Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

Archive for the tag “Martino Graphics”

Deceiving the Public MID Style

[CALIFORNIA-A-0023] Don Pedro Dam

[CALIFORNIA-A-0023] Don Pedro Dam (Photo credit: waterarchives)

By Emerson Drake

MID has come through some very turbulent times. They had an iron fisted General Manager in Allen Short and until last year MID’s Board of Directors was a rubber stamp for his misguided dictatorial policies. Unfortunately it is the public that has been required to foot the bill. Here is an example of what has gone on during the last year of Allen Short’s reign.

Some Background

Back in 2010 the Board allowed GM Short to create a policy know as  Resolution No. 2010-35. This resolution, when combined with Purchase Order 54981 to Martino Graphic Design (MGD) for a total of $450,000, effectively created a slush fund using Joy Warren as Regulatory Administrator for control.  The original purpose for this fund included concerns about regulation concerning the delta, greenhouse gas, state regulations, and a euphemistic “improve the image and credibility of the district.”

But through a series of phone calls leaving no paper trail, the Resolution was bastardized and at least $148,000 went, utilizing “creative descriptions,” to a series of players/vendors to be used to create a false image of the potential water sale to the general public.  It’s my opinion this was done by nefarious design to make tracking the money and proving where it went  difficult, if not almost impossible. At least one recipient of the slush fund (Janice Keating) spoke before the Board claiming to be a private citizen while others  recruited “politicos”, both politicians and wannabee’s to speak in favor the sale thus attempting to create a false impression using testimony for hire to fool the media and the unsuspecting public.

The Key to the Code

Throughout the year I submitted multiple formal Public Information Requests and queried the MID Board in a variety of ways during meetings, trying to get to the bottom of where the money was going .  But MID’s staff, management, and attorney, refused to provide any real answers other than the veiled documents themselves.  Finally on December 18, 2012 after a tumultuous MID Board meeting, Modesto Bee Reporter Garth Stapley was given the key to the code by a MID staff member to decipher the Martino Graphic design invoices. His story is here with the relevant information on page two.  http://www.modbee.com/2012/12/18/2500794_p2/raises-okd-for-modesto-irrigation.html 

Unfortunately, Garth only broke down the current invoice totalling $48,500, instead of the entire amount of $148,000 billed in 2012, despite being in possession of the earlier invoices MID already paid to MGD.  We know he had the earlier invoices because I sent them to both Garth Stapley and to Judy Sly many weeks earlier in an attempt to get them to write a story about what was going on.

Money was laundered using Martino Graphic Design as a middle man. The plan was designed to allow MID to make the claim, which they did, of having no contracts with those receiving the money and as such did not know where it was going.

Here is the Breakdown as we Know it Today

During the year 2012 under the guise labeled Outreach and Transparency, Janice Keating took $28,000.  Under Communications Services Mark Looker took $28,500 and under Consulting,  Mike Lynch took a whopping $52,500.   For their part in this ruse Martino Graphics Design pocketed $29,000.

In a recent Public Information Request response MID stated “NO money has been given to Janice Keating or Mike Lynch  for the last THREE years.”  The same PIR showed Carol Whiteside had only received $1,500 dollars to her or her company, California Strategy, in the last three years when the actual total to Ms. Whiteside  is almost $30,000.  In a follow-up conversation with Asst. General Manager Lou Hempel,  he stated “after checking I show no money other than the $1,500 to Carol Whiteside’s California Strategy’s has been paid to any of the three in the last six years.”

MID used ratepayer’s money deceptively to create a false impression in the public’s mind in order to sell water we don’t have in order to hide the financial mismanagement that has been going on for many years. It would be my suggestion this type of paid testimony has been going on for years. Unfortunately only an in-depth investigation by knowledgable persons would discover what has been occurring.  Several members of staff including Joy Warren, took an active role in this, what can be described at best as a legally questionable  tactic. No effort was made by staff including the General Manager to inform the Board members,  yet by their own admissions during public meetings, Directors Tom VanGroningen and Glen Wild were willing participants to the deception.

MGD did create a few flyers, stickers, and handouts but these were billed separately and at much smaller costs  to the same PO number. MID  Board Agenda Report from their December 18, 2012 meeting was filled with deception and what can only be described as political spin trying desperately to paint a false impression to anyone who hadn’t been following their exploits for the past year.

Did you know MID is still paying former General Manager Allen Short his regular pay through October of this year despite him having left back in December?   You do now.   Are you wondering why there was a $60,000  investigation conducted by the personnel department at the end of last year?  Maybe you should be.

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MID Board’s New Leadership Will be a Breath of Fresh Air

[CALIFORNIA-A-0021] Don Pedro Dam

[CALIFORNIA-A-0021] Don Pedro Dam (Photo credit: waterarchives)

By Emerson Drake

The Board meeting turned out to be as spicy as forecasted.  When the closed session was over and we were allowed in, we were met with a scowling Glen Wild.  Director Wild had his heart set on being the Board President but that didn’t come to pass.  While he had two years of experience on Nick Blom, Director Wild would have been Van Groningen’s lackey just as he has been for the last three years.   Besides we don’t need the old guard with their old obfuscating, covering-up ways continuing to run the Board.  Paul Warda nominated Nick Blom for President and Larry Byrd for Vice-President.  Both of those nominations were approved.

The Martino Graphics $49,500 bill was paid as expected but acknowledgement came from newer Board members of improprieties having been perpetrated by Management.  Joy Warren didn’t discuss the particulars, she only mentioned they were included in the handout (pages 116-130 in the pdf  from yesterday’s article.)    I pointed out that out of the seven specific areas the money was supposed to be spent, only one came close to the proscribed use and that was : Implementing a program to improve the image and credibility of the District with it’s ratepayers.  And, quite honestly, the $148,000 Allen Short spent with Martino Graphics did just the opposite.

Janice Keating, having been paid to speak on behalf of the water sale while pretending to be a private citizen (all the while being paid for her testimony)didn’t sit well with the majority of the Board or the public.  The money was actually spent on perverse lobbying efforts on the sale’s behalf.  Questions have arisen wondering if at least one of the “Community Columns” written in the Bee was bought and paid for.  Another question asked later “how many of those in the “paid employee category of Martino Graphics”  lobbied Bee Opinion Page Editor Judy Sly.”

Funnily enough, one thing that stuck in the craw of several of the Board members was the funneling of money through Martino Graphics to Carol Whiteside.  By laundering the money through Martino Graphics, Directors Byrd, Blom, and Warda weren’t aware Ms. Whiteside was “on the clock” when she invited them for breakfast.  The secret was shared by Directors Van Groningen, Wild, and General Manager Short. These three are responsible for at least $165,000 being spent on a clandestine  lobbying effort which failed.  I have little doubt this is among the many reasons Allen Short is being run out-of-town on a rail, albeit on a velveteen covered rail.  On this all we can all say is thank God he’s gone.  Now if only his two amigos would join him, but that’s just too much to ask.

An interesting revelation is how much “churning” attorney O’Laughlin has done.  He’s been requiring all Public Information Requests to go through him, and this just isn’t necessary.  At $300.00 per hour (from a prior Public Information Request) he’s been making out like a bandit with all of the time he’s claiming he spends on them, and without the overhead of a mask and gun.

I think the bottom line is the two problem children (O’Laughlin and Short) are on their way out the door and those  now in charge are determined these excesses won’t be repeated, not by their new hires or by current staff.

I was glad to see the Union receive its long-awaited raises, but someone has to explain to me how the head of Human Resources deserves a 34% raise especially when she’s getting another person added to her department.  Maybe because her department helped to take the survey?  Another interesting point is the result of a Public Information Request asking the amounts of the raises by position.  Attorney O’Laughlin said they had nothing on paper stating this information so there was nothing to turn over. Oh well, I’ve been intentionally misled by him before as have others making similar requests.  The vote was 3-2 with Van Groningen and Wild voting no.  But this was little more than political posturing since they had been unwilling to separate the union and the confidential employee  in votes.

It wasn’t easy for Larry Byrd to adjust his stance on abstaining from the union vote which he had  because of his son, and although the FPPC and a privately obtained San Francisco lawyer assured him it was perfectly legal for him to weigh in, he had resisted voting the last two times the issue came to the Board.  If he didn’t make the adjustment and vote,  the contract  would  have been held up indefinitely.

One continuing disappointment is the Board being unwilling to discuss how George Petrulakis racked up over $28,800 dollars in bills when he was facilitating only one meeting.  But I suppose that and other unexplained expenses will be swept out with the rubbish on December 31st.  We’ll give them a clean slate for the new year, but to paraphrase an old adage: Forgive those who have done the public wrong, but remember their names for future articles.

Money Laundering, payoffs, Just Another Day at the MID

English: A picture of two dual-circuit power l...

By Emerson Drake

Did you ever watch someone with a gambling disease?  They keep raising the bet hoping for the  payoff that seldom if ever comes.  The hole gets deeper and deeperand sooner or later they have to pay the piper,  and that’s what is happening at the MID. 

For years they’ve been getting away with murder by doing whatever came to their minds ( The TANC project, Geo thermal energy to name two losers) flaunting public opinion but when the proposed water sale to San Francisco came around the opposition became formidable.  First the public had been aroused last summer before and  during the MID elections.  Then the Board changed getting two new members, Larry Byrd and Nick Blom. And suddenly during January of 2012 GM Allen Short, and Directors Tom Van Groningen, and Glen Wild realized they needed additional support,  reinforcements if you will.

The reinforcements came in the disguise of Martino Graphics. Allen Short found an expired purchase order that could be twisted, at least if you squint real hard, to assist in their determination to sell MID’s water through an unfavorable contract. So the “Three Caballeros” with the assistance of a MID staff member started funneling money, laundering if you prefer, through Martino Graphics to a local lobbyist, Mike Lynch, and at least one other shill named Janice Keating.  Janice a former Modesto Councilwoman, spoke publicly to the MID Board pretending to be a private citizen concerned about the water transfers, but in reality we know she spoke as a paid shill, someone who pretends to be an innocent bystander but is paid by the house to manipulate the crowd and public opinion. Mark Looker was also a recipient of their largess.

In an enlightening flash MID finally, after more than six months and multiple requests, including Public Information Requests,  after Van Groningen publicly stating they had no contracts with anyone other than Martino, and had no idea who Martino had contracts with, they have finally admitted Martino had subcontracts with Mike Lynch, Janice Keating, and Mark Looker.

Since January of 2012 MID has spent over $99,000 with Martino Graphics under the expired purchase order #54981 and is now requesting another $49,500 all in a failed effort to change your mind about the water sale to the San Francisco Public Utilities District.  The original intent of this purchase order was to have a fund to work/lobby  legislators over water and electric issues. You remember,  like the one to allow large hydro generators to be classified as “Green”.  Yet they didn’t bother to use it for OUR benefit ( a green designation would have held down the cost of electricity) they used it to promote a failed, water wasting idea they couldn’t let go of.  We’ve seen this in the past with the likes of the TANC project where Short spent between $3.5 and $5 million dollars before  the plug was pulled, all thanks to Allen Short’s obsession with being in charge, Van Groningen’s willingness to be led around by the nose and Glen Wild’s subservient way of saying “which way should I vote?” to Van Groningen. They remind me of three elephants walking in file, the latter two holding on to the lead elephant’s tail by their trunk.

Ask them to actually quantify and break down what Martino did to earn the money instead the sweeping obfuscations of reality they provide and they can’t.  An examination of the purchase orders, which wasn’t provided but EOM  has made available in the past, reveals the same generic charges month after month while providing no real substantiation of work.

The following pdf link provides a glimpse into the twisted cover-up mentality staff uses to provide Allen Short, Tom Van Groningen and Glen Wild a spider hole to crawl into under the glare of public examination.

121812BoardAgendawithAttachments

Pages 116 -130 are the ones discussed in this article.

If you choose to dive further into the MID cesspool we can talk about the contract the MID Board gave to George Petrulakis allegedly to facilitate in the meetings between Modesto and the MID Board. Mr. Petrulakis was paid:

$28,852.50

  But since they only held only one meeting and George  gets paid $415 per hour what else did he do for the Board to justify his 69.39 hours of work?  Can you say lobbying and influence pedaling or did he provide inducements to others to go in front of the MID Board and endorse the water sale?

Then there is MID attorney Tim O’Laughlin who as a going away present is requesting a payment of $146,250.89. These are a total of his invoices from November and December and it isn’t his last bill there is at least one more coming. MID the gift that keeps on giving.

You have to walk away shaking your heads wondering where the closest bathroom is to wash your hands. But we need to resist that impulse. We need to dig down deep to get to the bottom of the MID barrel to rid ourselves of ALL of the rotten apples.

 The next MID meeting is at 9:00 AM Tuesday Dec. 18th.   As with all parties it’s BYO Pitchforks and torches lynch ropes are optional.

You don’t want to be late, it’s the best show in town.

MID’s Layers of Deception – the Public Information Requests

Modesto Marathon  7983

By Emerson Drake

After Tuesday’s meeting I think some clarity needs to be added to the way MID spends our money.  The most used way is through the Purchase Order system. They put contracts out to bid and choose the lowest responsible bidder, at least in theory.  A lot of attention has been focused on purchase order #54981 which was effective from 7/19/2010 thru 12/31/2012, with a “not to exceed” cost of $450,000.  Yet this purchase order authorizations continued to come through signed by Allen Short and initialed by “J.W.” for payment. A minimum of $90,000 has been paid on this expired  Purchase Order numbe,r all containing the same generic billing reasons. No contracts for subcontractors have been made available and MID’s Joy Warren has yet to explain how this contract was part of the competitive bidding process.  These typically included:

Client Meeting/Planning Fees…..$5,000

Consulting…………………………$7,500

Communication services…………$3,500

Outreach/Transparency………….$5,000

According to MID, Martino Graphics uses four subcontractors to fulfill their contract. This Contract  Purchase Order is issued to provide professional services to Refocus and Enhance Public Education and Information Services per Board Resolution # 2010-35.  The following link is to the Board Resolution #2010-35  Slegal12110816440

The following is a response to several question in regard to Martino Graphics PO#54981.  It includes the pages of invoices, copies of authorizations, and checks (well at least the ones they sent us). It’s a lot of work/pages  so don’t hit print unless you mean it.

Slegal12101913110

 MID has consistently ignored  requests to release the total amount of money spent (including details) using PO#54981.

One of the reasons I question if all of the requested information is being supplied is that they have been charging consumers a falling water charge for over 20 years according to Van Groningen.  So I thought I would cut them a break and only ask for 10 to 15 years worth.  All they were willing to send were 5 years.  Here is the copy of the PIR. son_Drake_dated_October_26__2012_re_Falling_Water_Charge

Last week much of the conversation was about the “Serpa” rule.  Here is the link Slegal12110515150

It was gratifying to see Mike Serpa vindicated by the present MID Board and obviously showed the prejudice he was subject to by Van Groningen, O’Laughlin and Short.  I will take this moment to point out how the Bee’s Opinion Editor Judy Sly never spoke out against the treatment former City Councilman/MID Director Serpa endured. If fact, Ms. Sly helped the three amigo’s cause by heaping abuse on Mike in her Editorial Column as often as she could work it in.

Lets look at Carol Whiteside and her California Strategies  Company for a minute,  She received over $15,000 in payments $6,000 of it almost two months AFTER she terminated the contract.  This money was funneled through Martino Graphics WITHOUT a contract.  At least no contract with Martino Graphics (MG). Ms. Whiteside supposedly has a contract with MG but we aren’t privy to it. There also is no contract with MG since Short, Van Groningen, and Wild took it upon themselves to spend this money BEHIND the rest of the Boards back.

I believe Short, Van Groningen and Wild should be held personally liable for this money and should pay it back to the MID  ratepayers.

In my opinion it’s time not for an audit. but an investigation of how MID’s been spending our money.  It appears services for lobbyists have been procured by upper management  with the help of two Board Directors and I’m not sure they did it legally.

I also don’t believe MID should  financially support Allen Short’s new position with The San Joaquin Tributaries Authority.

You can hear more about MID and the City Council by checking out any of the “What’s on America’s Mind” broadcasts. Just click on the link and it will take you directly to the show archives for a listen.

Who’s Being Disingenuous at Modesto Irrigation District Meetings?

Modesto Marathon  7983

Modesto Marathon 7983 (Photo credit: RussellReno)

By Emerson Drake

Today’s MID meeting was an eye opener. Despite having discussed Martino Graphics invoices twice in the last two weeks with me,  Director VanGroningen still couldn’t get the information from his staff that I requested  over a month ago.

Director Van Groningen and General Manager Allen Short have been using MID’s Non-Purchase Order process to circumvent the system.  These two men took it upon themselves to spend  $24,000 that has been documented to this point and possibly more.  The problem is, all the staff has accounted for is $15,000 of the $24,000.  They’ve been using Martino Graphics to funnel money to Carol Whiteside of California Strategies.  Ms. Whiteside has acknowledged to myself and Van Groningen in an email, that she’s received $9,000 so far with another $6,000 pending from September.  The problem, as I see it, is in a letter to the Board (Oct. 7,2012) in which she admits it became obvious in July she couldn’t proceed  with the agreed upon tasks so she resigned her contract effective August 1, 2012.  The invoices were sent in September from Martino Graphics.

Even if it’s decided she should be paid the $6,000 that has been held up, staff  to this point, has been unable or unwilling to explain why the remaining $9,000 was paid.  It didn’t go to Ms. Whiteside, so why did Allen Short authorize the payments?  According to Van Groningen, Ms. Whiteside has reviewed hundreds of documents but quite honestly I find that dubious. But then again anything to justify the expenditure.

What I find amazing is Van Groningen and Short are using this money (at least $15,000 of it)  to convince the remaining Board members to approve the Board/ General Manager/Staff relationship policy that Board members have refused to rubberstamp since they were sworn into office.  The dynamic duo of Short and Van Groningen tried to get outgoing members Cecil Hensley and John Kidd to approve it,  but Director-elect Larry Byrd made a request from the floor and asked the Board to postpone the vote until January.

Public Information Requests Reveal there is NO Contract between Ms. Whiteside and the MID

So what tasks did Ms. Whiteside agree to perform and how do you resign a contract you don’t have?  And what happened to the still unaccounted for $9,000 dollars?  There are many questions but few answers.

Now lets discuss Contract Purchase Order 54981. My copy of the Purchase order confirms it was valid from 19-JUL-10 thru 31-DEC-11  (If you’re wondering, that’s the way they write their dates.) Not to exceed $450,000 dollars plus costs and expenses.  But GM Short continued to use this Purchase Order thru this year to the tune of $127,000 dollars mostly in the amounts of $19,000 and $21,000 monthly.  They basically used the same generic billing month after month in the amounts of :

Client Meeting / Planning Fees…$5,000

Consulting ……………………………$7,500

Communication Services ………..$3,500

Outreach Transparency…………..$5,000

I requested the contracts for any subcontractors like Mike Lynch and Carol Whiteside, and once again I was told they weren’t available because they didn’t have contracts with MID but had them with Martino Graphics. 

I find the use of Martino Graphics as a shield to prevent the public from knowing where the money is going to be unconscionable. After all, if Mike Lynch is being used as a lobbyist the public has a right to know where their money is being spent.

If this is allowed to continue, how many more contracts, if any,  will we find to be “shields”?  Will we hear “oops my bad”, and then pretend everything is hunky dory? I believe one is one too many. Their problem is that PO#54981 was running out of money so they just switched to the Non-Purchase Order process. No one man, NOT even GM Short or Board President Van Groningen should be allowed to circumvent the system for their own benefit.  I’m not suggesting directly for personal enrichment, but for lubricating the wheels of their personal agendas within MID.

I’ll tell you just how ridiculous this gets. Today at the Budget Workshop we discussed Project Number 3XX965. It’s described as being PRJ- Miscellaneous Operating Expense Exp. for $10,000 for misc. administrative & general. So they can spend it on whatever they want and say “it’s in the budget” as they always do. Because that’s exactly what they said to explain away the use of an expired Purchase Order and the Non-Purchase Order process used with Martino Graphics.

You tell me if we need some additional spending constraints on the General Manager and the Board President.

Questions abound but answers, real answers,  are short in supply.  No pun intended.

MID Board Split on Public Comment Time and Everything Else

By Emerson Drake

With the temporary stoppage of the proposed water sale things have definitely quieted down at recent MID meetings. We’re back to fewer people attending and just a smattering of people actively commenting on current issues. At the latest meeting only four people stood up to comment during ” public input for the good of the district.”  Since the Board reduced the alloted amount of time from five minutes to three several months ago on the pretext of shortening waiting  lines and with only four people speaking (that is becoming the average post water sale) it seemed like an appropriate time for the rules to return back to normal.

Director Larry Byrd presented the board with a request to move the alloted time back to five minutes. But that was not to be. Since Director Warda was absent the board was down to just four members. Director Wild spoke against the idea saying he would like to discuss it more but then stayed quiet. After all, like his mentor Van Groningen, Wild prefers to violate Brown Act laws and discuss things with other board members away from public scrutiny. Please understand they like to talk not in “closed session” but in the backroom without witnesses. If they were to repeat anything from closed session they would be in violation of Board policy and could be censured.  But if a Director relates something that took place “behind the wall”,  ie: illegally, there isn’t anything Van Groningen and Wild can do.  Director Blom was willing to second the motion.  But seeing Directors Van Groningen and Warda were against a revision of the relatively new rule, no second was made.  That’s the way the MID works.  Rather than expose a rift and discuss their differences they choose to remain silent in front of the public. 

I later spoke to Director Wild regarding his comments. Concerning five-minute allotments he said “I’ve been keeping track of people who speak and during their first three minutes they are succinct and present themselves well. But during their last two minutes they berate the Board and I don’t like it.”  Personally, I always thought elected boards were supposed to reflect the will of the people, but when elected officials ignore the public’s input it only stands to reason some frustration might surface.

A current example might be a request for the 2013 budget PN# U00018 for $500,000 to replace the Board room’s audio and video equipment. All of this money for a fancy system and they still refuse create an archive for recordings of meetings or even save for more than 100 days the recorded discs of proceedings, let alone  broadcast their meetings on streaming video.   To this day they continue to destroy ALL electronic recordings of their meetings and refuse to consider approving the minutes of their meetings until AFTER the recordings have been destroyed.

In the next two years they want to spend $1.75 Million on a smart grid security system PN#U00513. These people are spending us into the poorhouse.  The IT department wants to spend over $4.1 Million in just the next two years. CAP-40 CAP is their designation for this.

I could go on about this but my point is their “wish list” was created when they thought they were going to be able to spend Millions of Dollars from the water sale  money they were telling the public was going to irrigation infrastructure.

Another ongoing concern is the money being funneled through Martino Graphics. Year to date Directors Tom Van Groningen and Glen Wild have apparently signed what are called expense approvals in the amount of $21,000.  There is no purchase order assigned for these expenditures.  The account number they use is 312500 00.0 401 and the payment explanation is Board Development and Internal Communications.  These are NOT pre approved by the Board members.  Directors Van Groningen and Wild along with General Manager Allen Short have personally made these arrangements with Martino Graphics and Carol Whiteside.

Ms.Whiteside confirmed in an email to me on 10/10/12 she’s been the recipient of a total of $9,000 as partial fulfilment of her contract with Martino Graphics which she suspended in July.  Her work has never been brought to the Board and Tom Van Groningen says he has a copy of her work but no presentation has ever been made.  As a point of interest Ms. Whiteside was paid $1,500 directly to her for an earlier presentation to the Board and public.  Questions abound as to why Van Groningen and Wild have made these obviously deceptive arrangements and why was the ante upped and how do they account for the remaining $12,000?

In addition, we know $6,000 of these billings ($3,000 each ) have been pulled at successive meetings from the consent portion of the agenda. The question remains unanswered as to whether or not  the checks have been sent.

When I asked Director Van Groningen if the Board pre approved the expenses, his response was “they approved them when they voted in the consent Calender.”  In other words NO they didn’t. So what we are hearing is two members of the Board, outside the scope of the public, and their fellow Board members, can approve expenditures which would advance their positions on future votes.

It appears we won’t have any relief from this type of underhanded dealings until after the 2013 elections when Van Groningen and Wild have to stand in front of the public asking for their votes.

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