Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

The Missing Council Video

By Emerson Drake  

On Tuesday 8/15 the entire Modesto City Council met for ethics training.  It was a Brown Act meeting which meant there was a published agenda and the public was allowed not only to attend but to speak during the public comment part of the meeting.  Now usually these types of meetings are held in a much smaller room than the Council chambers but since all of the decision makers in the City’s staff including about a dozen members of the Modesto Police Dept. were required to attend, it was held in Council Chambers.  They don’t have video capability in the smaller rooms but obviously they have it in Council Chambers.

But as you’ll note unlike other council meetings they not only haven’t posted the video but are actually refusing to make it available for streaming even though they recorded it.

Council Meeting 8/15/2017 Agendapdf|Packet|Minutes
Council Meeting 8/8/2017 Agendapdf|Packet|Minutes|Video
Council Meeting 8/2/2017 Agendapdf|Packet|Minutes|Video

First we called the City Clerk’s office and requested that they make the meeting video available but they claim that it was never streamed and that they don’t make workshops available.   I explained that after being at the meeting for about one hour I then went home and we watched the rest of it live on our  computer.  They said okay but they weren’t supposed to stream it.  They are making the video available to any staff that missed the meeting at no cost.  But the public?  Well, we are kept in the dark and being sent the bill for the privilege.  We’ve called the City Manager’s office and the Mayor’s office but so far they haven’t  responded to our queries.

So what’s the big deal?  Well, not only was it a tutorial for the elected office holders and city staff BUT it was also a tutorial for the public to let them know their rights and what to expect from public record requests.

And for the record despite the taxpayers paying for the elected and city staff that packed council chambers some still could not get there for the meeting to start on time.  So Mr. City Attorney, you may have blamed the three minute public comment period for running 18 minutes overtime but that wasn’t the truth, was it? (It was one of Adam’s final comments that shows we were actually listening at home long after departing the meeting)

MINUTES

 

City of Modesto

 CITY COUNCIL WORKSHOP
Chambers, Basement Level
Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th Street
Modesto, California

Tuesday August 15, 2017, at 9:00 a.m.

 

City of Modesto

 SPECIAL CITY COUNCIL MEETING
Council Conference Room, Basement Level
Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th Street
Modesto, California

Tuesday August 15, 2017, at 11:30 a.m.

 

CITY COUNCIL WORKSHOP
 

Roll Call – Present: Councilmembers Ah You (arrived at 9:45 a.m.), Grewal, Kenoyer, Madrigal, Ridenour, Zoslocki, Mayor Brandvold

Absent: None

 
PUBLIC COMMENT PERIOD

 

  • Emerson Drake spoke regarding private emails, an email to him dated March 22, 2017 regarding 14,000 “hits” in response to his Public Records Act request, and cameras in parking lots.
1. AB1234 Ethics Training Workshop (Funding Source: Not Applicable)
  City Attorney; Adam Lindgren, 577-5288, alindgren@modestogov.com 

 

ACTION:  City Attorney Lindgren and Assistant City Attorney Sanchez conducted the AB 1234 Ethics Training Workshop.

MATTERS TOO LATE FOR THE AGENDA

 

None.

 

CLOSED SESSION

 

CONFERENCE WITH REAL PROPERTY NEGOTIATORS:

(Pursuant to Section 54956.8 of the Government Code)

Property:                     Property between 9th and 10th Street, and E Street and F Street,

located in Modesto, CA; APN: 106-044-005

Property Owners:        Victor Martinez/Victor & Iris Martinez TRS

Negotiating Parties:

For City:          Cynthia Birdsill, Director of Community & Economic Development for City of

Modesto

Adam U. Lindgren, City Attorney for City of Modesto

For Property Owners:             Larry Killian, Real Estate Broker

Under Negotiation:     Possible purchase

 

 

ADJOURNMENT

 

ACTION: This meeting adjourned at 11:10 a.m
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Modesto…Are You Paying Attention?

By Emerson Drake  

On August 8, 2017, the Modesto City Council will consider the 6/8/16 Healthy Economy Committee recommendation to maintain the current / 1995 general plan boundary.

Here is the pdf from the email we received GPA-10-001 CC Public Meeting Notice 8-8-17 SIGNED (1)  Being it’s difficult to find and without  the Committee’s specific (no maps or detailed references were provided) recommendations and any discussion it’s hard to know what to think.  I do remember when this conversation was going on during a Planning Commission meeting, we were blindsided by a massive expansionist effort propelled by  the Modesto Chamber of Commerce, led by Craig Lewis.  And on 8/2/17 they are going to give Mr. Lewis a high profile position on the Stan COG Measure L Citizens Oversight Committee.

But after the directions some on the Council and the Board of Supervisors have  been hinting at lately, you are forced to wonder if a potential  land grab, wholesale or piecemeal,  isn’t around the corner.

Another Back Door Land Deal by the Modesto City Council

By Emerson Drake    

Mayor Ted Brandvold seems intent on pushing a land deal between the city and Stanislaus Food Products at Tuesday night’s meeting of the City Council BEFORE  the public can vet it. Remember the last time the Council was in a big hurry? It was the land deal behind the new courthouse. The city lost Millions of dollars because they over paid to one of the politically connected  land owners.
 
When asked why the usual vetting process was skipped the Mayor claimed he didn’t know ( ask George Petrulakis land use attorney and puppet master of the Mayor.) 
 
Then of course Councilman Bill Zoslocki posturing claiming he hasn’t reviewed it yet most likely he’ll go along to get along. But it will provide him probable deniability if something goes south.
Stanislaus Foods is keeping quiet and is willing to let the fix take its course. And the rest of the Council?   Well,  their just the rest of the Council unable or,  more likely, as usual,  unwilling to buck George and the Chamber of Commerce.
The bottom line is there isn’t any reason for a big rush to make a decision and every time the Modesto City Council pulls a stunt like this it’s the Citizens that get stuck with the bill. Modesto’s special interest groups get richer and the taxpayers get poorer…everybody knows.

City Council Says Property Managers Must Act As Police Officers Or Pay The Price

By Emerson Drake  
Modesto Police say NO Warnings will be issued from now on regarding illegal fireworks, just citations costing a $1,000 a ticket. Last year when the Modesto Police Department in conjunction with the City Council, wrote and passed the law the city blew the paperwork implementing the fines for those that shoot off illegal fireworks and or  for property owners and managers that live on the property.  And as usual instead of the City Attorney catching the timing issue in advance it was after the fact that the timing legality reared its head. And again as usual the Council needed a fall guy and Police Chief Galen Carroll stepped up to the plate and took one for the team.
 
When originally written the law said, whether you lived there or not, property owners and or managers could and would be fined and that went for ALL property owners and managers.   BUT as usual in Modesto, the “BIG BOYS” complained and were granted an exemption. So the more property you own or manage the less likely you would get stuck paying a fine for the actions of your tenants. And yes as usual it was the Modesto Chamber of Commerce that screamed  the loudest to insist the Council exempt the “FAT CAT” owners
 
Now we don’t agree with fining property owners or managers for the actions of their tenants since it’s the police who have the power to control events. It just seems like they are pushing their responsibility onto others who don’t have the legal authority to enforce laws. Maybe both the City and Police should be held accountable for any violence or retribution against property manages or landowners that may occur when they try to enforce the law

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

By Emerson Drake  

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

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

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

 

Modesto Irrigation District Wastes $75,000 on Outsourcing

By Emerson Drake   

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

By Emerson Drake   

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

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

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

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

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

The next park they decide is surplus may be YOURS.

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

By Emerson Drake  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Emerson Drake 

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

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

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

 

Hi Emerson,

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Dana Sanchez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Emerson Drake  

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

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