Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

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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…..

When Thursday is the New Friday

By Emerson Drake  ladyjustice

When politicians and public relations consultants have bad news that has to be delivered for public consumption they try to do it on Friday afternoons. It’s referred to as the Friday news dump.  It’s used to avoid the media scrutiny that would accompany any release during the rest of the week.

 

You see newspaper people like to have weekends off just like the rest of us.  So the majority of the Saturday and Sunday editions of the paper are pre-written and much of it already printed.  They leave a small space for sports but that’s about it.  And with their staffing cuts many times reaching someone on the weekend  in the newsroom is impossible.

 

For the most part for courts in the  judicial system Friday is a day to sort out legal and side issues with the attorneys so juries get to stay home.  So any news will come out on Thursday and what better day to release a bombshell like the Frank Carson revelations of forgotten files than the day before Christmas Eve.  The Chief Deputy District Attorney Marlisa Ferreira, after delivering the bombshell of newly found files, had her car brought around to the back of the building and snuck out the back door, all of the time refusing to questions.  And of course where was District Attorney Birgit Fladager?  Conveniently out of town traveling with family, incommunicado. Couldn’t plan that any better.

 

The District Attorney’s conduct in this case, in our opinion, was reprehensible at best and vindictive, personal and almost criminal at worst.

 

One of the important questions remaining is will local mainstream media Public Relations Powerhouse, the Modesto Bee, call her out on her heinous behavior and run a series of articles ON A TIMELY BASIS (soon and often) or will they support this petty vindictive politician that is apparently using her office for personal payback.  Another example is if they backed a politician for office than you won’t see many follow-up negative stories.  But if you ran against one of their ‘favorites,’  and that’s a lengthy list,  then God help you because the Bee’s version of ‘scorched earth’ would make General Sherman jealous.

 

Bee history suggests they will run a positive article after they run a negative one for politicians and organizations they supported to gain ofice.  If they run an article showing the dark side of a few Sheriff’s deputies they’ll run a feel good article showing deputies interacting with children (not picking on deputies just using an example you’ll recognize.

 

So expect the Bee to allow the behavior of Birgit Fladager and her office to fall by the wayside.  They want to shape the narrative and decide which stories you’ll remember and which you’ll forget.  There goes that institutional memory thing I talk about again.

 

 

 

 

Birgit Fladager – Guilty of Malfeasance?

By Emerson Drake  birgitfladager
December isn’t a good month for District Attorney. Birgit Fladager. On December 10, 2014, A.J. Pontillo was found innocent of all charges. During the trial Birgit was caught withholding exculpatory evidence that showed he was innocent.  Yes she KNEW he was innocent but hid the evidence from the court.
Now in the Frank Carson case one of her Deputy D.A.’s had to admit they hadn’t delivered all of the discovery evidence they should have. First Birgit is papering judges (punitive judge shopping) that don’t give her the rulings she wants, then her trumped up charges against A.J. go by the wayside and now she’s been caught again with her hand in the cookie jar.  Where is she now? She’s hiding out of town with family, unwilling to face the camera’s and explain why her office is incompetent and vindictive.
Here is his quote: Deputy District Attorney John Goold, spokesman for the DA’s Office, issued a statement Thursday afternoon that read in part: “While auditing discovery in this case, one of our investigators located some audio recordings that may or may not have been provided within the previous 1,000 disks discovered to the defense. There was no time to confirm whether these recordings had been previously disclosed or not. Out of an abundance of caution, we raised that concern with the court this morning and copies were provided to defense counsel.
Yesterday the judge released Frank on his own recognizance.
It’s becoming more readily apparent that Birgit Fladager is out of control and is using her office to punish her “enemies”. After all Frank ran against her for office. We think we elected the wrong person to be D.A.

Ask Yourselves, Why Doesn’t the Modesto Bee Want US to Remember?

By Emerson Drake  threeheadsupbottoms
In a story today the Bee talks about a tribute planned for Supervisor Bill O’Brien next Tuesday night at 6:30.. He’s stepping down after serving twelve years on the Board of Supervisors. As an aside, throughout the years even when Supervisor O’Brien and I didn’t see eye to eye he would always be available to discuss his decision making process and our differences.  The Supervisor will continue to serve until the swearing in ceremony on January, 10th when he’ll be replaced by Kristin ‘the coach’s wife’ Olsen.
People always talk about ‘institutional memory‘ but how is it formed?  It’s formed by an ongoing sharing of facts and memories with the group or in this case the public.  But the Bee has already started the fogging of these memories.  How did they do it?  Simply by not repeating the facts.  It’s diabolically simple when placed into action.
The memories or facts in this case are that at the last minute Supervisor O’Brien decided to make public his decision not to run after previously informing Olsen.  So at the last minute O’Brien, by choosing not to run again, steps down and Olsen magically shows up at the County Clerk’s office, paperwork prepared with the necessary number of signatures and effectively becomes our de facto ‘new’ Supervisor without the voters having a say in the process.
Backroom politics at its worst?  Hell Yes, but for the Bee to start the obfuscation process so quickly is not only almost unbelievable it shows the Bee’s willingness to be an integral part of changing the narrative there by altering the institutional memory.
One thing that will be hard to ascertain is whether it was the reporter or his editor that chose to omit the complete story.  History would suggest the editor made the political decision stay close to the powers behind the throne.  Once again the public was left uninformed and out in the cold.
But as always, in order to better inform the public, we’ll be keeping a close Eye On Modesto.

Brandvold’s Talking Out of Both Sides of His Mouth Again

By Emerson Drake  brandvold

Without any facts or figures to back him up Mayor Brandvold wants to spend another $1.8 Million passing our raises to city workers.
Since 2008 we’ve placed more of the costs of their retirement and health plan  back in the hands where it belonged in the first place just like in private business, the city workers. But now instead continuing the cost reductions he wants to hand out $1.8 Million without saying here it’s coming from.
But here is the little secret Brandvold doesn’t want us to catch on to. Some of the money that is supposed to pay for the new 22 officers for the MPD is going to pay for the raises for City staff.
The key is that if you factor in the current officers that will be retiring and those that will move on to other employment and those that will be asked to leave the MPD,  the numbers will be just about the same as they are now. So we aren’t really going to increase the boots on the street. We’re just being duped by a Mayor whose only concern is making those that funded his candidacy, the Modesto Chamber of Commerce and a few unscrupulous developers along with powerful city unions happy.
The bottom line is the 22 additional officers are nothing but a figment of his imagination.  It’s meant to make us think he’s keeping his campaign promises while he’s really paying off his campaign debts to the city and  police and fire unions.  Undoubtedly some the money will be found again at the end of the fiscal year and spent somewhere else (like expanding Modesto’s sphere of influence through the General Plan after the building fees are reduced.)
So the question is:  Is Modesto shedding it’s ‘Business and Usual’ approach (straight out of the 100 day committee’s report)?  We thinks it’s just more same old same old  Business as Usual.  When the Chamber of Commerce is pulling the strings the more things change the more they remain the same.
File Brandvold’s proposal under …The Emperor’s New Clothes.
 

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