Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

Archive for the tag “City Council”

What Came Out of the Workshop

By Emerson Drake

It was the meeting the public forgot. Well not everyone forgot, after all, there were five from the  public. Three were

English: Author: Carl Skaggs This image was ta...

English: Author: Carl Skaggs This image was taken by me on January 14, 2010 in Modesto, California I hereby relinquish all rights to this photo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

candidates or probable candidates for council seats and of the remaining two,  one was from Salida.  Of the council most were there with the exception of Councilman Lopez who was a no-show  and Councilwoman Burnside who came a half an hour into the conversation.

At the very beginning the sparse attendance was noted and immediately Councilman Cogdill said it wasn’t the council’s fault.  But maybe the choice of day and time Wednesday at 3:00 PM could have had something to do with it.  Or maybe not.

After a comparison of the city’s official Vision vs Mission statements the meeting shot past a review of the priorities established in the first Goal Setting Workshop.  For those paying attention to such things, the Annexation of Salida was the very first item under PRIORITY A. 

This time around a plan “B” had been established.  Councilman Cogdill was pushing to “grow” Mary Grogan Park by establishing more ball fields of an unnamed type to join the 10 soccer fields (three artificial turf and seven grass) presently being planned by entering into a public/private partnership to develop and fund the project.  But make no mistake, Mayor Marsh hasn’t taken his eyes off of the prize called Salida and neither have the developers as no plan “B” was mentioned regarding business parks.

It was generally agreed upon the areas we can focus on to achieve easy gains in internal efficiency are outlined in the Moss Adams report.   A copy can be found by clicking on the following pdf link.

COM-Org-Study

We’ve brought this to your attention in the past but if you haven’t already now would be a good time to peruse this document. It was suggested this study contains up to 30 good ideas for improvement.

We were  disappointed in one particular portion regarding Priority Champions.

The City Staff were seeking members of the council to help be responsible for the priorities being established by these workshops. But it appears in true political fashion, some  Council members lead by Councilwoman Burnside wanted no part of being a “Champion” suggesting it was the staff responsibility to push these priorities forward. Councilwoman Burnside stated she wanted to see more reports from the other committees.  I guess the reports/meeting minutes  available on the city website aren’t sufficient.  If “special reports” are generated for her then they should be placed on the city website for all to read.  Please don’t require a Public Records Request for this information.  The City Clerks office is understaffed as it is and are doing an incredible job of keeping up so lets not add to their workload.

One thing experience has shown is if one or more council members don’t show or take a particular interest that no matter the topic, it won’t get done.  It languishes on the vine, dries up and is lost to the scrap heap of disinterest.  When running for office council members like to take credit for actions of past councils (like Modesto’s density) which worked out but are hesitant to take responsibility for major projects where they will be in the forefront.

The next meeting is a community forum scheduled for Thursday, April 18, 2013 from 5-7 PM  at the Downtown Plaza.

As always if you want to hear more on this subject check out yesterday’s radio broadcast on blogtalk.  The link is available on this site.  As soon as the pdf of the hand outs from yesterday’s meeting are made available I’ll be providing them.

 So, as usual, in Modesto, apathy reigns supreme.  You can almost say it’s counted on.

Take the Special Interest Money out of Politics Lower Campaign Donation Limits

English: Author: Carl Skaggs This image was ta...

By Emerson Drake

A change in Modesto’s TIN CUP  Ordinance (Time Is Now To Clean Up Politics) is coming up before the Modesto City Council and we need YOUR help.  In 2005 the Modesto Chamber of Commerce asked the council to eliminate the donation limits candidates can receive before they are forced to recuse themselves or step back from discussion and voting on a subject a contributor brought before the council.  It other words the Chamber wanted to make it so they could give many thousands of dollars to council members and they could vote for whatever the donor wanted.

Imagine where we would be if that had passed.

Instead the council decided to raise the limits from $1,000 to $3,000 before the cutoff limit was reached.  Since then we have divided the city up into six districts lowering the cost of running for office. Unfortunately this has brought forth excessive amounts of special interest money into the campaigns of some.

There is another argument being made by Councilman Lopez in which he suggests to be a good council member you must have the intestinal fortitude to ask for $3,000 or you won’t be worth your salt on the council.  But that isn’t how he plays the game.  For insistence, he asked the Modesto Fire Fighters Union for $2,962 just under the limit before he would have to recuse himself. He also asked the Modesto Police Officers Union, the MPOA, for $2,750  again just under the donation limit.

The argument is being made you need $6,000 to mail a flyer but in checking Lopez’s campaign reports ( called 460,s) the costs of running a mailer are around $3,000.

After checking the 460’s of the most recent council races I discovered very few donations were made OVER $1,000 in fact, with only a couple of small exceptions (over by a couple of hundred dollars) all of the candidate’s contributions were below the $1,000 threshold EXCEPT for those of special interests.   The special interest money came from unions, developers, and Lobbyists.

When comparing the money spent on council races a few other things became apparent.  When developer money (especially Salida area developers “surprise surprise”) piled in on a candidate like Dave Cogdill Jr., he spent it like it was on fire.  Councilman Cogdill spent $37,747 to get elected, took in at least 15 donations of $1,000 and his opponent spent about $2,000. Talk about a case of ego and overkill.

As a comparison Councilwoman Stephanie Burnside’s spent $23,000 and took six donations of $1,000 or more (two from Burnside Auto Body) and the rest were basically $500 and under.  Her opponent Jenny Kenoyer collected one contribution of $500 and the rest were smaller.  She raised and spent $13,000 on her campaign showing it can be done.

What the Bee didn’t mention in their recent article is the Modesto Fire Fighter’s Union made two independent campaign expenditures to Councilman Lopez’s campaign.  They spent $2,000 in telephone calls in July and they spent  another $6,000 in the final weeks of the race for mailers supporting Lopez. Todd Aaronson, Lopez’s major opponent, took in only six donations of $1,000 or more.

In other words Councilman Lopez out spent Aaronson by over 2-1 NOT counting the eight thousand dollars spent by the Fire Fighters Union.  If special interests are going to weigh in so heavily we need to know about it.  That will be my  next attempt to update the TIN CUP Ordinance.

So if you can take a moment, please email this to your friends to make them aware of  OUR opportunity to take Modesto out of the hands of the special interest groups be they Union, Lobbyist, OR Developer. Here is the list of Council emails I welcome you to write to:

mayor@modestogov.com               jgunderson@modestogov.com                 dgeer@modestogov.com

dlopez@modestogov.com               jmuratore@modestogov.com                    sburnside@modestogov.com

dcogdill@modestogov.com

You can call them at (209)571-5169

Be an Engaged Citizen…!

A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead

Public Record Requests Should Benefit From Judge’s Ruling

English: Author: Carl Skaggs This image was ta...

English: Author: Carl Skaggs This image was taken by me on January 14, 2010 in Modesto, California I hereby relinquish all rights to this photo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Emerson Drake

It may not seem like a big deal to most people but Friday’s ruling by Superior Court Judge James P. Kleinberg should change the way Modesto responds to Public Record Requests (PRR) regarding emails and texts.  Several times in the past we’ve requested emails from Council members through the city only to have the request denied by Modesto City Attorney Susanna Acala Wood.  She used a unique measuring criteria when it comes to email.

Her responses in the past have been, unless a council member prints an email and uses it as a reference for information in a conversation with other council members then it doesn’t meet the threshold for a response to a PRR.  Modesto as a rule deletes emails in 30 days.  They say it’s because they need the space on their servers.  From the judge’s ruling it appears   Modesto will be arranging for larger servers.  Judge Kleinberg also ruled private text messages are obtainable by the public.  Hopefully Modesto will start saving the emails for longer periods of time and will stop disallowing access to them.

I should take this opportunity to say former Councilman Brad Hawn was always forthcoming with his emails when they were requested.  But he was the Lone Ranger on this issue.

KTVU TV  SAN JOSE, Calif. —

A Northern California judge has ruled that private text messages, emails and other electronic communications sent and received by San Jose officials about city affairs are public records.

The ruling Friday in Santa Clara County has the potential to settle a long-simmering legal debate in California over access to such records.

The state’s Public Record Acts and other laws require communications of elected officials and other public officials on public issues to be retained and turned over upon request.

Since the advent of email, activists and others in the state have been battling with officials at all levels of government over whether public issues discussed on private devices with personal accounts are covered by the Public Records Act. Similar legal battles and political debates have sprung up across the country as well.

http://www.loscerritosnews.net/2013/03/21/san-jose-court-rules-text-messages-e-mails-electronic-communications-of-public-officials-on-private-devices-deemed-as-public-records/

An Interesting Email Exchange Between Garrad Marsh and Dave Thomas

This exchange was Modesto Mayor Garrad Marsh and Dave Thomas President of the Stanislaus Taxpayers Association.

Garrad, et al. it is clear that inquiring minds want to know what is really going on with our water policy.  The message below was sent by an inquisitive person.  Please amend my PRA of this morning to include the questions below.
It should be obvious that any document which is used in negotiating with MID regarding an issue that involves a 218 expense is clearly in the public domain.  Again, I trust that you will send me the “Term Sheet” relating to your negotiations with MID immediately.
This proposed scheme by City to take over Surface Water Treatment Plants MUST be fully disclosed to the Public, and soon.
 


Dave, 
As you can see from item 19, copied below, on the just-released agenda for Tuesday’s meeting, the mayor has already discussed the Prop. 218 process to fix the water plant with the City Council. When did that discussion occur? 

When was the decision made to order staff to start the 218 process? Was this decision reported to the Public?  If this was discussed under potential litigation, a Prop. 218 vote has nothing to do with litigation. 


It’s clear to me they’re in the habit of discussing the public’s business in closed session, and that is a violation of the Brown Act.  Would you check on that?
 
19. 

Consider approving Amendments related to updating the Water Rates and Capacity Charge Study regarding the proposed repairs to correct the design and construction deficiencies of the Modesto Regional Water Treatment Plant Expansion:  (i) Financial Consulting Solutions Group, Inc. in an amount not to exceed $64,148, plus $6,147 for additional services (if needed), for a maximum amount of $313,508; (ii)  Horizon Water and Environmental to perform environmental review work in an amount not to exceed $14,951, plus $1,495 for additional services (if needed), for a maximum amount of $16,446; (iii) Harris & Associates related to the Proposition 218 Process for water rates, in an amount not to exceed $13,495, plus $4,580 for additional services (if needed), for a maximum amount of $64,065; and amending the Fiscal Year 2011-12 Operating Budget in the amount of $100,191 in order to fully fund these Amendments and Agreements necessary to update the Water Rates and Capacity Charges. (Funding Source: Water Fund)

 

 
Thank you very much, Dave
P S      I think it is shameful for the Council to hide a $394,019 dollar water expense in the 19th of 22 agenda items, which will be discussed after most people will be in bed.
  Moreover, we know that that $394,019 will be diverted out of the Water Enterprise fund.  It just never ends, does it?

=

MID uses Deception to Hire an Old School Lobbyist

By Emerson Drake

It was revealed at Tuesday’s MID board meeting that General Manager Allen Short and MID Board President Tom Van Groningen used a company named Martino Graphic Design to funnel money.   This money went to a local political consultant named Mike Lynch, on MID’s bill paying ledger, under the guise of public affairs-2012 in the amount of $4582.97 for the month of March alone.  Mr. Lynch has his own consulting firm called, no surprise, Lynch Consulting, so why the deception?

Lynch has been going around to local political wannabees and others like Ruben Villabos,  Modesto School Board President and OFFERING his services to them when they run for election or re-election as necessary. One of Lynch’s most obvious Charlie McCarthy dolls (ventriloquist dummies) is Josh VanderVeen (LCR member), stepson to Modesto Councilman Dave Lopez. Both of these men and three others spoke for the water transfers.  As a long time MID meeting attendee it needs to be said none of these people ever came to a MID meeting until Mike Lynch became involved.

But Lynch found his “mother lode” in the LCR or Latino Community Roundtable. This organization which consists of 195 members, many of whom are politicians ($10.00 to those over age fifty, and then you get to vote for yourself) who have stood in front of the LCR hoping for endorsements.  LCR represents no constituency other than themselves and whom could only field 18 members at a recent political forum they held at, surprise, the Modesto School board office thanks to LCR  member Villabos.  While I’ll be one of the first to say LCR has many well-meaning members of the general public they also have those craving a seat at the local political table and Mike Lynch holds out his “free pass” to the promised land.

PART of your electric utility payments are being used to finance the posturing of political wannabees

Now campaign consultants have been making promises to candidates  for quite some time, after all it’s how they make their money, but to my knowledge this is the first time a public organization like MID has PAID  a consultant to potentially alter the political landscape using Public/RATEPAYER money.

Mike Lynch personally contacted each and every Modesto City Council member and asked for the Letter to MID not be written (it’s available on this website). Then Lynch sent Ruben Villabos, apparently his personal emissary, to a “private session” of the Council with foreknowledge of what was to be discussed.

Which Councilmember tipped of f Mike Lynch and Ruben Villabos about the secret topic?

That was the question at last night’s City Council meeting. Former Modesto Mayor Carmen Sabatino appeared in front of the Council last night to question the minutes of last weeks meeting which DID NOT mention Vallabos’ appearance. Sabatino questioned the validity of Villabos appearing and was reassured by City Attorney Susan Acala Wood his appearance was legal under the Brown Act. The Council said the minutes would be changed to reflect Villabos’ appearance.

But the over-riding question spoken by Councilwoman Stephanie Burnside was “who tipped Lynch/Villabos off?”  Nobody was forthcoming regarding this.  Looks went around the room but no one was willing to fess up. Needless to say  Diogenes is still looking with his lamp.

So where does this leave us?  Well, our electric payments are going to a political consultant without our consent who is bent on giving away our water, and our best hope, is the City Council sticking to their guns.

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