.  This watch will be for free and that includes the light poles to mount the cameras and the power to run them, at least if your name is Cecil Russell and you’re the head lobbyist for the Chamber of Commerce

 

America’s Queen of Division Coming to Modesto

By Emerson Drake    ann_coulter2wiki

While I prefer sticking specifically to local politics, learning that local Republicans  invited (and paid $25,000 to)  Ann Coulter to come to Modesto to speak has me shaking my head.  And when I discovered she was being  brought to Modesto’s Centre Plaza as a political pundit and not to the Gallo as a comedian I started chuckling.

Then I see my favorite quote machine, County Supervisor Jim DeMartini, hard at work.  I realize Jim has a dislike for liberals in a general political  sense and while  bragging about how the local GOP raised $25,000 privately (Ms. Coulter’s speaking fee) at the drop of a hat, he belied concern over losing money by confidently saying “we’ll make money on it.”

Anyone can go to the Local GOP’s annual Lincoln Day Dinner, after all tickets are going for a paltry $125 to $10,000.   Coulter is promoting her book “In Trump We Trust” and signing copies.

Even the Bee Provided Their Own Donation:  No,  to my knowledge they didn’t make a donation or a ticket purchase but they did help DeMartini sound a little less crazy when they deleted a couple of lines from their hard copy delivered paper that were in their online version.

Republican politicos from around the country have been suggesting people protesting their town hall meetings were paid protesters and agitators from out of town. Supervisor DeMartini decided to sound tough and said “PAID PROTESTERS AND OUT OF TOWN AGITATORS-WE’RE NOT EXPECTING TROUBLE BUT WE’LL HANDLE IT IF IT HAPPENS.”   Jim,  I think you’ve been drinking the kool-Aid but the Bee did you a favor by NOT printing this, but then again that’s just me speaking.

We’ve seen people, yes protesters, from around the country showing their drivers licenses to officials and cameras proving they were from the immediate area where the meeting was being held.  Will protesters here hear the question, are you from around here?  And then be required to supply their drivers license to be believed?.

You’re welcome to have Ann Coulter, Queen of the Crazy Quotes, come to Modesto to speak but I think it speaks more to what divides us than what will bring us together. But considering the current political climate maybe that’s why they’re bringing her here.

$10,000 dollars to rub shoulders with Ann Coulter?  There I go shaking my head again.

Transparency, Honesty, Do These Words Apply to Ted Brandvold and Modesto’s City Government?

By Emerson Drake jeffandwalter

Peeling the onion would be another way to describe what this series of stories is going to attempt to do. Like layers of an onion some will be longer and some shorter but hopefully they will provide insight to what is going on down at 1010 10th st.,  City Hall

 

At the end of January we heard Modesto Mayor Ted Brandvold express disappointment that  Wood Colony didn’t inform him they were setting up a MAC (Municipal Advisory Council). He made it sound like he was completely blindsided.  Could this have been true?

 

Possibly, but I sincerely doubt it.  You see I’m sitting here looking at an email from Cynthia Birdsill, City of Modesto-Community & Economic Development, dated September 26,2013 that says “FYI, the County has been meeting with Wood Colony to possibly create a MAC.”  This email was sent to City Manager Jim Holgersson and Brent Sinclair.

 

Now it’s within the realm of possibility that Ted wasn’t told by all three members of City staff…but…I’m looking at another email that’s from Land use attorney George Petrulakis three hours and thirty four minutes later  and he’s been reading the MAC proposal and is commenting to Cynthia Birdsill, Patrick Kelly, Steve Mitchel, and Brad Wall.

 

With all of those people  in the loop it would be doubtful that the Mayor would not be told by someone on City Staff.  But it gets better.  For those not following local politics when it comes to the Mayor, you get two for one.  First is George Petrulakis, the Ventriloquist and Ted Brandvold is the puppet on his lap.  George’s hands up Ted’s backside move and Ted’s mouth opens and closes.  George knowing about the MAC proposal makes it a foregone conclusion that Ted knows all about it.

 

So why was our Mayor being so disingenuous?   It’s all about public perception. Ted plays the affable elderly gent quite well.  And George wants to lull Wood Colony with a false sense of security.

 

And don’t worry there’s much more to come.

 

The Bee’s Jeff ‘the slimeball’ Jardine, First He Creates the News and Then He Writes about It

By Emerson Drake   recallbirgit

While this is far from the first time the Modesto Bee has allowed one of their employees to attack people in print it should be the last.  Some have questioned  if this was ‘slime ball’s’ idea or if it was spawned by one of his editors, I suggest either way it needs to stop and stop NOW.  Papers caught creating news can’t be trusted.  Public Record Requests are a wonderful tool when attempting to seek out the smoking gun of Hypocrisy. Jardine’s story  isn’t a case of the misuse of public money or the public’s trust.  No he’s made it personal and vindictive in our opinion.

 

Former Mayor Carmen Sabatino has been trying to point out that Stanislaus County D.A. Birgit Fladager through her minions has withheld exculpatory evidence (and yes the AJ Pontillo was subsequently  found innocent) and was more recently caught withholding discovery from the Carson defense team.  A  District Attorney withholds evidence that clears a mans name is in the minds of most people despicable and now to be caught for the second, or is it the third time, hiding evidence form the defense means Stanislaus County Court rooms can hardly be called a bastion of justice.

 

Jardine has use an informative sign as an excuse to attack our former Mayor at his place of business.   Jeff creates the story, he writes the story, and pronounces guilt in the story.  But Jeff, you’re the one that’s guilty here.

 

By Mayor Carmen Sabatino

Below is an official public records transcript between a Modesto Bee reporter, Jeff Jardine and a Caltrans employee, Rick Estrada.      The press is supposed to REPORT the news, not act in desperate protagonist measures to CREATE news, and then innocently report on their creation.

Jeff Jardine, the National Enquirer is calling – they need a gumshoe to report on alien abductions and bat-faced vampires lurking about.

January 10, 2017 at 11:19am FROM Rick Estrada TO Jeff Jardine

Jeff, you noted you were going to be out of the office for some time, so I felt an e-mail would serve best.

Regarding the Changeable Message Sign we were discussing on McHenry Avenue/State Route 108 in

Modesto:

** I have spoken to maintenance unit confirmed it is not a Caltrans sign

** I have spoken to maintenance unit and confirmed the sign is in the public right of way

** I have spoken to our permits unit and confirmed there is no permit issued for this sign

As a result, one of managers from the maintenance unit will visit this location and advise the owner of the sign that it must be removed immediately from the public right of way. If the sign is not moved following our visit, the next step is we will contact CHP and ask for law enforcement to get involved in resolving this situation.

Safety is always a priority for Caltrans. Our goal is to keep the state’s highways in the best, and safest, condition for motorists.

Regarding the use of a CMS sign when it is not in the public right of way? I would ask that you please call Caltrans’ Outdoor Advertising Unit, specifically Michele Day who oversees Stanislaus and other counties.  Her number is (916) 651-1254 and this is her realm of expertise. If she does not respond, her supervisor is James Arbis (oversees NorCal) and he is at (916) 654-6413.

 

January 10, 2017 at 12:52pm FROM Jeff Jardine TO Rick Estrada

It was not there when I drove by a few minutes ago. Maybe the rental company wanted it out of the rain.

 

January 10, 2017 at 12:57 FROM Rick Estrada TO Jeff Jardine

J=happyface

 

January 10, 2017 at 1:21PM FROM Jeff Jardine TO Rick Estrada

What about, as you mentioned, putting out a sign that looks like a CalTrans sign but bears a political message?

A violation of any sort?

January 10, 2017 at 1:23PM FROM Rick Estrada to Jeff Jardine

That’s where Outdoor Advertising comes in. We have a unit stationed at our HQ that deals with ‘advertising’ signs of this sort … I included a name and 2 phone numbers of potential contacts who can give you more concise information.

If they don’t get back to you, let me know and I’ll pull the chain. Hope everything’s going well Glad to see the sign is gone

J=happyface

 

January 11th, 2017 at 11:16AM FROM Jeff Jardine to Rick Estrada

OK, so Michelle said that if an unauthorized sign is reported, a maintenance crew would go out and seize it, informing whomever that they have 30 days to come pick it up at the yard. So can you tell me if that sign was seized or direct me to someone locally who can answer that question.

Mr. Sabatino claimed I was disrespecting him by even calling him.

 

January 11th, 2017 at 11:22AM FROM Rick Estrada to Jeff Jardine

I spoke with our Modesto Maintenance manager, who visited the location yesterday afternoon. When he got there, the

CMS sign was already gone – having been moved by someone other than Caltrans.

City might have stepped in? Or perhaps owner was told by someone else to move it … I had checked with our guys this morning

 

January 11th, 2017 at 11:25AM FROM Jeff Jardine to Rick Estrada

Thanks. Some folks posted pics of it on FB, and his PI buddy wrote about it on Carmen’s blog…..

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