Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

Archive for the tag “Joe Muratore”

Modesto’s War on the Homeless Continues

By Emerson Drake

Last night by a vote of 6-1 one of the most poorly written ordinances in Modesto’s history was enacted (okay, it takes 30 days to be in effect).  Mayor Garrad Marsh was the only council member to support Personal and Private Property rights of individuals.  Councilman Gunderson almost stood to be counted.  He anguished over his vote for a few moments, then he bowed his head, acquiesced, and went along with the herd.

Councilman Lopez is the Chairman of the Safety and Communities Committee this poorly considered ordinance came from. NONE of the Council or Committee  members were aware of the home camping limitation of the  “one consecutive night” provision that would have made you and your children criminals if you allowed them to campout two nights in a row. It seems that the Modesto Police Department conveniently over looked that sentence in the provision during its Committee presentation.  This was exposed when I went to the agenda meeting Monday afternoon, which is in preparation for the Tuesday Council meeting.  Otherwise it is very likely the three alternate versions of the proposed ordinance would not have been made available.  This ordinance  also made a sleeping bag  illegal paraphernalia, which Chief Harden tried to deny until they ordinance was read to him from the podium. Unfortunately this portion was not changed. At least  now you are allowed to let your children camp out 5 nights in a row.

As bad as this unnecessary intrusion into your personal life and family decisions you might choose to make is, there is a larger cause, and that is Modesto’s War on the Homeless

A little Background is in order

 Councilman Joe Muratore’s main platform plank when he ran for office in Council District 4 was  to remove the scourge of the homeless.  He said the homeless needed to be “eliminated” in a campaign speech he made which was since removed from his campaign website. Notice Muratore wanted to eliminate the homeless not homelessness which in my opinion  provides some insight to the man. You can find a breakdown of the BRCH members in an earlier article here on EyeOnModesto.

Councilman Muratore went to this same Safety and communities Committee (pre Councilman Gunderson) for permission to create a  the so-called Blue Ribbon Commission on the Homeless. This commission was composed of, according to the words of Chairman J. David Wright, “people who had been effected by the homeless.”  This was true but he failed to mention effected in a negative way.

Councilman Muratore’s particular appointee was La Loma Neighborhood Association President Mike Moridian who, since his involvement in the “association, which is not officially recognized as a nonprofit because of its advocacy of Muratore for Councilman during the council race, has been an outspoken critic of the homeless and has publicly professed a desire to chase them out of Modesto.

Last Night’s Council Meeting and Criminalizing the Homeless

I met many extremely thoughtful and generous people last night who spoke out for the homeless who were not there to speak out for themselves.  From former Council candidate Jenny Kenoyer who is also an advocate for our mature citizens to Annette Mott from the Angels for the Homeless and many more who spoke passionately in defense of the homeless. All questioned the council’s desire to make the homeless criminals in these dire times.  Ed Brearden Modesto’s Poet Laureate Emeritus was strident in his concern.  I’ll thank them and provide more of the names of those good people when the council video is posted to help with accuracy.

Brian Du Bois spoke and questioned the Council’s sworn committment to the U.S.Constitution regarding our allegedly protected personal rights and freedoms. He also questioned why the Council overlooked the fact Council member, Joe Muratore, took $62,500 illegally on a NSP2 scheme with his business partner Ryan Swehla.  Councilman Muratore returned the money and some how avoided potential charges from the U.S. Department of Urban Housing (HUD).

Homeless advocate and Mayoral and Council candidate Robert Stanford took Councilman Muratore to task calling him ‘Nazi Joe Muratore’ as was noted in Ken Carlson’s story in the Bee. He reminded everyone of Muratore’s spoken desire to raze the airport district’s homes and level the ground with heavy machinery.  Hopefully, then candidate Muratore meant after the people had been thrown out of their homes and into the streets and not before.  Muratore never made a distinction of his preferences in that regard.

Modesto’s Reality

We have a serious homeless problem but criminalizing it won’t make it go away. We need effective programs to combat homelessness and several were proposed last night.  But unfortunately the council (lead in this instance by Muratore, Cogdill, and Lopez) has its own ideas on the subject and instead of offering a helping hand up,  their plans seem to involve a right cross to the jaw followed by a kick to the groin.

What we as a society do to the least of us we do to all of us.

And we need to do better if we want to improve Modesto’s  image around the County, the State, the Country, and around the World.

No Dancing Ordinance and No Camping Ordinance – Could There be a Connection?

By Emerson Drake

Just a few short years ago the Modesto Police Department (MPD) wrote an ordinance against dancing in public  without a permit and it was so poorly written that an Officer suggested if three patrons in an eating establishment were nodding their heads or tapping their feet in time to the music it could be called dancing and the establishment closed and the owner fined.  Now the MPD is proposing a no camping ordinance supported by the Council’s own Safety and Community’s Committee which is just as misguided.

I recognize this ordinance change is an attempt to provide another tool for law enforcement in Councilman Joe Muratore’s WAR AGAINST THE HOMELESS.”  Unfortunately, just like the original “anti-dancing” ordinance, it is poorly written.  It can’t be evenly enforced without making criminals out of every child who carries a sleeping bag to a friends house for a sleepover.

The Ordinance invades our personal rights and our private property by saying we can’t allow anyone, including our children, to camp or sleep outside on our private property for two consecutive nights without buying a permit from the city manager.  It even make criminals out of visiting relatives who might sleep in an RV either in our driveways or parked in front of our homes for two nights.

According to the ordinance if you take a blanket to a city park for a picnic you can be charged with a crime. The list they refer to as paraphernalia sounds like everything a boy scout might take on a camping trip. And he or she could be criminally charged if they walked down the street carrying any of the equipment necessary for a camping trip.

I’m not exaggerating, please read the ordinance for yourselves. It is scheduled for a vote on Tuesday June 5, 2012. Here is the link to the agenda, it’s item #20:   http://www.modestogov.com/sirepub/mtgviewer.aspx?meetid=449&doctype=AGENDA 

Please email our city councilpersons and tell them to either send it back to committee to be written better or vote it down!

GOVERNMENT INTRUDES IN OUR LIVES ENOUGH

Is there anyone who doesn’t think we have enough laws intruding on our right to privacy and invading our personal freedoms?

Is there anyone who thinks we’ve had enough of the “nanny state”  ?

Write your emails. Make those calls,  And consider coming down to the city council Tuesday night and tell them in person enough is enough.

Because when they come for you, it’ll be too late.

Modesto Wants to Make Camping in Your Own Backyard Illegal

By Emerson Drake

I know it sounds crazy but that is what they intend to do Tuesday night at the City Council meeting.  It’s Item #20 on this weeks agenda.

http://www.modestogov.com/sirepub/mtgviewer.aspx?meetid=449&doctype=AGENDA

If the City Council has their way, if you want to campout in your backyard with your kids for two nights you’ll have to go to City Manager Gregg Nyhoff to get a permit.  And as we all know permits are a fund-raising mechanism and as a result cost money.  Does anyone possibly believe this makes sense?

Councilman Joe Muratore of NSP2 infamy has been leading this attack on the homeless since he was elected. But now he and his cohorts are willing to punish all of Modesto’s citizens in order to “put the hammer down” on a few.

Children have been camping out in their backyards for as long as I can remember and longer. My grandsons have been occasionally camping in the backyard for years .  A sleeping bag is considered illegal by the Council’s new ordinance.

This Crazy Ordinance makes relatives visiting in RV’s illegal

The following is taken directly from the City’s website…

4-12.701. DEFINITIONS.

Unless the particular provisions or the context otherwise requires, the definitions

contained in this section shall govern the construction, meaning, and application

of words and phrases used in this Article.

(a)

“Camp” means to place, pitch or occupy camp facilities; to live

temporarily in a camp facility or outdoors; to use camp paraphernalia.

(b)

“Camp facilities” include, but are not limited to, tents, huts, vehicles,

vehicle camping outfits or temporary shelter.

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S:\SHANNA\MUNICODE\TITLE-4\ORDINANC\Camping in the City.wpd

 

(c)

“Camp paraphernalia” includes, but is not limited to, bedrolls,

tarpaulins, cots, beds, sleeping bags, hammocks or cooking facilities and

similar equipment.

(d)

“City Manager” means the City Manager or designee.

(e)

“Establish” means setting up or moving equipment, supplies or materials

on to public or private property to “camp” or operate camp facilities.

(f)

“Maintain” means keeping or permitting equipment, supplies or materials

to remain on public or private property in order to camp or operate camp

facilities.

(g)

“Operate” means participating or assisting in establishing or maintaining

a camp or camp facility.

(h)

“Park” means the same as defined in Modesto Municipal Code Section

12-4.201(h).

(i)

“Private property” means all private property including, but not limited

to, streets, sidewalk, alleys, and improved or unimproved land.

(j)

“Public property” means all public property including, but not limited to,

streets, sidewalks, alleys, improved or unimproved land and parks.

(k)

“Store” means to put aside or accumulate for use when needed, to put for

safekeeping, to place or leave in a location.

4-12.703. UNLAWFUL CAMPING.

It is unlawful and a public nuisance for any person to camp, occupy camp

facilities, or use camp paraphernalia in the following areas:

(a) Any public property; or

(b) Any private property.

(1) It is not intended by this section to prohibit overnight camping on

private residential property by friends or family of the property

owner, so long as the owner consents and the overnight camping is

limited to not more than one consecutive night.

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(2) Nothing in this Article is intended to prohibit or make unlawful,

activities of an owner of private property or other lawful user of

private property that are normally associated with and incidental to

the lawful and authorized use of private property for residential or

other purposes; and provided further, nothing is intended to

prohibit or make unlawful, activities of a property owner or other

lawful user if such activities are expressly authorized by the City’s

comprehensive zoning ordinance or other laws, ordinances and

regulations.

(3) The City Manager may, as provided in Section 4-12.705 of this

Article, issue a temporary permit to allow camping on public or

private property in connection with a special event.

A violation of this section is a misdemeanor. In addition to the remedies set forth

in Penal Code Section 370, the City Attorney may institute civil or administrative

actions to abate a public nuisance under this Article.

4-12.704. STORAGE OF PERSONAL PROPERTY ON PUBLIC AND

PRIVATE PROPERTY.

It is unlawful and a public nuisance for any person to store personal property,

including camp paraphernalia, in the following areas, except as otherwise

provided by resolution of the City Council:

(a) Any public property; or

(b) Any private property without the written consent of the owner.

A violation of this section is a misdemeanor. In addition to the remedies set forth

in Penal Code Section 370 the City Attorney may institute civil or administrative

actions to abate a public nuisance under this Article.

4-12.705. PERMIT FOR SPECIAL EVENTS REQUIRED.

The City Manager may, in his or her discretion, issue a permit to establish,

maintain and operate a camp or a camp facility in connection with a special event.

A special event is intended to include, but not be limited to, programs operated by

the City departments, youth or school events, marathons or other sporting events

and scouting activities. The City Manager may consult with various City

departments, the health officer and the public prior to issuing any temporary

permit. Each department or person consulted may provide comments regarding

any health, safety or public welfare concerns and provide recommendations

pertaining to the issuance, denial or conditioning of the permit. A reasonable fee,

to be set by the City Council shall be paid, in advance, by the applicant. The fee

shall be returned if the application is denied. In exercising his or her discretion to

issue a temporary permit, the City Manager may consider any facts or evidence

bearing on the sanitary, health, safety and welfare conditions on or surrounding

the area or tract of land upon which the proposed temporary camp or camp facility

is to be located. 

 Did you catch the reasonable fee line?

In Other Words It’s up to the City Manager if Relatives can Visit Legally..!

Modesto is out of control and it’s up to the citizens to take control back.

I understand we have a problem with some of our homeless population but if they intend on punishing all of us to place handcuffs on a few, well they have another think coming.

I’ll be at the city council meeting with a sleeping bag to protest this intrusive law which attempts to place unconstitutional limits on what we can do on our private property.

I hope to see you there.

“What they do to the least of us they do to all of us and this is a perfect example.”

Another Black Mark on Modesto, The Blue Ribbon Commission on the Homeless

By Emerson Drake

It was supposed to help the chronic homeless and homeless veterans when Councilman Joe Muratore asked the Safety and Communities Committee  for permission to create what evolved into this cruel and heartless attack on Modesto’s homeless. 

Out of 32 applicants, 9 were chosen. One dropped out but the rest pushed forward with their personal agendas.  J. David Wright, the Chairman of the Blue Ribbon Commission on the Homeless or (BRCH), stated it correctly when, at the April 03, 2012 City Council meeting ,said the 9 chosen were all “effected” by our homeless citizens . He failed to mention the members were either negatively effected by the homeless or stood to gain potential financial profit for themselves or the respective self identified groups they represent.  

But even that doesn’t tell the whole story of the BRCH’s members.

Mike Moradian was one of Joe Muratore’s confidants in Muratore’s council election campaign.  Moradian was the leader of a non-profit LaLoma Neighborhood Association (LLNA). The LLNA “strongly supported” Muratore’s council bid and the LLNA soon lost its non-profit status.  Muratore and Moradian were advocates of leveling the airport district (which is in Muratore’s council District) in order to help rid Modesto of its homeless population and those who Moradian perceived as “trouble makers.”  Moradian also supported Muratore’s hope the city would financially support their private security force in LaLoma’s local public parks.

Two of the chosen were former members of the Stanislaus Community Assistance Program (SCAP).  Darryl Fair who was Chairman for SCAP’s board of directors during the height of the SCAP debacle and has been hoping someone would come along and fund a daycare center said he could “manage.” And Frank Ploof who, for a period of time, was a member of SCAP’s board of directors and despite having SCAP’s irregularities exposed with Darryl Fair at the helm, continued to “hook up”  Fwith air at the  Renaissance Center. The center was originally set up as a non-profit in Fair’s sons’ name but lost its non-profit status from the IRS for non-compliance of financial regulations.

Vanessa Czopek, Stanislaus County’s head librarian was chosen because of, or in spite of, her misgivings regarding the homeless presence in and around the downtown branch in  Modesto.  She had taken active steps to disenfranchise these citizens from their right to use the library.  Since she couldn’t legally refuse them access to the inside, she attempted to “disinclined” them of using the outside.   Ms. Czopek had most of the tables and benches removed from the library portico.  Unfortunately many other citizens, yes even those with homes, used these benches as a place to rest while exploring the nearby farmers market or just enjoying the beautiful tree-lined streets adjoining the library.

Brad Wilson had been a long time employee of the Modesto’s Y0semite Gospel Mission.  During his time on the committee he was placed in charge of the Mission. He did have some difficulties with getting permission to renovate an existing structure to expand their rehabilitation abilities.  Of course an opportunity to reinforce his “way” of rehabilitating people and a chance to funnel a larger percentage of public donations to his organization couldn’t possibly hurt.

Steve Madison the former head of Modesto’s Building Industry Association and now on the Board of Directors there managed to get himself appointed to the Salvation Army Board.  A feat usually performed by aspiring political wannabees through donating a significant amount of money but requiring no expertise or experience with those in need.  Unless of course of you count a developer looking for a piece of prime farm land to plant driveways in or a politician looking for a campaign donation.

J.David Wright the Commission Chairman is a local insurance branch owner and salesman and doesn’t like anyone to eek out an existence by living behind a dumpster near his place of business.  Mr. Wright has been especially busy donating to successful Council and failed Mayoral hopefuls to the tune of $5,700 in the last year alone.  Did I mention many of these same candidates are now on the council and recently reappointed him and the other Commissioners (I guess they think it sounds better than committee members) to another yet unnamed commission task?

J. David Wright made it very clear he/they believe the homeless are molly coddled and overfed. He made the claim they homeless could get fed 10 to 15 times a day, which is something the report doesn’t document. Muratore later made the claim that the homeless could get fed up to 20 times daily.  This claim was refuted later by people and groups who fed the homeless daily on their own.

Wright also made the claim there are 10 or 12 agencies in Modesto that pass out food daily. Again their report does not substantiate this.  Point in fact, one of the agencies they reference will give 3 days of food once every 3 months!

We need to understand the BRCH had several goals. One is to create a mindset of “out of sight out of mind.”  Day centers would be helpful but not as a magic wand. Many of the homeless wouldn’t use a daycare facility except occasionally or during inclimate weather.

Another goal is to funnel donations, monetary and food, to just a few groups like the Yosemite Gospel Mission, Interfaith ministries) which didn’t participate here) and the Salvation Army.  unfortunately this limits the people who will be allowed access to the support services provided since these agencies have alienated aprox.15-20% of the homeless due to their restrictive rules and religious affiliations.

An informative pamphlet Merced uses would be of great use to homeless advocates and those wishing to truly assist the homeless in finding available resources.  It is also necessary to monitor the major groups presently assisting the homeless in order to ensure the greatest dispersion to ALL of the homeless not just those who fit the cookie cutter ideals of the few powerful organizations who presently dominate the field. Plus the homeless most often are transportation challenged.  The “fairytale style anecdotal stories”  told by the BRCH members are a prime example of how their agendas have tainted their perspectives.  Grants being written for or money handed over to “professional non-profiteers” should be avoided.

 The reading of the BRCH’s final report is recommended. BRCReport.   But continued community involvement and supervision is very important.  The Joe Muratore’s of the world can’t be trusted with those who are most vulnerable to society’s baser instincts. 

What we allow done to the least of us we allow done to all of us.

Author: Carl Skaggs This image was taken by me...

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)

 

Our take on SCAP’s recent Escapades

By Emerson Drake

Some of our “finest” citizens, including Rotarians, went to Sheriff Christianson to keep Joe Gibbs out of jail after he committed a hit and run, killing a man.  The Sheriff broke his own policy of insisting on jail time and granted Gibbs an ankle bracelet.  

The Sheriff has since refused to name the individuals who requested Gibbs stay out of jail.  It’s little wonder the “investigation” is taking so long.  Has Chief Harden been approached by these same citizens?  Is that why the investigation is taking so long to move forward? Kudos to the Bee for bringing this mess to light and not let it be covered up. After all, the SCAP fiasco, just like the NSP2 intrigue, leads us all the way through city staff, up to and including current city councilman Joe Muratore.

Two city staff members were thrown under the bus, but Joe Muratore being better connected, remains as a reminder of back stage political power and Modesto’s corrupt political scene.

And the Gibbs’, well they’re still the Gibbs’.

And SCAP, it’s too corrupt to fail.  Just ask their governing Board.

Greg Nyhoff and the SCAP Letters, is He Stonewalling the Citizens or trying to “Control” the Story?

By Emerson Drake

When we heard Modesto was refusing to give either the letter it wrote to SCAP or SCAP’s response, to the Bee or the rest of us for that matter, we sent a Public records Request to the City in an attempt to get a copy of the letters.

The following was the City’s response:

From the Office of the City Clerk

Hello, Mr. Drake…
 
You indicated that you wanted an acknowledgement of receipt for your request, so I wanted to make sure it was being worked on. The City Manager’s office reports that the response letter received from SCAP will be released within the specified timeframe under the Public Records Act.  Given the closure of the City for the Thanksgiving Holiday and furloughs, they will release the document on Monday, November 28th. 

 

We wondered why the obvious delaying tactics by the City Manager Greg Nyhoff?  Was he trying to dribble the story out in small bits and pieces?  Maybe, maybe not.

We’ve all learned about the life cycle of a news story and delaying disclosure would be a way to deal with one leaked part at a time.  Or at the very least seek a more “friendly venue” to disclose the entire story.

On November 16th, the very day this email was received, we were fortunate enough to obtain from a reader the letter SCAP sent in response to the City’s.

Apparently Mr. Nyhoff felt the need to advance his time-table since the “cat was out of the bag” so to speak. We only hope Mr.Nyhoff will come clean and stop trying to protect some of the people who sat in on his hiring interview and deal with the people who pay his salary.  That is to say, the PUBLIC.

So what do you have to say for yourself Mr. Nyhoff?

 
 

Monday night’s Meeting of the Modesto Economic Development Committee

By Emerson Drake

These meetings would surprise the vast majority of Modesto voters if they knew how they were conducted. 

The Modesto Development Committee or the (MDC) consists of Council persons

Joe Muratore , Chairman

Brad Hawn, Vice-Chair

Stephanie Burnside, Member

Councilman Hawn was forced to start the meeting since Joe Muratore forgot all about it. Fortunately Alternate Dave Geer was present to sit in until the absent Muratore could find time to attend.

There were four vacancies on two separate committees which needed to be filled.  The Council members gave their usual concerned decisions. That was tongue in cheek since neither of the two council persons present had seen the applications until just before the meeting started when City Clerk Stephanie Lopez passed them out.  Just like the last time we brought one of these meetings to you, the Council members just mulled the decision around not knowing the applicants or caring much about who they chose.

Just when they were getting ready to randomly pick the second future committee member, Councilman Muratore came strolling in. He had neither seen the applications nor was familiar with the applicants, so he went along with those already chosen.  Not surprisingly, two of the three chosen were members of the real estate community.

We finally came to the meat of the meeting which was a discussion of updating the status of the State Route 132 West Freeway/Expressway Project.

There were 8 maps on the wall which, it was explained to us, were not available to the public on line because of Cal Trans policy.  Not to go with stereotypes but the total build out which will cost taxpayers somewhere between $160-170 Million  looked like it was designed by a drunken sailor.

Immediately after the meeting the maps were taken off the wall despite the fact we were told they could be viewed the next day.

Several of those attending the meeting including Denny Jackman, had questions about the design.  For good or bad these maps haven’t been approved by Cal Trans and are preliminary and subject to revision.

When concerns were raised regarding potential conflicts of interest, Stephanie Burnside spoke up and said “I’m willing to recuse myself to avoid unnecessary criticisms”,  but City Attorney Susan Acala Woods supposedly said her voting was alright.

Considering Ms. Woods recent record of being wrong when it comes to the need for Council members to recuse themselves, maybe Ms. Burnside should have remained silent and let Dave Geer cast a vote in her stead.

Well we won’t know for sure until after the FPPC rules on the complaint to be filed tomorrow.  Ms. Burnsides business, Burnside Auto Body is going to be displaced by the Route 132/Needham connection, so one would have hoped for extra caution to have been taken.

This was anything but an earthshaking meeting but it saddens citizens to know the haphazard way some of the City Council members go about the City’s business.

We thank Dave Geer for his extra diligence and willingness to step into the breach left by Councilman Muratore.

On-Going Scandal in Modesto

By Emerson Drake

City Manager Gregg Nyhoff perpetuated the myth of “everything is fine” down at city hall at Wednesday night’s city council meeting.  The bobble heads were nodding in agreement that city workers overseeing the NSP2 funds are stretched too thin, rather than acknowledging pressure from local power brokers was responsible.  When you listen to members of the Commonwealth Group explain it away, it almost sounds plausible until you consider the web of intrigue that surrounds the scandal.

From city councilmen and their business partners scheming their way through the NSP2 maze of paperwork and guidelines, to newspaper publishers relatives being waist deep in the mire.

While the SCAP controversy abused everyone’s sense of reason, the NSP2 controversy exposed the raw naked greed of a city councilman who can’t use city attorney Susan Alcala Wood as a shield this time.

The premise that a city official can’t profit from NSP2 funds or HUD money isn’t obscure, not in the least.  It’s one of the first things you learn.

But when the money Ryan Swehla and Scott Monday funneled to Benchmark Realty (a company Swehla owns with Joe Muratore) first came to light, it was eclipsed by the SCAP scandal.

Needless to say, despite Mark Vasche’s claim of distancing himself from the reporting on this, it can’t be easy to be a reporter writing about Vasche’s son-in-law (Scott Monday).

Commonwealth members continue to support Councilman Muratore despite his being caught with his fingers in the till.  After all, his being on the council, adds unspoken pressure on city employees (unspoken by Muratore), while his partner doesn’t hesitate to play the “do you know who my partner is” card to anyone unaware of the affiliation.

Even most of the city council has remained silent on whether or not Muratore should resign his seat.

You can’t expect any pressure from his council district, considering that Mike Moradian has been inspecting all of the homes being “processed” by the conjoined triumvirate.

How can citizens ofModestoexpect to be treated with respect and honesty while the Bee management is shielding Muratore and his cohorts.

To be bluntly spoken, we can’t.  People need to express their dissatisfaction and outrage to the City Council and everyone they meet. 

We need to say the iconoclast, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it any more.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” 
― Margaret Mead

Attention Joe Muratore, No Conflict of Interest? That’s NOT Entirely True Is It

We understand how Bee reporter Ken Carlson has a difficult job getting reality past his editors and we truly sympathize. So we contacted the City Attorney Susan Acala Wood through City Clerk Stephanie Lopez to find out what really took place.

Here is the Ms. Wood’s response:

Dear Mr. Drake:
The City Clerk’s Office forwarded your request to me for response.
It’s unfortunate that the newspaper mis-reported the facts, because their botched article has obviously caused your concern.
The actual facts are that once the OIG auditors flagged the Tully Road transaction to City staff, a number of steps which included analyzing the transaction under three separate and applicable conflict of interest statutes: 1) HUD and NSP regulations; 2) The Political Reform Act; and 3) Government Code Section 1090.
In the first one, the City of Modesto found that Councilmember Muratore violated conflict of interest laws under the NSP program and HUD regulations when, as a principal of Benchmark, he participated in the sale and acquisition of the Tully Road property which was purchased by Trinity Ventures through the NSP program. Enforcement action was taken, which included the issuance of a violation notice and a demand for a return of the $62,000.00 commission that Benchmark received. As a result, Councilmember Muratore and Benchmark forfeited the commission (A number of enforcement actions were also taken against Trinity Ventures however Councilmember Muratore is not a principal of Trinity). This enforcement action was pursued in consultation with HUD officials in the regional office in San Francisco. Both HUD and the City await the final audit from OIG to determine if they will require us to take additional action.
In the second one, the FPPC found that Councilmember Muratore violated conflict of interest laws under the California Political Reform Act regarding his vote on two NSP related action items. They issued him a written warning, and set forth reasons why they were declining to assess a fine or penalty against him and considered their enforcement action closed.
Regarding the third, out of an abundance of caution, the Council asked my office to review the Tully Road transaction and determine whether the Councilmember’s involvement implicated Government Code Section 1090. We engaged the law firm of Meyers Nave, and Mr. Richard Rudnansky to assist in this analysis and review. The City paid approximately $2200.00 for this work. The analysis concluded there was no 1090 violation because the transaction was not one that was presented to the Council for action, nor did it require ratification by the Council, and also because the delegation to the CH&CDC, which was the body authorized to give final approve to the loans, occurred prior to Councilmember Muratore being elected to office (so he was not in a position to influence the delegation to the CH&CDC). Accordingly, no additional enforcement action was required under this statute.
That is the statement that the Mayor provided yesterday. If you would like a copy of the statement that was given, just let me or Ms. Lopez know.
I know this is more information than you actually requested. But since you always take care to research into the actual facts, I thought you might appreciate the information.
If I can answer additional questions, please feel free to contact me.
Susana Wood
City Attorney
Here is the official city news release:

Mayor Provides Update Regarding Councilmember Conflict of Interest Issue

Below is the formal statement from Modesto Mayor Jim Ridenour regarding the Councilmember Conflict of Interest issue related to the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP):
I want to take this opportunity to provide an update to the public about the conclusion of the City’s review of the receipt of a real estate sales commission earned by Benchmark Realty, the company co-owned by Councilmember Muratore for the sale of a property that was purchased using NSP funds.
As soon as the City became aware of the Councilmember’s involvement, a number of actions were simultaneously initiated to address the matter:
• To begin with, staff conducted an immediate investigation to verify the facts and to determine the appropriate manner in which to proceed under NSP regulations. This included coordinating with HUD staff. As a result, the City took immediate corrective action to recover the commission
• I requested that the OIG conduct a full audit of the City’s NSP program. The OIG also determined that the involvement by the Councilmember would trigger a more comprehensive audit of the City’s NSP transactions. That review has been ongoing and is expected to conclude in the next 6-7 weeks.
• Benchmark principals were notified of the violation of NSP regulations and were ordered to return the commission to the city. Benchmark immediately responded and returned the funds.
• Councilmember Muratore self-initiated a report to FPPC for determination of whether he had violated conflict of interest laws under the California Political Reform Act. The FPPC responded that he had violated the Political Reform Act and he was given a written warning. They also determined that because Mr. Muratore promptly brought the matter to their attention they would close the case without fine or penalty.
• Finally, the City Council requested from its attorneys a formal review, analysis and opinion as to whether the transaction constituted an impermissible Conflict of interest violation under California Government Code section 1090. The analysis concluded there was no 1090 violation because the transaction was not one that was presented to the Council for action, and the delegation to the CH&CDC, which was the body delegated to approve the loans, occurred prior to Councilmember Muratore being elected to office.
I have personally overseen this process on behalf of the Council, and feel that the City has been diligent in its response to this incident. The City Manager has kept the OIG auditors fully informed of all responses to this matter, and has continued to request HUD’s assistance and review of every step of the enforcement action taken.
We will also continue to wait for the results of the OIG audit and respond to any additional actions they may require of the City.

We want to thank Ms. Woods and Ms. Lopez for their timely response to our queries.

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