Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

Archive for the tag “Measure X”

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.

What’s on America’s Mind With Emerson Drake

Topics include Women’s voting issues from around the country, what political

Radio RED 104.9 FM

Radio RED 104.9 FM (Photo credit: Mahdi Ayat.)

candidates should and shouldn’t put on their facebook pages, Jim Mortensen’s reasons he lost the MID race, Mike Hardin’s Measure X claims and the missing truth about Modesto’s budget, these topics and more so tune in and find out what you need to know to make decisions important to you, your family and your community. Fridays at Noon.

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To listen live or from our archives at your convenience:  http://www.blogtalkradio.com/whats-on-americas-mind/2013/11/08/hats-on-americas-mind-with-emerson-drake

CITIZENS COMMENTS BEFORE MODESTO CITY COUNCIL, 10/8/2013

Ed Persike

Joan Rutchow

Edith James

Janet

Good evening,

There is a growing community concern over how out of touch Modesto City Hall is with the citizens of Modesto.

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

You are conducting business and political deals in secret.  You are hiring consultants to sell real estate without the necessary license.  You pay over market for improvements to real estate.  You regularly are paying more for land than its fair market value to enrich land speculators while stiffing less sophisticated parties.  In one example, you paid private speculators over twice as much as you paid to a local church.  To a church!  In another case, you are continuing with plans to buy land for a courthouse where private investors sell you their land for more than it’s worth, but you will sell public land for less than it is worth, subsidizing the land speculators at the expense of the taxpayer.

Your expenses are out of control.  You set no priorities.  You ask no permanent sacrifices of your work force but expect taxpayers to foot the bill.

One of the most distressing trends is the love you seem to have of secret government.  As one of your community treasures, Marie Gallo, was quoted in Sunday’s Modesto Bee as saying regarding your courthouse antics, “Why is this being kept all hush-hush from the general public?  If things have to be hidden and secretive, there’s something wrong.”

While the list of what is wrong in City Hall is long, tonight I wish to address City Hall’s improper subsidy to the YES on X campaign committee working for a tax increase on Modesto citizens.

From May 6th through 8th of this year, a public opinion survey paid for by Modesto taxpayers ws coordinated by City Hall’s government affairs consultant, The Lew Edward Group, out of Oakland, California.  It appears the poll was actually conducted by the polling firm of Fairbank, Maslin,Maullin, Metz & Associates, also known as FM3, all under the direction of the city’s hired consultant.

The city had entered into a contract with The Lew Edwards Group on April 24th of this year for $35,000.  This city-Lew Edwards contract was constructed to circumvent the Public Records Act by not identifying the full results of the public opinion survey (the “Poll Results”) as a deliverable under the contract.

So, deliverables under the contract did not include the only information that really matters when you conduct a public opinion survey – the full results and cross calculations.

On June 5, 2013, the city received a request under on of California’s key open government laws, the Public Records Act, from the Modesto Bee for various documents involving the public opinion survey, including the Poll Results.  The Modesto Bee’s written request clearly requested “raw survey data, the number of people who agreed to and declined to take part in the survey, and other materials generated by processing survey data.”

On June 22nd, the city received another request under the Public Records Act from the Stanislaus Taxpayers Association by its President, Mr. Dave Thomas for various documents involving the public opinion survey, including the Poll Results.  Mr. Thomas’ written request clearly requested “all results of the city’s community Survey conducted during May 6th, 7th, and 8th, 2013.”

In both instances the city failed to follow the law under the Public Records Act by suppressing the Poll Results.  The stonewalling the city engaged in is more often expected by out of touch government officials in Washington, D. C., not our own City Hall.

On September 17, 2013, I (or Mr. Ed Persike) delivered a letter to Mayor Marsh and each City Councilmember requesting release of the full Poll Results that had been paid for by the taxpayers of Modesto.

After unnecessary delay, ie Stevens from your City Attorney’s office responded to the request and wrote to your Oakland government affairs consultant finally admitting that the Poll Results were indeed a public record.  He requested City Hall consultant Ms. Lew provide the Poll Results to the city.

This admission by City Hall that the Poll Results were a public record was months after the city had previously refused to release the results to the Modesto Bee and Stanislaus Taxpayers Association, when each made requests.

After Rollie Stevens’ letter was sent to your Oakland consultants, repeated requests were made by telephone, e-mail and letter, asking her to release the Poll Results immediately.

These repeated requests initially were denied by your consultant.  Ms. Lew, in her e-mail response, claimed the Poll Results were in archival storage.

Consequently, another letter to each of you, the consultants paid for by taxpayers, and the government employee unions funding the Yes on X campaign, was sent last Friday demanding release of the Poll Results.

Yesterday, the Poll Results were finally released by City Hall apparently after being retrieved from the “archives” of your consultant.

No taxpayer, no citizen, should have to go to the lengths and expense displayed here to obtain documents paid for by the taxpayers of Modesto.

Because of the delay in releasing the information, irreparable harm has been done to the efforts of the Stanislaus Taxpayer Association to provide information to Modesto citizens about your tax increase.

It appears that these delays and maneuvers have been designed by city officials and the city to consciously obstruct and circumvent the purposes of the Public Records Act.

This scheme has resulted in an improper City Hall taxpayer subsidy to the tax increase campaign committee.

Why is this so?  You can see here:  HOW THE CITY OF MODESTO LAUNDERED TAX DOLLARS TO SUPPORT THE GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEE UNION “YES ON X” CAMPAIGN TO RAISE TAXES

1.  The city hires The Lew Edwards Group (for $35,000 headquarters in Oakland) to do poll paid for by Modesto taxpayers.

2.  The “YES ON X” campaign committee hires The Lew Edwards Group (for $11,750) as “campaign consultants”.

3.  Modesty City Employee Unions (police and fire) pour money into “YES on X”

After The Lew Edward Group arranged for the public opinion poll under its 435,000 city contract paid for by taxpayers, the same Lew Edwards Group was hired by the “YES on X” campaign committee for “campaign consultants” services.

As of the latest FPPC reporting period, $11,750 has been charged by The Lew Edwards Group for political consulting to the YES on X campaign committee.

This payment from the tax increase campaign committee to The Lew Edwards Group was financed by government employee unions since the vast majority of the contributions to the tax increase campaign come from these government unions.

Of the approximately $96,000 in campaign contributions to the tax increase committee, almost $94,000 came from two government employee unions.  These funds paid City Hall’s earlier consultant to run the campaign.

this connection that the same consultant was hired by the city and the “YES on X” campaign was revealed by the Modesto Bee’s Judy Sly in her September 29 Local Politics column.

As this scheme has been studied, we are left with two possibilities:

First the “YES on X” Campaign Committee and/or the government employee unions funding that campaign have had direct access to the taxpayer-funded Poll Results arranged for by The Lew Edwards Group.

Alternatively, the “YES on X” Committee for months has had the indirect benefit of the Poll Results by hiring The Lew Edwards Group for its campaign while the Poll Results were suppressed from public view by City Hall.

You simply cannot “unring the bell” on the improper use of the Poll Results.  Once the same consultant was hired by the tax increase campaign that previously had been paid by City Hall, only supporters of the tax increase had access to the Poll Results, since the results simultaneously were being improperly suppressed by City Hall.

In either case, a public benefit has been provided to some combination of the “YES on X” campaign committee, campaign consultants and government employee unions campaigning for the passage of the tax increase in the form of the taxpayer-funded poll.

To deliver this benefit, City Hall had to shred the Public Records Act and ensure that the Poll Results were only available to one side of the City Hall’s tax increase measure for months.

Your responses to requests under open-government laws cannot be used to delay or obstruct the purposes of the Public Records Act.  You have an overarching duty to “make the records “promptly available” to the public under Government Code Section 6253(b).

In addition, under Government Code Section 6253.1, City Hall has a duty “to assist the member of the public make a focused and effective request” for the public records.

You repeatedly violated this duty while handling the three different Public Records Act requests you received for the Poll Results.

In addition, nothing..let me repeat, nothing…in the Public Records Act allows you “to delay or obstruct the inspection or copying of public records” as stated in Government Code Section 6253(d).

City Hall’s repeated actions constitute obstruction and circumvention of the Public Records Act in violation of the above Government Code sections.

In addition, by denying access of the Poll Results to the public while allowing the benefits of it to be used in the “YES on X” campaign, you have likely violated numerous provisions of California law in allowing a gift of public funds, making unreported and/or impermissible in-kind campaign contributions to the tax increase campaign, and entering into an illegal contract that is void as against the strong public policies enunciated in the Public Records Act.

The citizens and taxpayers of Modesto are tired of the antics of City Hall, Oakland consultants, and government employee unions in subverting the election process and using tax dollars to provide a laundered financial subsidy from City Hall to the “YES on X” campaign in the form of the Poll Results.

This sophisticated scheme to circumvent and obstruct the Public Records Act must be fully addressed.

To that end, this week complaints will be filed with the Stanislaus County Civil Grand Jury and the Fair Political Practices Commission exposing your scheme to these investigative bodies.  In addition, further investigation has been undertaken to understand the full scope of City Hall’s obstruction of the law.

Your tax increase measure is forever tainted by the conduct of City Hall officials.

All the taxpayers can say is that Measure X is appropriately named since the tactics of the Oakland consultants, Modesto City Hall and government employee unions are obscene.  Measure X is rated Triple XXX and should be defeated due to your obscene tactics.

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