The following is a letter written to the Modesto City Council by a citizen of Modesto concerned about the direction the Council has taken. It’s an important read so please do so.
The letter says it all so we’ll add nothing to it.
The following is a letter written to the Modesto City Council by a citizen of Modesto concerned about the direction the Council has taken. It’s an important read so please do so.
The letter says it all so we’ll add nothing to it.
In the spring of 2015 the Modesto City Council and Staff made a commitment to the citizens of Modesto to create an Effective, Responsive, and Transparent Government. Unfortunately, the reality the majority of the Council has created is completely different. Modesto isn’t being run by the entire Council, it’s being dictated to by a group with the smallest of majorities. Council members Bill Zoslocki, Mani Grewal, Doug Ridenour, and Jenny Kenoyer also know as the ‘Gang of Four’ flex their muscles with great regularity and have the voting block to ram their policies through the Council at will. To solidify their power grab they’ve become linked arm in arm with Modesto City Manager Joe Lopez and City Attorney Adam Lindgren.
For us, the people of Modesto, to try and find out what’s going on behind the scenes an effective tool is supposed to be making Public Record Requests (PRR) supported by the Brown Act. City Attorney Adam Lindgren doesn’t think much of the public’s right to know. His actions suggest he believes we should be treated like mushrooms (keep us in the dark and feed us ****, well you get the drift.) The Brown Act suggests we should get a response to a PRR in 10 working days. There is at least one PRR dating back to June of 2019. A partial but non responsive response was received in September 2019, but nothing since despite having it brought up in several Council meetings. The Gang of Four believes it’s in their best interest to keep us in the dark.
That’s not overly surprising since a complete email disclosure from the PPR would show how the Gang of Four, along with the City Manager and City Attorney, conspired to force City Auditor Monica Houston out of office and caused them to decide to pay to pay $225,000 in tax payer money as hush money. For them, buying Monica’s silence was better than the truth coming out. The truth could bring sanctions from the State Bar Association, which along with the exposure could potentially cause Adam Lindgren and his firm (Meyers Nave) to lose the very lucrative, multi million dollar Modesto City contract.
We’ve come to understand these elitists (the Gang of Four, the City Manager and the City Attorney) believe they can get away with anything they choose and quite honestly so far they have. Imagine, the City Auditor has the temerity to do her job of ensuring the rules in place are being followed, even if it might cost the City Attorney and Meyers Nave windfall profits. It becomes easy to see why they felt the need to get rid of the Auditor. After all what better way to send a message to the rest of City Staff, that it’s our way or the highway.
Is there any better way to garner political support during an election year than to borrow an outdated quote for business from the County known as a request for proposal or (RFP) that was over 16 months old. The security company involved in that RFP didn’t fulfill the basic standards of the request set by County rules and was disqualified. Then the City awarded them a $3.7 Million contract based on the outdated and unqualified county RFP. That the company head just happens to be the President of the Modesto Chamber of Commerce and a player in Doug Ridenour’s and Joe Lopez’s regular poker game couldn’t hurt when three of the Gang of Four, Grewal, Zoslocki, and Ridenour are running for office this year. Heck, that sure buys a lot of good will, they might even get the Chambers’ endorsement.
Just to point out how they like to give money to their friends, we can’t leave out how the City Manager, Joe Lopez, who is allowed to approve contracts without Council approval up to $50,000, recently came back with an increase to what we think of as ‘City Manager Specials’ when he upped the contract to Management Partners from $42,900 to $152,900 on 12/10/19. Before we go any further, we need to mention that it’s recognized by many that the City Manager despite his, lets be polite, less than exemplary performance record in each of the multiple positions he has held with the city, had been brought up through the ranks because of his “go along to get along” business demeanor (yes man). It was former City Manager John Holgersson who was personally responsible for bringing Mr. Lopez up through the ranks. When the current City Manager was questioned by Councilwoman Kristi Ah You during a recent council meeting about Holgersson’s relationship with Management Partners, Mr. Lopez looked surprised and stumbled around looking for a plausible answer that didn’t let the cat out of the bag. When she made her question more specific Mr. Lopez again acted surprised, without much success when she pointed out his picture was on Management Partners website and was designated as a Partner. For those who don’t remember Holgersson was a Consultant with Management Partners who recommended himself and was hired as Modesto’s City Manager then was ultimately fired. And yes, the Gang of Four made sure this $110,000 addition to the original contract went through. After all, City Manager Joe Lopez helped them down play the $700,000 we continue to lose every year and will do so into 2022, thanks to the Gang of Four kicking the can down the road over Modesto’s Centre Plaza. We’ve been losing $700,000 a year since 2012 while waiting for the catering contract to expire in the spring of 2019.
There’s no end to their hubris. The self serving hiding of emails prevents exposure and helps ‘associates’ save their lucrative contracts. They also play fast and loose with the procedures and pass out millions of dollars in contracts to their friends, and have distributed over $100,000 of taxpayer money to old allies. The Gang of Four provides political cover by using their votes on the Council and ensuring the City Manager can continue to dispense money as they see fit to his and their friends. Possibly the greatest concern is the cornerstone, if you will, the Gate Keeper of the secrets, the sphincter of information, the City Attorney Adam Lindgren.
Don’t go away thinking this is the entire list because it isn’t, not by a long shot. These are just a few of the most recent trials and tribulations we’ve been forced to endure. One of the more insidious ways they silence their opposition on the Council is to bring up topics during closed session that aren’t on the agenda. In closed session, the only things they are supposed to talk about are the items on the agenda. Once the item is discussed (even though it’s not on the agenda), they cannot discuss it outside closed session. If asked, they can tell you they talked about items not on the closed session agenda but can’t say what they were. The purpose of doing that is to hide information/discussions from the public. So if a city council member feels something that was discussed should be shared with the public, they are prevented from doing so. And, you guessed it, the City Attorney threatens them with legal troubles if they do.
We’ve watched from the sidelines as these people attacked one female department head and ran her out of town. The big question now is who will be the next target of their witch hunts?
We can no long stand silently on the sidelines while the Gang of Four and their two henchmen steal democracy from Modesto.
It’s always interesting to see what the Council is trying to slide by us on the Consent Calendar. This week we have nine items that if they get their wish will not be discussed and if all goes as usual will be voted on and more than likely passed unanimously and moved on without some much as a ripple in their wake. So if it’s business as usual with the Council they’ll spend $4,237,168.00 without explanation or comment. In order to have any conversation on any of the consent items a member of the Council has to “Pull” an item off consent. A member of the public, by filling out a simple form, is allowed to pull an item too.
Generally speaking the public seldom pulls anything off of the consent calendar. That’s where we step in. We have a tendency to speak up, ask questions, and pull items from consent. Often asking the questions they would prefer not to answer. We keep requesting the department heads bring the necessary information to the Council meetings but until recently they have claimed to be unable to produce it for the public at the Council meetings, and the Council, on the advice of the attorney, has refused to allow the public to present the information during the council meetings. If you haven’t read the on line agenda packet before attending the meeting you’ll never know the what, why, or especially the how because you won’t find it at a meeting.
In the past they had the department heads along with all of the relevant information available at Council meetings. Now they’re only sure to be available at the agenda review meetings which are held on the Monday at 4:00 PM, before the routinely scheduled Council meetings on Tuesday. Unfortunately the ‘Gang of Four’ have a tendency to be too busy to attend. So if you hear them ask for more information during a Tuesday night meeting you’ll know they were too busy running their business empires or running for another office other than the one they were elected to (Mani Grewal for state senate, Bill Zoslocki for the Board of Supervisors, and Doug Ridenour for Mayor).
Recently they were awarding Rank Security a contract expanding their roll in Modesto. They went from a $168,560 contract to a $3,699,756.00 all on consent. After we pulled the item we asked the question if there was an RFP or a request for proposal. It means the same thing as putting out a bid for services. The Deputy City Manager answered that yes we had. But the truth later delivered by staff was they had piggybacked on a Stanislaus County bid for county wide security services. What wasn’t mentioned that night was that the bid was 18 months old and that Rank hadn’t made the list of qualifiers for the contract. That’s right. Rank wasn’t ranked by the County. We had to do a public Record Request to discover this. But our Council members were determined to give the contract to Rank. After all Steve Rank, the companies owner, is the President of the Modesto Chamber of Commerce and three of the for members of the Gang of Four are running for office and they need his and the Chambers support.
All of this went down on the Consent Calendar item #6 on Sept. 25, 2019. Councilman Bill Zoslocki didn’t have a clue if any RFP had been done. No one on the Council said one word . They didn’t know. They were going to vote for this contract no matter what. $3.6 Million and they weren’t going to ask any questions.
The Consent Calendar is where they try to slip things through that they would prefer to keep quiet. We will continue to pull these questionable items. We’ll continue to ask the hard questions. And when they take our tax money and give it to their backroom buddies we’ll continue to call them out.
The Modesto City Charter is the set of rules that governs the way Modesto operates. And since ‘special interest groups’ via George Petrulakis wrote more than two thirds of the Charter it’s almost understandable that these same interests don’t want the public being alerted let alone involved in significant changes for the benefit of those who live, work, and raise our families here.
Recently we discussed some of our concerns in a recent Bee op-ed piece but here we’re focusing in on the first of a series of suggestions to improve our charter and the plight of our fellow citizens. Getting some of the council members to listen seems to be a major obstacle so lets start at the beginning. We read the above in its entirety to the Council during the public comment period on 10/8/19.
In an earlier story we documented a least one member of the council nodding off, spacing out (spinning aimlessly in their chairs if you prefer) and another using their phone (texting and emailing) during meetings. From back on the 4/29/19 when we first (but not the only time) recorded Councilman Doug Ridenour nodding off during a council meeting to documenting Councilman Grewal who has what some might call an addiction to texting. It doesn’t matter if it’s a small meeting or in the middle of council meetings he just can’t seem to set his phone down for more than a few minutes.
Maybe they’re too busy to listen and this might help. Stockton had a problem with this a few years ago and they wrote the ordinance to address the issue. It’s at the bottom of the page that accompanies the introduction. Our suggestion is to add this to the Modesto Charter.
Will it help? Who can say but I can voice without hesitation that if they aren’t on their phones they would have a better chance of listening to the public. Then again just minutes after this was read into the record Mani was back texting. And yes we have pictures of that too.
Every meeting we’ve attended that Mani has been at he spends much of his time texting. Apparently his eyes are on the bigger prize, the California State Senate. But how could we count on him to pay attention there?
It’s a strange world we live in.
We made two Public Record Requests (PRR). The object of the first one was to get information from the City of Modesto regarding how the City Attorney obfuscates the amounts Modesto pays for legal fees in general, including those we have to pay to his firm, Meyers Nave. City Attorney Adam Lindgren had his para legal respond (see accompanying picture) by scrambling their response. Adam took exception to my characterizing his response as ‘scrambled’ at the 8/13/19 Council meeting. We can only presume he prefers the term ‘randomizing.’
Each of these entries is him cannibalizing parts of budgets of other departments to use for legal expenses. In other words he gets to spend other departments’ money for his legal costs without it being reflected against his office. He likes to say this has been an ongoing practice but this basically was initiated soon after his firm took over as City Attorney. So lets review…stealing from other department’s budgets for legal fees is a “past practice” that he started when he and his firm took over being City Attorney in 2013. He justifies it by simply calling it past practice.
Another interesting observation is that his department received the files in chronological order but as you can tell he made analyzing the costs more difficult by his, and we’ll use the term Adam apparently prefers here, ‘randomizing’ their response. This picture is shown as an example of the technique he employed and not the information inside the files themselves.
His response to the he second PRR is more of his modus operandi (read method or technique). It was a simple request designed to discover when he knew Monica Houston brought the problem of purchasing property around Rt. 132 to light and when he recused himself from the discussion like an ethical attorney would.
From: Dana Sanchez <email@example.com>
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.
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.
When a politician tells you what something isn’t they’re telling you exactly what it is. Talking about Modesto considering to give Modesto Neighborhoods Inc $900,000 Modesto Councilman Doug Ridenour was quoted as saying “This is not a power grab, this is not a money Grab.” Now you know exactly what it is.
Modesto’s history of keeping track of public funds is atrocious. Consider our track history of NSP2 or Neighborhood Stabilization and Preservation funds. Ryan Swehla created Trinity Ventures and received the lions share of the millions of dollars in grant money. Then former City Councilman Joe Muratore, Swehla’s real estate business partner, had to return $68,000 or be charged with a felony by the feds for his participation.
Then there was SCAP and Joe Gibbs who took public money for rebuilding homes and was supposed to be renting them out to low income families. But instead placed their friends and relatives in them.
The city was supposed to be overseeing these funds but instead they went to political insiders. Can we trust our politicians with our money without watching them closely? Heck NO!
To borrow a line from Frank and Ernest, Our problem is we have too many teachable moments and not enough learnable ones.
When it comes to misleading the public, the Modesto Chamber of Commerce is second to none. We’ve watched while the Chamber pulls strings behind the scenes and gets City Council members to say and do the strangest things but for today lets focus on their No on Measure I campaign.
The Campaign started out by breaking the Fair Political Practice Commission (FPPC) rules. When the Chamber mailed their pack of lies to voters they didn’t include the FPPC number which is required. Wondering why? Well the Chamber filed their original paperwork with the City Clerk’s office without the FPPC number and without stating where their money came from. Days later the Chamber filed their required 497 forms (for donations over $1,000 dollars) with the County Clerk’s office. But that isn’t where city candidates are supposed to file. Since they advise political newcomers on procedure you’d think there had to be a reason. There was, it took eleven days for the forms to travel the two blocks between the County Clerks and the City Clerk’s office.
Maybe this was because Judy Sly, the Bee’s former Opinions Editor, was seen working behind the counter at the County Clerk’s office in the immediate area where the filed campaign forms are kept. Maybe it was a coincidence, maybe not, but it is interesting. Remember Ms. Sly and the Chamber’s lobbyist and CEO Cecil Russell were some of the few people to be in favor of selling our water to San Francisco and the result would have been Bill Lyons making even more money. You ask what does the No on I campaign have to do with selling our water? Bill Lyons is the answer. This is always an informational litmus test but I digress.
The Money Behind No on I
The money behind the No on I campaign came from Craig Lewis, ($3,000) Chamber expansion committee chairman and Board Director, David Ginelli ($1,000) Chamber Chairman of the Board), Cecil Russell head lobbyist and CEO of the Chamber, and last but not least the Chamber of Commerce themselves to the tune of $3,000. Anyone noticing a theme here? No wonder they were trying to keep this information away from the public. You just have to love lobbyists and their organizations. Well not really but you get the drift.
Ahh the Unions
The Modesto Police Officers Union (MPOA) didn’t provide funds but allows the Chamber to use their name in the flyer and yes, for a group that claims to be concerned about public safety there is an unusual history here. Now most officers are good people but their union is a lobbying organization with their prime purpose is supposed to be for the officers and the public, but is it? Back in 2008 the City opened its books for the MPOA and explained there was only so much money but the union demanded a raise. So the city offered the MPOA a choice. You can have your raises but we’ll be forced to lay-off our youngest officers with families. The Union said in no uncertain terms lay them off. They weren’t concerned about having fewer officer on the street which, according to the No on I campaign’s propagand,a will make us less safe. It was all about the money then like it is now.
Claims by Current Politicians
Mayor Marsh and Councilman Gunderson like to say the county will do something similar like they did with Beard Industrial Park back in 1963. In August of 2011 the city requested an out of boundary service application. LAFCO required the land owners to sign a waiver preventing them from protesting being annexed by the city. But Marsh, Gunderson, Zoslocki and the City of Modesto actually have petitioned Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) to rescind their waiver policy and on Jan. 22, 2013 LAFCO gave Marsh, Gunderson and the rest of the City Council their wish and voted to allow the change. So it really doesn’t matter what the County did back in 1963 if Modesto is going top continue to bend over backward to SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS like the Chamber, Beard Industrial, realtors, and other developers and then mislead us. We’re just in for more of the same lies we’ve been fed for a long long time.
It isn’t About Jobs, It’s All About Developers and Their Greed
The local developers own land and want to develop it no matter what the cost. Here in Modesto we watched as the family farm across from Big Valley Grace was forced out of business because of encroaching developments. They were promised by the city the “right to farm” but when complaints started coming in the were forced to give up land they’d farmed for years. Sprawl advocates say farmers can always buy more land but that really isn’t true. Prime farmland like in Wood Colony and North of Kiernan is irreplaceable. Not only is it the best water recharge land there is, but more crops can be grown on this land than almost anywhere in the world.
Despite what candidates like Doug Ridenour say (Doug doesn’t really say it he just repeats it but the people being paid to run his facebook page do) California law pushes homes to be built near jobs not highways. So if the Chamber’s preferred candidates, Kristi Ah You, Doug Ridenour Sr. and Mani Grewal will be honest for a moment, don’t hold your breath, they’ll be forced to acknowledge if business parks are built in Wood Colony then homes and SPRAWL will soon follow.
Don’t Buy the Lies, Vote YES on Measure I