Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

Archive for the tag “Greg Nyhoff”

Modesto Gives Itself a Black Eye in the New York Times

By Emerson Drake      NYtimes

Thanks to the Modesto City Council and the Chamber of Commerce Modesto has received more bad notoriety.  Every time we end up on another negative list, worst to retire to, worst places to live, worst places to breathe, and well, you remember them since they just keep coming.  To hear the Council and Chamber tell/spin it it’s never our fault but outsiders keep picking on us.

This time it’s well deserved, and maybe, just maybe, we came out looking better than we deserve.  We, Modesto citizens and voters,  brought this upon ourselves by not standing up to the City Council en masse and saying “enough is enough.”   The citizens of Modesto, on the large part, have been sitting back and allowing Salida and Wood Colony residents to fight our battles for us and it’s time we took over and straightened the Council and Chamber out. Here is the link to the article:http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/15/us/rural-spot-settled-by-religious-group-in-california-fears-a-citys-encroachment.html?_r=0

We should be ashamed of ourselves for not going down to the Council meeting in numbers that would dwarf our outlying neighbors, (Salida and Wood Colony).

Jenny Kenoyer was just speaking the unvarnished truth when she said referring  to Wood Colony that ” They can’t even vote for me”.  Cold sounding as it was it should have resonated in the hearts of Modesto voters as a plaintive cry for help for those who can’t help themselves. Jenny needed guidance and since the voters didn’t provide it the lackeys from the Chamber, including City manager Greg Nyhoff, stepped forward to label Wood Colony residents as anachronisms and being out of step with modern times.  The Chamber reps have been preaching from the rooftops that paving over Wood Colony is inevitable so we might as well get started.

Greg Nyhoff, Dave Cogdill, Bill Zoslocki and Cecil Russell have been reminding everyone who will listen that they don’t have to pay attention to Salida representatives and that the furor over Wood Colony will pass in time.   And why do they keep saying this?  Because the German Brethren will seldom speak in public let alone vote on any level and Salida’s residents, like those in Wood Colony, can’t vote in Modesto elections.  Mayor Marsh has gone so far as to gerrymander the proposed border to purposely exclude a major portion of Wood Colony’s voters.

A Modesto resident named John Walker has provided the most visible push-back to date. He has initiated a petition to recall Dave Cogdill and we wish him well.  Interestingly, when he announced his efforts at the last City Council meeting, Cogdill played the ‘hurt’ card.  He said he was willing to talk with Mr. Walker but wasn’t going to change his mind.  So basically he was going to talk at John and not to him.  From our point of view, when your elected representative feels different from his constituents, he/she needs to be replaced.

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Lessons Learned during the Measure X Campaign

By Emerson Drake

Measure X,  the one cent or 1% increase in our sales tax was a complicated issue from the start. First there was  $35,000 poll which mainly questioned white homeowners.  Unfortunately, for those in favor of Measure X, the demographics of the city didn’t cooperate.  But the real germination  was during the budget preparation process last year.

PG Measure X

Mike Hardin Lying to the public saying the money would be kept in a lock box for safety.   Photo credit Patty Guerra

The Mayor and City Council, as if playing pinochle, were playing for the last trick. Dragging out the hand to hide a losing card yet to be played.  They were well aware the deficit budgeting tactics they had been employing for several years couldn’t continue.  Robbing from Peter to pay Paul, which in this case was from money set aside for our self funded workers comp and retirement funds to name just a few.  Knowing the practice would be coming to an abrupt end in another year they made the decision to find a way to convince the public to once again tax themselves to cover the shortfall.

The obvious way was to dangle a .5% increase based on improving our police presence and shortening response times for our Fire Dept. and an additional .5% split between roads and a variety of ‘funny’ money projects.  The .25% was promised to a variety of organizations  and special interest groups.

While sitting in on budget workshops and Finance and Economic Development Committees I had the opportunity to learn what I didn’t know and what they didn’t want us to know in order to be able to ask the hard questions.  Questions regarding the true budget shortfall and how they intended to address it.

For example they said they planned on hiring 60-80 police officers (yes Nyhoff said 80) but they didn’t mention they only planned on hiring 20 or less each year.  And of course the plan included one fire engine and eight crew members and one chief.  If you ballpark $110,000 for each police and $90,000 per fireman, obviously money would be left from the estimated $13M the .5% would raise.  Instead of saving the money for future salaries  they intended on spending it on the budget deficit.

The other .5% was to be split evenly between roads and special projects.  Some of these were to be one time expenditures chosen by public committees.  But much was promised in the way of financial incentives to local business already open here in Modesto. An example of these were proposed by Cogdill and Burnside to pay for facades for existing buildings, and an  inducement of up to $9,000 to provide new jobs downtown (many of these would be minimum wage food service positions.)  Cogdill wanted to give more money to the Alliance (we already give $65,000 yearly) and use more of the money to help develop Tivoli  in addition to the special treatment already given by absolving them of previously included Ag mitigation responsibilities.

Also mentioned by staff were projects to run infrastructure to newly annexed areas to speed up possible business on the city’s North side.  But if you kept a running total (like I did) of the monies promised you quickly realized much of it was promised several times over to different groups from city planners to citizens committees to the Chamber of Commerce.

Which at first glance doesn’t sound bad, except if the road tax were to pass in 2015. Then according to the way Measure X was written,  .5% would be repealed and only the .5% for safety would be left.   By late 2015 we would have, in theory, hired 40 police and 9 fire and be interviewing another 20.  But we would have that elusive $6.5 to $11.2 Million dollar budget shortfall.  Even though we’ve seen property prices rise, Modesto gets the majority of its money from sales tax revenue.  And there’s no need to point out wages haven’t risen and the unemployment figures are still high and skewed since once you no longer receive unemployment benefits, the statistics assume you’re working.

The problem becomes how to cover the budget shortfall,  pay for the new safety officers and the rising wage (fire was already given their raises so they could claim the Measure X money wasn’t going for new raises, MPD’s contract is up next year)  costs  along with repaying the money borrowed to fund the deficit in prior years.

It simply couldn’t be done.  And don’t get me wrong,  I went in front of the City Council three times asking/begging for the .5% to be kept sacrosanct and argued during committee meetings for the same.  City Manager Gregg Nyhoff and the Mayor were playing Pollyanna by saying during the meetings they were hoping the economy would come back by then.  But too many promises were made to too many groups for Measure X to succeed in its goals.

We were going to be put in a position of laying off the newly hired officers just to keep status quo in city government.  Do we want to close city parks, golf courses, and lose city services?  No, but were/are there any realistic choices?  The City Manager and Mayor refused to present a clear picture to the public.  They promised millions of dollars over the six years to the Chamber just to keep them effectively on the sidelines (yet several members went ahead and helped fund No on X.)  We find this strange since businesses don’t pay sales tax they only collect it.  But they still believed in the need to placate a lobbying organization (a 501 (c) 6 ) like the Chamber.  If they had been willing to do battle with these greedy businessmen in the past, the Chamber,  like the Christmas time story’s  Humble Bumble, wouldn’t have any teeth, but I digress.

When they look you in the eye up front and intentionally mislead you, the one thing you can be sure about is that it isn’t going to get any better and that six years down the road, if anything it was going to be worse.

We needed the additional police officers and firefighters badly.  We needed a funding mechanism for the budget.  But with its .5% being repealed if the self-help  road tax passes (the road tax allows us to leverage our money several times over ) and with a six year sunset,  Measure X,  unfortunately,  wasn’t up to the task, no matter how badly we wanted it to be.

Gregg Nyhoff’s SCAP Investigation ?

By Emerson Drake

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)

In April 2011, Councilman Dave Lopez  went to see Modesto’s City Manager (C.M.) Gregg Nyhoff with concerns about the Stanislaus Community Assistance Project (SCAP) and excessive compensation to Joe Gibbs, the Development Director for SCAP.  Joe received $195,860 and was in line to receive $431,471 more. 

But we aren’t trying to rehash SCAP or the NSP2 problem, but are here to discuss Mr. Nyhoff’s investigation or lack thereof.  We presented Modesto with a Public Information Request to see all of the documents relating to the city manager’s investigation.  The extremely sad part is their response contained only one page after four plus weeks of the City Managers investigation.  It’s almost as if he were avoiding leaving a paper trail.

I  had occasion to discuss this with C.M. Nyhoff and his response was “well I did make some phone calls.”  Further inquiries suggested the calls were to city staffers.  Can you imagine Councilman Lopez comes to him with a major concern about potential fraud or malfeasance and Mr. Nyhoff, at the very least, sits on his hands?  Little wonder the Councilman felt the need to go to the Bee.

The lone page from the email we received is dated May 26, 2011, just two days before the Bee broke the story and more than one month AFTER Councilman Lopez spoke to Mr Nyhoff.  So despite the City Manager’s protestations, NOTHING was written down until the city was aware the Bee was going to publish SCAP’s short comings and then only to enlighten  SCAP.  Modesto City employee Judith Ray is warning SCAP employee Marcia Bradshaw that the Bee reporter has been a “consistent antagonist toward recovery act programs in general and NSP in particular and we can  be assured of a negative bias when it comes out.”

So just how thorough do you believe Nyhoff’s investigation was?  To my way of thinking all he did from the beginning was circle the wagons to protect himself and his staffers.  After all he is the city manager and the buck stops there.  At least for a few minutes before the Council gets involved.

Knowing all this and reading  the way the City responded to the Grand Jury report was just too much to stay quiet about.  If Councilman Lopez hadn’t gone to the Bee none of the malfeasance would have been uncovered.  Joe Muratore might have been able to keep the $62,500 he was willing to risk his position on the council for, and indeed his freedom. Profiting from HUD money as a Councilman is a felony and Joe Gibbs would be $431,471 dollars richer and he and his wife would still be in charge of SAP despite their questionable tenants.

Here is Nyhoff’s written  investigation.

 SCAP

The city’s response to the Grand Jury

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The Grand Jury’s findings

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After reading all of the information it’s reasonable to come to the opinion that Councilman Lopez stood up against those who would participate in a cover-up and spoke out to shed the light of day on a serious problem and uncovering a potential  misuse of public funds.

The discussion can be heard about 1:10 minutes into the Council meeting.  The following link will take you there.

http://www.modestogov.com/sirepub/mtgviewer.aspx?meetid=457&doctype=AGENDA

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