Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

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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.

MID Intrigue, Betrayal and the Brown Act

By Emerson Drake  

Recently Modesto Irrigation District meetings are more like a Shakespearean play. They’ve had it all, palace coups, intrigue, betrayal,  possible legal violations and audit reports that stretch credulity.  And believe it or not we’re underplaying recent events.

Since it directly effects our wallets lets start with the most recent first, the 100 plus pages of the District’s Cost of Service Study Report.  Listening to the report of their meeting on line will mystify and amaze you while on occasion putting you to sleep.  When I hear “generally accepted audit and accounting standards” the hairs on the back of my neck rise up because that is the same verbiage we heard during the Enron scandal.  Remember Enron’s report suggested Enron was financially sound all the while the walls were crumbling down.

MID is fiscally sound but the reasoning behind the report is questionable. The whole purpose of this report is to defend them against an electrical ratepayers law suit. They change the words “electrical profits” to “discretionary funds” that can be applied anywhere the Board chooses. And as the magician says abracadabra there is no subsidy for the water side despite the annual shortfall of  $17M.  When evaluating MID’s reports keep in mind the old adage  ‘liars can figure and figures can lie and that well paid ones do it even better.”

The report’s cost of service numbers are skewed, in other words biased and distorted.  As we learned during the Mountain House discussions it all depends on which column they put costs into.  Or if they bother to account for them at all, after all out of sight is out of mind.  MID has a tendency to say once we decide to supply power to an area the expensive main feeder power lines and substations don’t count against cost of service. Yet someone pays the bill.  But that person is an imaginary one named ‘discretionary’.

While we’re still working our way through the report we haven’t come across the validation of supplying electricity at below cost to businesses while still covering their costs. If you have any doubts, it’s ‘Discretionary’ that is paying for it.  If you want to meet ‘Discretionary’ take a look in the mirror.

As we continue to review the report and receive information from our on-going public record requests, there will be more to follow.

 

 

Modesto Plans a General Amendment 2040 Update

BY Emerson Drake  

Modesto is planning a public study session for Councilmembers and Commissioners, and is allowing the public to attend.  In a recent public records request, the city denied that Councilmembers had had any input into the General Plan Amendment. Unsurprisingly,  the City Attorney Adam Lindgren’s response was a point blank denial that ANYONE from the Council had sent any emails or texts to city staff regarding the GPA.  Do we believe that?  No!

I would suggest anyone interested in learning the city’s plans should try to attend or at least send a representative to be in the loop. The date is Monday, December 17, 2018, 6:PM Modesto Centre Plaza basement level.  The main entrance at 10th and K Street is recommended.

MID-Gary Soiseth-Gualco Group, Shades of Martino Graphics – It’s Deja vu All Over Again!

By Emerson Drake  

Listening to a Turlock Mayoral forum and Amy Bublak making allegations that Gary Soieseth had started a consulting firm and intended to do business with the potential Turlock water treatment plant, set us on an interesting journey.  Trying to get to the bottom of charges that Gary was intending on doing business with a plant that was still on the drawing board is an uphill battle to say the least, but we did file a (PRR) Public Record Request on October 24th to discover any MID connections to Gary’s new company. We later learned the company’s name in a Bee article,it’s called Central California Advisors.

 

According to documents obtained Gary’s contract negotiations had advanced to the closing stage back in July.  Only his potential contract was with The Gaulco Group as Senior Adviser and not his own company.  As you can see on the first page Gary was expected to start on 10/01/18.  Yet he told the Bee he had already done some work for MID on the Federal licensing of the hydro-electric generator at Dom Pedro Dam.  Strange since the federal lobbying/advisers are another company and that company doesn’t show up in the PRR. 

And now is where it gets interesting.  It the Bee article General Manager Scott Furgerson says “Soiseth had done minimal work on behalf of the MID in his new role.” Yet there is no contract with Gary’s new company or any mention of Gary being added to the Gualco Group and no money trail to date.  MID Public Affairs Spokesperson Melissa Williams spoke with us and verified Gary Soiseth had indeed done some work for MID but is being paid by Gualco, not MID, but she did not have any information regarding the amount of work or money involved.  She also stressed that Gaulco was paying Gary and not MID.  Yet, despite her assertions, if Gualco is using Gary to work for MID then MID meaning WE are footing the bill.

 

For those who don’t remember Martino Graphics, Tom VanGroningen, and MID’s attempted water sale, let me provide a little background.  During the time leading up to the water sale MID kept saying they didn’t have contracts with individuals to support their attempts at selling our water to San Francisco.  They kept denying knowing to whom the money was going even after multiple PRR’s were filed.  Finally they admitted that they had a contract with Martino Graphics for over $234,000 and Martino Graphics had contracts with a variety of local politicos, some of whom came to MID to publicly support the sale.   And now we have MID first denying any contract with Turlock’s Mayor and former MID employee Gary Soiseth, either with his company Central California Advisors or Gualco Group, and yet MID is paying Soiseth through Gualco Group.

 

Remember Nick and Larry fought the underhanded Allen Short and Tom VanGroningen for our water their first year on the Board.  It’s no wonder Directors Nick Blom and Larry Byrd called for an investigation.  First Gary gives his notice and then he changes his mind and delays his departure date. Was it to ensure he gets vested for his five years of service or to give  MID’s General Manager Scott Furgerson time to negotiate his severance package, ie: his new job?  And why is his former boss feathering his future nest?  And now the kicker…employing Gary through Gualco will cost MID an extra $36,135 per year if he gets his raise.  But since it became public his first “special” arrangement goes away but a second one, almost a secret one, delivers the goods.

 

The only way we can see General Manager Scott Furgerson originally supporting  this or pushing forward with this semi-clandestine arrangement is if MID Directors John Mensinger, Paul Campbell, and Stu Gilman are on board.  Which opens the door to another question…what other secrets or surprises are we in store for?

Modesto’s Cover-up To Start By Firing the Auditor

By Emerson Drake

We’ve learned Modesto’s auditor apprised members of the Modesto City Council’s Audit Committee in a memo on July 19th of her concerns that the City Attorney and the company Meyers Nave had overstepped their bounds by misrepresenting themselves in SR 132 eminent domain legal services.  The memo was sent to Mayor Ted Brandvold and Councilmen Mani Grewal and Douglas Ridenour.

 

That’s when the scheme was created to implement a cover-up of the alleged malfeasance by Meyers Nave, the company Modesto has contracted for legal services, which supplies Adam Lindgren as Modesto’s City Attorney.  Less than two months after Modesto hired Monica Houston as the City’s Auditor and just weeks after the memo was sent to the City staff;  City Manager Joe Lopez and Attorney Adam Lindgren implemented a series of job performance evaluations in secret (closed sessions) supported by Council members Bill Zoslocki, Doug Ridenour, Mani Grewal, and Jenny Kenoyer  The City Attorney demanded they go into closed sessions for the evaluations.    For those unaware Council members can’t reveal to the public what is said during closed sessions.  It’s our understanding that four and possibly more closed sessions were scheduled.  But obviously and according to their plan, we don’t know what transpired but we doubt it was hugs and smiles.  Probably just the opposite (acrimonious with hostile overtones) since they are trying to silence Monica.

 

In an article in the Bee dated Oct 10th by Rosalio Ahumada, the City Council meeting was detailed quite well except at the time he and the rest of us weren’t aware of the memo behind some of Ted Brandvold’s and Kristi Ah You’s comments.  During the Council meeting, about 1 hour and 19 minutes, Mayor Brandvold suggested documents were being falsified  by city staff.  If the documents that the Auditor has don’t match the documents the city now has or any falsification is present then heads should roll starting with the City Attorney and City manager for suborning the falsification or alteration of city documents.  If you listen to the council meeting when Mani comes back in you hear lots of static. We’ve been told before the interference is caused by someone’s phone being on.  Mani was the only one that left the dais.  You have to wonder who he felt the need to call for instructions. But there’s more…

In the memo Houston includes actions by Meyer Nave of supplier favoritism including no bid contracts. Also included are suggestions of fraud, waste and abuse in the assigning of contracts.  These charges could expose Modesto to financial loss.

There have long been questions about the large sums of money Modesto is spending for legal fees.  We are aware lawyers are expensive but having a real City Attorney is cost effective compared to outside council/firm is extremely expensive. We and others have submitted Public Record Requests truing to find out just how much Modesto pays in legal fees but to this point the items provided by the city are so redacted it makes them almost useless.  They black out so much information it’s almost impossible to tell what services the invoices are paying for.  Also coming into question is the assigning of legal contracts.  Is Meyers Nave receiving quid pro quo for their assigning lucrative contracts for city business?  What are they hiding?

 

All things considered it would seem we have a Sacramento legal firm adding to their bottom line using questionable legal means at our expense and they, with the help of the inept City Manager and a few members of the City Council,  are willing to orchestrate a the firing of anyone who stands in their way.  Why is it when someone steps forward to warn the City Council of problems they get shown the door?  When will Modesto start working for ALL of the people who live here and not just special interest groups that quite often don’t ?

 

More food for thought:  Meyers Nave is council for four other cities in Stanislaus County which would give them a large power block on StanCog and  Stanislaus LAFCO or Local Agency Formation Commission.  Before your eyes glaze over LAFCO has the final say on cities wanting to expand and develop.  In Modesto they enabled a new  area of Beard Industrial to avoid paying Modesto user fees which was against their policy until Modesto special interests intervened.  So we not only provide below cost subsidized  electricity we don’t charge them the extra six percent user tax that you and I pay for electricity, sewer and water.

 

 

 

For Honesty, Integrity, Service, It’s Terry Withrow

By Emerson Drake  

 

When we’re evaluating candidates for local office many times it comes down to the lesser of two evils.  When it comes to the Stanislaus Board of Supervisors District 3 it’s an easy call because we have an extremely qualified candidate, Terry Withrow.   Sometimes candidates come to the position with preconceived notions.  Other times their notions/ideas have been pushed on them by special interest groups.  One of things that make Terry Withrow exceptional is he listens to his constituents.  I know that sounds easy but in this day and age that requires fundraising to get your message out, special interest groups (the Chamber of Commerce and developers) and those who collect politicians for money and personal power (George Petrulakis) will supply the money, but at a price.  Terry doesn’t take money from the deep pocketed developers.

 

When neighborhood residents come to Terry with concerns he hears them out and helps to find solutions.   He doesn’t pretend to have a magic wand (like his opponent does) and that all he has to do is wave it and everyone is instantly happy.  He understands how the County works and assists in not only explaining the correct path but he helps to get the ball rolling. And he doesn’t take his eyes off the ball, he stays focused through to the end.

 

He supported Modesto, Salida, and Wood Colony residents in their unified goal to preserve our way of life, our neighborhoods and our precious (some of the best in the World)  farmland.  When Salida became concerned about Cannabis shops being placed in Salida, Terry made sure their wishes were respected.

 

During the recent drought Terry was in the forefront in establishing and working with the Stanislaus County Water Advisory Committee bringing farmers, businesses and residents together to help resolve water issues and drought concerns going back to its formation in February 2014.

 

Terry has always remained open to people having questions or concerns.  Whether it’s during or after a Board meeting, a chance meeting in public or or public media, he is always willing to hear anyone’s ideas, problems, or concerns.  I’ve watched him give his cellphone number out to anyone who wanted to talk and especially to those trying to pick an argument.

 

When it comes to local politics it’s not the party that’s important.  Power brokers like George Petrulakis purchase Democrats, Republicans, or supposed Independents as often as they can.  Case in point…George even ran two candidates (one Republican and one Democrat)  against Terry  in the primary this year.

 

We’ve followed our political scene for many years and without a doubt Terry Withrow is one of the best people ever to be elected to office in Stanislaus County.   He deserves our continued support.  Vote for Terry Withrow for Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors District 3.

The Rubber Stamp Council Wants a Rubber Stamp,Too

By Emerson Drake   

On Tuesday night 9/4 the Modesto City Council is suspending the Citizens Oversight Committee created to persuade Modesto’s residents to vote for a half-cent sales tax back in November of 2016.  The Committee which is officially referred to as the  ‘Citizens’ Transportation Sales Tax Commission’  was supposed to ensure that the money would be spent as promised.  But since the money has been flowing in special interest groups have been claiming the money for themselves.

From Jaylen French, Director of Community & Economic Development Department

Measure L creates an “Oversight Committee to review
and monitor use of all tax revenue and to insure that all funds are spent in accordance
with the Expenditure Plan.” The ballot materials that were before the voters stated that
the functions of the Oversight Committee were to “review and monitor use of all tax
revenue and to insure that all funds are spent in accordance with [StanCOG’s]
Expenditure Plan.”

But according to the Council instead of an oversight committee what they really want is someone to come along after the money has been spent and rubber-stamp their decisions.  Not surprising is that the same night they plan on pulling the Committee’s teeth they plan on officially setting aside $1,658,925 for a future downtown Measure ‘L’ eligible project that will be spent as Cecil Russell and the Modesto Chamber of Commerce sees fit.

The crux of the problem lies in where the money is going to be spent.  Citizen Committee members we’ve talked with are saying special interest groups behind the scene are insisting that a large chunk of the money be spent providing Beard Industrial Park with direct access to 132.  For those unaware, Beard Industrial Park lies in the County not the City.  Modesto City Council has already made special arrangements to keep the Park in the County despite LAFCO’s rules.  They receive city services but don’t pay the user tax Modesto residents do.  As a matter of fact, for the majority of the businesses in the Beard Park their electricity is subsidized by the residential ratepayer.

I should also mention that this same night the City Council is going forward with the acquisition of real property directing the commencement of eminent domain proceedings for the State Route 132 West Freeway/Expressway Phase 1

Back to the neutering of promises made by the City Council.  At the Council meeting of 8/14, Bill Zoslocki regaled the attendees of how Measure L passed by more than 70%.  But he skimmed over what helped to induce the voters to support adding to their already overburdened load of taxes.  Yes the much ballyhooed Citizens Oversight Committee.  But now the majority are determined to reduce it to a  a rubber-stamp functionary.  How can they effectively act as an oversight protecting the public’s best interests when the Council wants them to sit down and shut up until AFTER the money has been long spent.  Watching the last meeting it was clear the only people on the Council worrying about the voters were Mayor Ted Brandvold and somewhat surprisingly, Tony Madrigal.

At this point we’re stuck paying that half-percent for the next 25 years and it’s become extremely obvious we won’t have any input as to what its to be spent on.  It’s the classic bait and switch.  No one ever said this Council was original in their thinking.  But they follow their master’s orders very well.

Congratulations Cecil, on a job well done.  Once again you and the Chamber have managed to get the residents of Modesto to pay for your special interest group’s projects and facilitated transferring money out of our pockets and into theirs..

Last Chance to Be Heard About Rental Inspections

By Emerson Drake   

You could say it started last August when the remaining tenants at 624 9th street were given 72 hours to vacate the 27 apartments that were water damaged ceilings, rat and cockroach infestations, holes in walls and floors, faulty plumbing and electrical, mold and mildew. Some landlords in Modesto are just in it for every penny they can squeeze out of their tenants that often have few if any other options.

The City had offered up enough money to easy their conscience but not enough to get the tenants into better housing.  During a City Council meeting Councilman Bill Zoslocki said most of these people couldn’t qualify for the 240 plus rentals  where  he’s a partner/owner.

At the Council meeting last year They called for City Staff to formulate a plan that would include cost effective inspections to help maintain  health and living standards. But when staff laid out a quality proposal at the City Council Safety and Communities Committee meeting in May to inspect the rentals suddenly there were a couple of dozen of property owners and managers protesting that it wasn’t necessary.  Apparently they didn’t look at the pictures from 624 9th or just want to encourage a caveat emptor or buyer be ware marketplace.  You have to wonder if Bill Zoslocki’s apartment managers were present.

The outcome was almost preordained  when you consider the clout of the rental insiders.  The City Council decided to ask Modesto residents if they wanted to BUT they only allowed two meeting both on Monday afternoons at 5:00 PM.  Now it’s hard to understand the timing if you really want community input.  We wondered why email comments were not allowed or some variance of timing.  After all if you aren’t available to attend on one Monday night at 5 is it very likely you’d be able to attend the following Monday?

We tried to contact Tom Trimberger with the city for comment and to update us regarding the amount of comments but we we haven’t heard back yet.

We understand why people who are renting, which in many neighborhoods are 60% and higher,  would be reluctant to come forward fearing retaliation but many of us that are homeowners should be stepping forward to speak out in favor of inspections.  We residents need to look out for each other in Modesto because you can bet your bottom dollar the rental owners and managers will be looking out for themselves.

The last meeting starts at 5 p.m. in room B300 in the basement of Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St. Monday, July 16.

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