Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

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Another Attempt to Transfer Our Money to Their Pockets

By Emerson Drake 

A response to the Bee’s Editorial Board’s “The timing is right for Modesto to dramatically improve downtown“.

Once the Unicorn Glitter and Fairy Dust settles to the ground and stops blinding us we’re reminded of why Modesto can’t dream about having nice things like a vibrant downtown. The short simple answer is our business community and the Modesto Chamber of Commerce.

We witnessed what happened when they decided where to build the new courthouse. Greedy businessmen using backroom deals and the Chamber who has controlled the Council for years decided it was more important to over pay for the land to make a few people richer than to pick a more logical location like the former Modesto Bee building.

What we were left with was land we overpaid for and will have a concrete edifice (courthouse) that will always be empty at night and on weekends. That isn’t much of a draw or overly appealing for the tourists and visitors they claim they want to attract.

That different larger funding source that was mentioned by the Bee Editorial staff was, YOUR Tax Dollar$ and mine, since 34% of DoMo’s budget is comes from the public trough.

Now bringing more people downtown would be considered a good thing especially by the high priced restaurants that pay minimum wage to the vast majority of their staffs. Now these workers can’t afford to live downtown or in Modesto for that matter but hey the ruling class needs serfs to feed and comfort them. Please read their Published opinion in the Bee titled Timing is right for Modesto to dramatically improve downtown

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Modesto City Council’s Response to Potential Future Conflicts

By Emerson Drake 

AN URGENCY ORDINANCE AMENDING TITLE 4, “PUBLIC WELFARE, SAFETY AND HEALTH” OF THE MODESTO MUNICIPAL CODE BY ADDING CHAPTER 23 TO IMPOSE CERTAIN TIME, PLACE AND MANNER REGULATIONS AS TO PUBLIC ASSEMBLIES

SECTION 1. FINDINGS

A. The City Council of the City of Modesto hereby finds as follows: revisions to the City’s Municipal Code implemented by this Urgency Ordinance are immediately necessary as an emergency measure in order to respond to preserve the public health, safety and welfare. Specifically, the revisions and amendments to Municipal Code Title 4, Chapter 23 included in this Urgency Ordinance are essential and immediately necessary to improve the City’s regulation of public assemblies, and thereby ensure the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, safety and general welfare in the City of Modesto.

B. The City Council desires to amend Title 4 entitled “Public Welfare, Safety and Health” of its Municipal Code by adding Chapter 23 in its entirety, entitled “Restrictions on Use of Specified Items During Public Assembly ” to provide critically needed rules regulating the use of certain objects that may be weaponized during demonstrations, rallies, protests, counter-protests, picket lines, marches, or assemblies on public property so as to safeguard against violence and promote peaceful assembly for Modesto citizens, police and visitors alike. These regulations serve to deter violence, property damage and any bodily harm to individuals that wish to engage in peaceful protests and demonstrations.

  1. In developing this Ordinance, the City Council is mindful of the legal principles relating to regulation of activity in public forums such as sidewalks, streets and public parks. The City Council does not intend to unconstitutionally suppress or infringe expressive activities protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution or the Liberty of Speech Clause of the California Constitution, but instead is enacting reasonable content-neutral time, place and manner regulations that address the need to prevent violent, dangerous and hazardous situations from arising and to promote the safety of both the public and the police.
  2. D. The revisions to the City’s Municipal Code implemented by this Urgency Ordinance are immediately necessary as an emergency measure in order to respond to recent developments regarding a proposed public assembly that is seeking a permit for August 24, 2019, and which raise serious and alarming safety concerns regarding protecting citizens and police alike from violent disputes, and in order to reduce the threat of serious bodily injury or property damage during this proposed event and for future public events in Modesto. Specifically, the amendments to the City’s Municipal Code Title 4 adding Chapter 23 included in this Urgency Ordinance are essential and immediately necessary to ensure the orderly implementation of restrictions on specified items used at public assemblies to reduce the likelihood of violence and property damage and to ensure the safety of the general public, event attendees, counter-protestors and the police, and thereby ensure the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, safety and general welfare in the City of Modesto.
  3. E. The City supports peaceful protests, demonstrations and events. Unfortunately, some individuals have used protests and other public assembly events as “cover” to commit acts of violence, arson and vandalism. It is the intent of the City in enacting this Urgency Ordinance to ensure that public assembly events are peaceful and safe.
  4. F. There is an increasing concern about violence at public events and about violent clashes between those with opposing views. Numerous public protests, demonstrations and rallies conducted throughout the nation in cities such as Charlottesville and St. Louis, as well as cities throughout California, in Berkeley, Oakland and Laguna Beach have erupted in violence between demonstrators and counter-demonstrators, and violence against law enforcement personnel.G. On August 12, 2017, a car was deliberately driven into a crowd of people who had been peacefully protesting a Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The driver of the car espoused neo-Nazi and white supremacist beliefs. In 2017, violence also erupted during a series of protests that place in Berkeley, California near the University of California campus. The violent interactions predominately occurred between groups with opposing viewpoints, including white nationalist groups and Antifa groups.

    H. At these events, devices such as poles, sticks, signs, wood and metal pipes, bats, chains, projectiles (such as rocks, concrete, pellets and ball bearings), as well as certain types of containers including glass bottles and containers filled with flammable or noxious substances and aerosol sprays deployed to cause flames or attack olfactory systems, and other items have been used as improvised weapons resulting in injuries and property damage. Demonstrators have also carried shields, thrown objects at police, used fire accelerant to light fires, used large poles and sticks as weapons to threaten bodily harm and to attack businesses. Rigid-support materials used on signs have frequently been used as weapons and turned upon police officers, marchers, or other demonstrators.

    I. The City of Modesto could see similar occurrences in its jurisdiction. The City Council does not want to take a “wait-and-see” approach. The City Council has a reasonable basis to believe that failing to enact regulations limiting the use of objects that can be weaponized at public assemblies increases the risk that violence will occur at a public event in the City.

    J. Event organizers have sought a permit for use of City facilities for a straight pride event to be held on August 24, 2019. The flyer associated with the event invites the public to join in a celebration of: heterosexuality, masculinity, femininity, babies born and unborn, western civilization, our wonderful country and Christianity. The website associated with the flyer, NationalStraightPrideCoalition.org, among other things, makes reference to whiteness/Caucasian as being the “mass majority biological racial component of the developers of the western civilization,” that “West is Best” and that its fundamental principles and values are under attack.

    K. Event organizers have invited the Proud Boys to attend the event. The proposed event applicant has stated he is a member of the local Proud Boys organization. The Proud Boys have been designated as a hate group by Southern Poverty Law Center and its members are known to participate in white supremacist rallies, events and organizations. Members of the Proud Boys are reported to have been violent during prior protests.

    L. The straight pride event is advertised as being open to the public. PRISM which stands for Pride-Solidarity-Multiculturalism is organizing to protest the straight pride event. The City estimates that the crowds drawn to the event as both supporters and protestors may reach as high as 1,000-2,000 people. MoPRIDE a Modesto organization providing support to the LGBTQ+ community has offered safe places for people during the event as personal safety and potential violence against members of the LGBTQ+ community is a serious concern.

    M. Anti-fascist (“Antifa”) groups are aware of the event and there is credible evidence to believe they will attend the event/counter-protest in large numbers. Antifa groups are known to wear masks to obscure their identities and are reported to have been violent during prior protests. There is an increased risk that if individuals wear masks or use other apparel to cover their faces and conceal their identities they will utilize their anonymity to commit acts of violence or vandalism without concern of identification and apprehension, disturbing the ability of others to safely assemble and demonstrate peacefully.

    N. During the City Council’s August 7, 2019 meeting tensions ran high as both opponents and supporters of the straight pride event spoke. There were large numbers of people in the audience and many speakers. The organizer of the straight pride event spoke and identified his organization as a “peaceful racist” group. Applicant Grundmann and other Council attendees were highly animated. The City has a reasonable basis to believe that these tensions are likely to accelerate and to increase the likelihood of clashes at the proposed straight pride event.

    O. The City has credible evidence that there is a heightened risk of violent conflict that may take place at the proposed public event in the City on August 24, 2019. The City’s Police Department is already planning significant security measures to address the heightened safety concerns for the proposed August 24, 2019 event, including possibly requesting reinforcements from other law enforcement agencies. However, these measures alone will not prevent the threat to public safety from the weaponization of objects used by demonstrators.

    P. The adoption of this Urgency Ordinance to limit the use of specified items at public assembly events is a necessary and critical tool for the City to have in place to ensure the safety of the general public and its police. Q. In addition to the above factual findings, the City Council in enacting this Ordinance does hereby also take legislative notice of the various principles and decisions regarding the regulation of public assemblies, including but not limited to, the following:

    1. Public streets, sidewalks and parks are the archetypes of a traditional public forum where the government cannot favor one speaker over another based on the viewpoint of the speaker . See Frisby v. Schultz, 487 U.S. 474, 480-81 (1988); see also Rosenberger v. Rector & Visitors of the Univ. of Virginia, 515 U.S. 819, 828 (1995). The government may regulate First Amendment activities in traditional public fora, such as streets, sidewalks and parks when such restrictions are reasonable time, place and manner restrictions that are: content neutral; narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest; and leave open ample alternative channels of communication. See Cornelius v. NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, 473 U.S. 788, 799-800 (1985); see also; Bay Area Peace Navy v. United States, 914 F.2d 1224 (9th Cir. 1990).

    2. The First Amendment does not protect violence. See N.A.A.C.P v. Claiborne Hardware Co, 458 U.S. 886, 916 (1982).

    3. In response to potential angry or inflammatory speech, the City of Modesto may increase its police presence; enact security measures to ensure the safety of the public; arrest those who actually engage in violent conduct; and may enact time, place and manner regulations to maintain safety during public events. See Collins v. Jordan, 110 F.3d 1363, 1372 (9th Cir. 1996); see also Walker v. City of Birmingham, 388 U.S. 307 (1967); Long Beach Area Peace Network v. City of Long Beach, 574 F.3d 1011, 1024 (9th Cir. 2009).

    4. The City of Modesto has a substantial interest in safeguarding its citizens against violence and in protecting police and demonstrators alike. See Hill v. Colorado, 530 U.S. 703, 724-25 (2000); see also Vlasak v. Superior Court, 329 F.3d 683, 689 (9th Cir. 2003). Specifically, case law has confirmed that Modesto may enact regulations to make sure that materials used for signs and sign poles, as well as other objects, are not used as weapons. The City takes legislative notice of the City of Los Angeles regulations restricting certain objects at demonstrations and has modeled this regulations in keeping with the Los Angeles provisions validated by the Ninth Circuit in the Vlasak decision. See Vlasak, 329 F.3d at 689; see also Edwards v. City of Coeur D’Alene, 262 F.3d 856, 863 & 866 (9th Cir. 2001).

    R. It is imperative that individuals engaging in peaceful expressive public activity do so without fear of violence and that law enforcement personnel dedicated to protecting such activity be allowed to do so without suffering injury. This Urgency Ordinance provides a narrowly tailored content-neutral mechanism to reduce the risk of violence at demonstrations, rallies, protests, counterprotests, picket lines, marches, or public assemblies in the City of Modesto. Among other things, the restrictions limit the objects that can be used for signs, but still allow for signs to be utilized. Likewise, the restrictions limit the use of facial covering that obscure one’s identity at these specific public events (with exceptions for religious and medical reasons) without banning costumes or other expressive clothing. The restrictions are also directed at limiting other items (such as baseball bats, aerosol spray, weapons, glass bottles, shields, bricks, and rocks) that can, and have been weaponized, while still allowing for peaceful expressive activity.

    S. On August 13, 2019, the City Council held a public meeting during which it considered the adoption of this Urgency Ordinance pursuant to California Government Code § 36937 and the Modesto Charter § 716. Both California Government Code § 36937 and Modesto Charter § 716 allow the adoption of such urgency ordinances to take effect immediately to ensure the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, safety and general welfare in the City of Modesto.

    T. The restrictions on use of specified items during public assembly adopted herein are necessary in order to protect the public health, safety and welfare by providing a mechanism to limit and prevent violence and promote peaceful assembly. These are content-neutral time, place and manner restrictions that allow for peaceful public expressive activity. The restrictions are narrowly tailored to address the City’s interest in safety and preventing violence and to the extent they burden expressive activity they leave ample alternatives for communication. The regulations make public assembly safer by banning objects that can readily be weaponized without depriving people of the opportunity to demonstrate, rally, protest, counter-protest, picket, march, assemble or otherwise engage in peaceful free speech activities.

    U. These regulations adopted herein are necessary in order to protect the public health, safety and welfare by providing a mechanism to address the potential violence and companion property damage and personal injuries that have accompanied public protests, rallies and demonstrations in cities such as Berkeley, Oakland, St. Louis, and Charlottesville.

    SECTION 2. AMENDMENT OF MUNICIPAL CODE.

    The City of Modesto Municipal Code Title 4 (Public Welfare, Safety and Health) is hereby amended by adding Chapter 23 in its entirety as follows:

    CHAPTER 23 RESTRICTIONS ON USE OF SPECIFIED ITEMS DURING PUBLIC ASSEMBLY

    Section 4-23.01 Purpose

    (a) To ensure the peaceful expression of free speech, the City of Modesto has adopted the following provisions to limit the use of certain objects that may be weaponized during demonstrations, rallies, protests, counter-protests, picket lines, marches, or assemblies on public property in order to safeguard against violence for the citizenry of Modesto.

    (b) The City of Modesto adopts these content-neutral, time, place and manner regulations to ensure for the safety and welfare of all individuals. These regulations allow for the peaceful expression of differing ideas and views while reducing the risk of violent conflict by prohibiting the use or possession of weapons, or objects that may be weaponized during demonstrations, rallies, protests, counter-protests, picket lines, marches, or public assemblies.

    Section 4-23.02 Restrictions

    (a) No person shall utilize, carry, or possess the following items or articles while attending or participating in any demonstration, rally, protest, counter-protest, picket line, march, or public assembly:

    1. Any length of lumber, wood, or wood lath unless that object is 1/4 inch or less in thickness and 2 inches or less in width, or if not generally rectangular in shape, such object shall not exceed 3/4 inch in its thickest dimension. Both ends of the lumber, wood or wood lath shall be blunt;

    2. Any length of metal or plastic pipe, whether hollow or solid; provided, however, that hollow plastic piping not exceeding 3/4 inch in its thickest dimension and not exceeding 1/8 inch in wall thickness, and not filled with any material, liquid, gas or solid may be used solely to support a sign, banner, placard, puppet or other similar expressive display. Both ends of any plastic pipe permissible under this subsection shall be blunt;

    3. Signs, posters, banners, plaques or notices, unless such sign, poster, banner, plaque or notice is constructed solely of soft material, such as cloth, paper, soft plastic capable of being rolled or folded, or cardboard material no greater than 1/4 inch in thickness;

    4. Baseball or softball bats, regardless of composition or size;

    5. Any aerosol spray, tear gas, mace, pepper spray, smoke canisters, or bear repellant;

    6. Any projectile launcher or other device, such as a catapult or wrist rocket, which is commonly used for the purpose of launching, hurling or throwing any object, liquid, material or other substance, whether through force of air pressure, spring action or any other mechanism;

    7. Weapons such as firearms, knives, daggers, swords, sabers or other bladed devices, axes, axe handles, hatchets, billy clubs, ice picks, razor blades, nunchucks or martial arts weapons of any kind, box cutters, pellet or BB guns, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), dynamite, conducted electrical weapons (CEWs), including, but not limited to, Tasers or stun guns, metal/composite/wooden knuckles, or any chain greater than 20 inches in length or greater than 1/4 inch in diameter. This section also includes toy or replica firearms unless such toy or replica is fluorescent colored or transparent;

    8. Balloons, bottles or any other container such as water cannons or super-soakers, filled with any flammable, biohazard or other noxious matter which is injurious, or nauseous, sickening or irritating to any of the senses, with intent to throw, drop, pour, disperse, deposit, release, discharge or expose the same in, upon or about any demonstration, rally, protest, picket line or public assembly;

    9. Glass bottles, whether empty or filled;

    10. Open flame torches, lanterns or other devices that utilize combustible materials such as gasoline, kerosene, propane or other fuel sources;

    11. Shields made of metal, wood, hard plastic or any combination thereof;

    12. Bricks, rocks, pieces of asphalt, concrete, pellets or ball bearings; and

    13. The wearing of a mask, scarf, bandana or any other accessory or item that covers or partially covers the face shielding the wearer’s face from view and conceals the wearer’s identity, except for coverings worn due to religious beliefs, practices or observances or due to medical necessity.

    (b) It shall be unlawful and a misdemeanor to violate any provisions of this Chapter.

    (c) When feasible, excluding exigent circumstances, a warning shall be issued before enforcement of the provisions of this Chapter. Such warning shall be sufficient if provided orally, by posted signs or by amplified announcement.

    (d) Authorized peace officers, or employees, agents or representatives of the City, shall be exempt from the provisions of this Chapter when such officers, employees, agents or representatives of the City are engaged in official business of the City.

    (e) Nothing in this Chapter shall prohibit the imposition of specific conditions for activities expressly authorized under a permit issued pursuant to Modesto Municipal Code Section 4- 8.01 et seq. (Regulation of Parades) or prohibit the modification of these provisions for such permits issued pursuant to Section 4-8.01 et seq. upon a finding by the Chief of Police that such modification will not impair or threaten public safety.

    (f) Nothing in this section shall prohibit an individual from carrying a cane or using a walker or other device necessary for providing mobility or access so that the person may participate in a public protest, demonstration, rally, picket line or public assembly.

    SECTION 3 SEVERABILITY.

    If any portion of this Ordinance, or its application to any person or circumstance, is for any reason held to be invalid, unenforceable or unconstitutional, by a court of competent jurisdiction, that portion shall be deemed severable, and such invalidity, unenforceability or unconstitutionality shall not affect the validity or enforceability of the remaining portions of the Ordinance, or its application to any other person or circumstance. The City Council of the City of Modesto hereby declares that it would have adopted each section, sentence, clause or phrase of this Ordinance, irrespective of the fact that any one or more other sections, sentences, clauses or phrases of the Ordinance be declared invalid, unenforceable or unconstitutional.

    SECTION 4. EFFECTIVE DATE/URGENCY.

    This Urgency Ordinance shall be passed and adopted at one and the same meeting and shall become effective immediately. The reasons for this urgency are set forth in Paragraphs AU inclusive.

    The foregoing ordinance was introduced at a regular meeting of the Council of the City of Modesto held on the 13th day of August, 2019, by Councilmember(s) ____________________, was upon roll call carried and ordered printed and published by the following votes:

    AYES: Councilmembers:

    NAYS: Councilmembers:

    ABSENT: Councilmembers:

    APPROVED:_________________________ TED BRANDVOLD, Mayor

    ATTEST: BY: __________________________________ STEPHANIE LOPEZ, City Clerk (SEAL)

    APPROVED AS TO FORM:

    BY: __________________________________ ADAM U. LINDGREN, City Attorney

MID’s Crossroads, Transparency or Cover-up, PRR’s and Lawsuits – How Much and Who is Paying?

By Emerson Drake

Which road will The Modesto Irrigation District  travel, the straight and narrow road of sunlight and transparency or the one full of twists and turns trying to stay in the dark shadows of duplicity?  MID’s latest outside council is a firm chosen by MID’s General Manager Scott Furgerson called Atkinson, Anderson, Loya, Rudd & Romo to respond to PRR’s and to attend meetings to provide legal counsel and to respond to Public Record Requests (PRR).

On February 7th we requested the cost for responding to a PRR in order to compare the costs between in house and outside counsel. It was refused.  They claimed that asking for documentation regarding legal matters, in this case their bills, falls under attorney client privilege (their entire response is included in the insert.  Claiming an invoice to a public agency is covered under ‘privileged’  is a new on us.  After you read their response you have to ask yourself what are they hiding And you have to know we haven’t given up getting to the bottom line cost.

Accountability: Another looming crossroad is who is going to pay for the legal defense for Director Mensinger and GM Furgerson in the hostile workplace/harassment lawsuit and will there be consequences if they lose or if hush money is paid.  Should ratepayers be forced to pay for the legal defense?   The suit alleges John Mensinger created a hostile work environment, which employers are required by law to prevent, and the GM stood by using the ‘he’s my boss what can I do’ defense for his alleged inaction.

Should elected officials be held accountable?  Recently in Turlock Gary Soiseth lost his bid for reelection and many claim his micro managing and his creating a hostile work environment were contributing factors. This same player was given the opportunity to resign rather than to be fired for his job at MID.  Maybe Mensinger and Furgerson admired Soiseth’s management style and took it as their own.  His antics didn’t upset them since even though they had been paying him for months when he didn’t show up for work, they used his services through another company waving their new catch phrase ‘for the good of the district’.  We have to ask do they even know what that means?

If GM Furgerson helped to create a hostile work environment by his inaction should he be fired?  If by his actions Director Mensinger created a hostile work environment should he resign?  Should ratepayers be forced to pay for their legal defense?

 

 

MID Fires Two Female Attorneys But Keeps a Male Attorney

By Emerson Drake 

Firing the women and keeping the men?  Have we come to expect anything else?  Surprisingly enough, or maybe not considering the new female unfriendly direction MID has taken, they broke precedent.  In the past whether it was meter readers, made surplus by smart reader technology, or executives that couldn’t do their job so they created one (read the second highest paying job at MID), MID made the effort and offered/found jobs for employees rather than firing them.  But not so with these women.

Why the rush?  With General Manager Scott Furgerson on vacation was it the puppet master Director John Mensinger speaking for Board President Paul Campbell like he does during MID meetings?

And why are they hiding their invoices to their newest attorneys from Public Record Requests?

MID has become as transparent as a brick wall.

We continue to thank our mailbag contributors who are helping us let the sun shine in.

 

John Mensinger Gets Himself and MID Sued For Harassment and More

By Emerson Drake

Our MID Mailbag came through again with startling news and information.    Former Modesto Irrigation District General Counsel Ronda Lucas has filed a lawsuit against John Mensinger for among other things, harassment, creating a hostile work environment, retaliation for making a discrimination complaint, and the Modesto Irrigation District for failing to protect her from consistent ongoing harassment.  Director Paul Campbell and General Manager Scott Furgerson were specifically listed as acting in concert against her and failing to protect her rights and violations of a numerous list of government codes.

We’ve witnessed MID Director John Mensinger’s hostile outbursts against the members of the public during MID meetings.  His anger boils to the surface and he doesn’t seem to be able to control himself.  His specialty or style is to respond when the members of the public have returned to their seats and are unable to respond. It isn’t hard to envision him taking advantage of his position as MID Director, against a woman, especially if he felt in control.

We’ll be following this up with more detail from the lawsuit when time permits. We at EyeOnModesto want to thank our contributors who sent us the entire lawsuit.

Gov. Newsom’s Appointee Uses Lobbyist to Disrupt MID Meeting

By Emerson Drake  

On Tuesday Bill Lyons used lobbyist/attorney Stacey Henderson from Terpstra Henderson Law Office located in Ripon to disrupt questioning of the MID General Manager regarding invoices from Gualco, a lobbying firm MID uses for state issues.  Ms. Henderson is paid to appear at MID meetings by several close business associates of Bill Lyons.  People who regularly attend MID meetings are aware of her close ties to Lyons and their continual attempts to keep MID electric ratepayers subsidizing farmers’ irrigation rates.  William Lyons, 68, of Modesto, has been appointed Agriculture Liaison in the Office of the Governor, a cabinet position for $175,008 per year. You have to give him credit, he knows how to cash checks paid for by taxpayers.

While a member of the public was engaged in an informative exchange with GM Scott Furgerson, Ms. Henderson leaped to her feet and began to speak over the conversation.  At the beginning of every MID meeting the Board Secretary reads a short spiel stating that any persons causing a disruption will be asked to leave.  Apparently that doesn’t apply to Bill Lyon’s lobbyists.

To make everything more clear and easier to follow, Bill Lyons has been CEO of Lyons investments (read Mapes ranch) since 1976, and that is around the time Bill began treating MID as his personal fiefdom. Bill and or his family and business associates controlled three of the five votes on MID’s Board as long as most can remember (until Jim Mortensen bungled it).  For years they funded any challenge to his votes/puppets by cutting a campaign donation check for  $5,000 anytime they were opposed during an election(in most elections they ran unopposed due to lack of interest). For perspective a $5,000 check in past MID terms was more like a $50,000, check today.

Just to introduce all of the Lyon’s entourage, because we wouldn’t want to leave anyone out, another Bill Lyons lobbyist Bob Fores (who is also a lobbyist/attorney), chimed in later but at least he didn’t disrupt the proceedings.  It’s humorous to onlookers when attorneys take umbrage to being called lobbyists but if your clients don’t have any official business in front of MID and you’re being PAID to shape opinion, then you are by definition a lobbyist.  Now personally I can understand why a lobbyist wouldn’t like being called an attorney but…Oh well you get my drift.

Stacy Henderson has lobbied MID to allow farmers to sell water to each other and insisted on keeping MID’s nose out of the prices farmers charge each other, all the while insisting MID deliver the water to her clients at approximately $40 dollars per acre foot below MID’s delivery cost.

Bill Lyons tentacles reach all over the sate but especially Stanislaus County. He was behind the attempted MID water sale to San Francisco and was able to get the Modesto Chamber of Commerce including Cecil Russell, to publicly support the sale (Lyons keeps pulling those strings).  His elected MID puppets even created a slush fund of $250,000 to support the sale.  Think about that for a minute they used ratepayer funds to ram an unpopular water sale down out throats.

Can we afford to have lobbyists paid for by Bill Lyons disrupting public meetings and getting away with it?  Watching the GM schmoozing Ms. Henderson during the following break provided us with another clue and a chuckle. But not to be outdone Stu Gilman conferred with Chamber of Commerce’s CEO Cecil Russell’s female executive assistant behind the dais during a break.  I can’t say that I or anyone else there had ever seen that happen before.  When it comes to weird twisted politics, MID takes the cake.

We can count on one thing, that there’s more to come from Lyons and his band of marionettes.

About the EyeOnModesto:  We’re not paid to attend meetings and our opinion’s aren’t for sale. You can’t say the same for lobbyists or attorneys or for lobbyists that are attorneys who go to these meetings

MID Mailbag Brings Us Featherbedding at the MID

By Emerson Drake 

Over the years our MID Mailbag has produced very interesting results that have become stories, like the bastardized ‘smart meters’ MID purchased that were defective requiring hundreds of thousands of dollars (of our money) to set right. But in the past year we’ve come across some items that need to see the light of day.

When Greg Salyer was allowed to step down as MID’s General Manager and retain his same salary of $236,188, eyes were opened.  His new title of Assistant General Manager, second in pay only to the newly hired GM seemed excessive for a position created by Mr. Salyer for himself.  In the last year we’ve received ‘concerns’ from staff that they see no input or leadership coming from Salyer and are wondering how long the farce will be maintained.

After receiving numerous complaints internally regarding the inexperience and lack of performance of an Engineering Tech Supervisor last year, management finally made a move and D.W. was sent toddling off the Woodland Generating Station.  But in MID’s usual fashion a position is now  listed  internally.  A position that was eliminated years ago because it was no longer needed.  But in the best of MID’s traditional featherbedding style (Featherbedding is the practice of hiring more workers than are needed to perform a given job) MID has resurrected the job and will offer it to D.W. at double his paycheck all for a special project.

Towards the end of last summer we kept hearing how then Turlock Mayor and MID employee Gary Soiseth had stopped showing up for work at MID while still cashing his paycheck.  It all came to a head on September 7th when Soiseth resigned rather than potentially being fired.  Apparently, and unknown at the time to the rest of us, this was the first of the behind the scene maneuvers by John Mensinger, Paul Campbell, Stu Gilman and MID General Manager Scott Furgerson.

By the October 23, 2018 Board meeting it became obvious these four had conspired into trying to hire Gary Soiseth as a consultant through Gulaco with a salary increase from $132,579 to $216,808 and for doing basically the same job he had been doing, when he was actually showing up, for MID.

So when concerns were expressed by other Board  members that Multiple Brown Act violations had occurred in recent months it wasn’t a surprise.

Multiple Public Record Requests have been delayed for months.  The current regime is reverting back to Tom VanGroningen and Allen Short days.   These were the  the exact opposite of the clean transparent days from Nick Blom and Larry Byrd.

For MID employees wanting MID to be run as a public business and not a personal empire you can express your concerns by email to westernpalms@aol.com

Oh yes and Paul, are you going to get a discount from John on all that lumber you’re thinking about needing?

 

 

 

MID’s Missing Legal Costs

By Emerson Drake  

A follow-up to MID Staffer Caught ‘Fudging’ the Numbers

We received the missing numbers through a Public Records Request.  Not surprisingly Scott Van Veren’s representation to the public and the Board wasn’t as advertised.  In the last meeting he made the claim the reason he hadn’t added the legal costs for lawsuits was because the settlements would skew or distort the report.  So lets take a look and you tell me.

From 2014 through 2018 the missing numbers total from the legal fees for the lawsuits came to $3,283,175.  The settlements for the same period came to $100,648.  There was an additional column called other which was described as consultant fees and materials for the lawsuits which came to $680,383.  You can see the breakdown by year below. Click on it to enlarge

it.

But clearly Scott claiming that $100,648 would skew $3,283,175 was a smoke screen.  Just as sad was Director John Mensinger repeatedly calling for a vote.  I would suggest John was aware of the ‘3 card monte’ or maybe you’d prefer ‘shell game’. being played out by MID staff.

Unfortunately MID is now using outside attorneys to process PPR’s.  Normally you could get the answers quickly and if you had any questions they were happy to provide answers.  The attorney I spoke with didn’t have a clue what the numbers meant nor could he explain the ‘other column’  Finally I was given a name at MID for follow-up explanations which were helpful. A hearty thanks to Ms. Cartisano. So we’ve made another PPR to find out just how much money MID is wasting on outside attorneys.  Billable hours versus salary?  The answer would seem to be a no brainer.  But you know John Mensinger and his cabal, they’ll stop at nothing.

 

MID Staffer Caught ‘Fudging’ The Numbers

By Emerson Drake 

At the 1/22/19 meeting AGM Finance/Treasurer Scott Van Vuren delivered a report that was supposed to layout our in-house and outside legal costs to allow the Board to make an educated decision regarding whether to hire a replacement in-house attorney or to hire an outside law firm to function as MID Counsel.  He made his presentation but both some members of the Board and the public had questions.  When we tried to get Van Vuren to total the two  pages, the first for $1.8 M  and the second for $1.8M each total is give or take $100,000, he was hesitant to respond, in fact he refused to respond to repeated inquiries.

We helped him with his math offering that it added up to approximately $3.6M but we couldn’t get him to say the words.  Finally he was forthcoming enough to state that there were additional legal costs he hadn’t included in the report. Most notably these were outside legal costs. When asked to place a number on these he said he’d have to get back to us and the Board.  Scott repeatedly said the missing numbers would be skewed by settlements. So some of the Board started following up with questions.  Scott kept using Turlock Irrigation District (TID) as his comparison.  But when asked to produce TID’s  numbers so we could compare apples to apples he claimed he’d need to get TID’s permission. Obviously Scott was stalling since these numbers are public domain.

Scott had been saying all along that we paid more then TID for legal costs but had nothing to back up his statements.  Questions were finally asked why he hadn’t checked with other districts for comparison. Obviously it didn’t suit his and Director John Mensinger’s preconceived position that outside services would be better.

John Mensinger kept trying to interrupt the questioning saying he’d heard enough but even Director Stu Gilman was getting curious now.  What they didn’t mention and since public comment is only 5 minutes so we didn’t get a chance to ask, was about the comparison.  TID’s budget is less that half of MID’s. ($164M vs $429M) and it’s safe to say that MID’s 122,000 electric customers are several times more than TID’s.  So why use them as a comparison?  So they can  get the predetermined outcome the ruling cabal desires.

And since we’re just trying to be helpful we have made a Public Record Request from TID for their legal costs for the last three years.  Scott seems to produce more reliable numbers when someone is looking over his shoulder.  The public needs to look out for themselves now since our compadres in this fight on the Board are out numbered.

It’s starting to sound like 2011 all over again.  And that bodes ill for the ratepayers.

For the follow-up see MID’s Missing Legal Costs

 

The House Modesto Gets Flimflammed at MID

By Emerson Drake  

On October 1, 2017 Pastor Glenn Berteau took a few minutes from Sunday’s service to introduce  lay pastor Stu Gilman and to ask for the congregations’ support and vote for Stu Gilman.  Pastor Berteau reminded the congregation that Stu is a personal friend of his and a friend of The House along with being a board member of The House.  Stu made a promise to the congregation that day. He said for years they had been overpaying for electricity and he would get them a rebate based on how much money they had spent on electricity.

Stu was subsequently elected to the Modesto Irrigation District Board and MID was facing a law suit from ratepayers.  He and the rest of the MID Board decided to commission a Cost of Service Study from Bartle Wells Associates and MRW & Associates to defend against the pending lawsuit.

Now to the meat and potatoes. The ‘report’ basically said apples were oranges and up is down.  It’s an agreed upon fact the water delivery side was facing a $17 Million shortfall every year.  And the electric ratepayers have been overcharged to pay for steeply discounted electric rates to large companies (read below cost in some cases), to pay for the water losses and to buy a percentage in the natural gas powered Lodi plant.  The Lodi plant is where their profits come from and are called ‘discretionary funds’ by the report.   The report states if MID’s Board has a policy they can point to that allows them to spend the discretionary funds as they see fit, that could include cars, boats. subsidizing farmers and large businesses including Gallo.

Stu Gilman and the rest of the Board voted to support the report and if it holds up in court it removes any possibility for the congregation and quite honestly the rest of us ratepayers to not only get a rebate but to get an even break in MID’s repressive rate structure.  So when the rubber met the road Stu supported MID and abandoned his congregation and the rest of the ratepayers.  Stu had his chance to stand up and keep his word to us but he showed his true colors and instead became just another one of them.  We had hope and gave him rope, and look what he did with it.

One of the issues is the essence of religion is submission to authority and for supporting Stu Gilman, Pastor Glenn must accept some responsibility for the outcome.  People expect their Pastors, Ministers, Priests, and Spiritual Advisers to look out for their best interests when they demonstrate their support for candidates or ballot measures from the pulpit.  As happens often in life the people that need the breaks the most get screwed but when it happens to you, by the leaders of your church, you should be asking questions.  Lots of questions.

And your belief in their answers is discretionary.

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