Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

Archive for the tag “Modesto City Council”

Is the Modesto City Council Just a Stepping Stone for Some?

By Emerson Drake  

We all remember how Kristin Olsen abandoned the Modesto City Council in 2011 when she won the State Representative position after being reelected to the City Council just 8 months before.  After all Olsen was known for loving public money by keeping her position as top communicator at Stan State throughout her membership on the Council and of course she kept her well paid position at Stan State until the last possible minute before being sworn in as State Representative.

And then Councilman Bill Zoslocki decided to try a preliminary temperature test of state legislative interest in himself.  Unfortunately for us, citizens of Modesto,  no one was willing to donate money to his candidacy. Maybe it was his roll as Building Industry Association President, construction company owner,  developer and profiteer associated with Modesto’s Village I debacle.

Now it appears we have another Council member chomping at the bit to run for a state wide position.  Councilman Mani Grewal has been whispering in friendly ears about running for the State Senate.  His only claim to fame that I’m aware of is him sending George Petrulakis the latest financial reports he could get his hands on when George was creating Modesto’s budget for Mayor Brandvold.  And before anyone one asks, yes it was discovered through Public Record Requests.  What we do know about him are his close ties to the Modesto Chamber of Commerce, the local Republican party, and more specifically, last but not least, behind-the-scenes string pulling master manipulator/ land use attorney George Petrulakis.

 

The City Attorney, Adam Lindgren, Just Can’t Get It Right

By Emerson Drake  

When it comes to making important decisions that effect the public, City Attorney Adam Lindgren often falls more that just a bit short, personally it’s my opinion he fails miserably.

Back when the City Council was going through the Wood colony debacle Adam Lindgren interpreted case law to say  that signs could not be shown in the Council Chambers and anyone doing so could and would  be removed.  This was enforced throughout the meeting until a Modesto citizen, Gaetana Drake had the chance to speak.  She cited specific case law relating to Adam’s decision. After further review as they say, Adam changed his decision and signs, which had been ruled free speech by the courts,  were resentfully allowed to be displayed  accompanied by a cheer from the 200 plus attendees.  At another City Council meeting regarding Wood Colony the city had allowed people to speak and then significantly changed what they were going to be voting on.  At first they refused to allow people that had already spoken to address the change.  Then once again a Modesto citizen, Gaetana Drake, pointed out case law which specifically say they had to allow it to be addressed once they significantly changed the motion.  You would think this would be City Attorney 101.

Starting to see a pattern?  We’ve recently discussed the 14,000 emails the city wants to keep out of the public and they actually started making up new policy and law.  Here is part of a follow-up email from the City where they try to charge for processing the same emails they avoided using in Public Record Requests.

The City Clerk’s office also communicated with you and asked you to narrow the requests in a manner that describes identifiable records which may be located by City staff with reasonable efforts. You informed the City that you do not wish to narrow your requests. Without more focused requests, the City considers these requests to be overly burdensome and cannot process them any further, without further action on your part, for the reasons stated below. Should you wish to contact our office and narrow your requests, and/or submit a deposit as explained below, we will be more than happy to work with you to provide the information you seek.

The City has determined that where staff time and expense necessary to respond to such broad and voluminous requests is not reasonable, the public interest in not wasting taxpayer resources to process the request clearly outweighs any public interest to respond to such requests, particularly when no attempt by you has been made focus the requests.  (Gov. Code section 6255; American Civil Liberties Union Foundation v. Deukmejian 32 Cal.3d 440, at 452-453.)

In order to begin processing this request, the City requires a $250.00 deposit, as printing and data extraction time (10 cents per page) is necessary to ensure that privileged, private, or personnel-related exempt records are not released in violation of the law.  Upon remittance of the deposit, the first 2,500 pages will be reviewed and then all non-exempt public records from those pages will be available for your inspection.  Additional deposits would be required to continue processing this request.

So in effect the City Attorney Adam Lindgren want $1,400 to process the 14,000 emails he should have been including all along in Public Record Requests. $1,400 in data extraction time?  And if the money isn’t paid in advance they processing of emails would stop!

It’s not only illegal  it’s unethical and more importantly it isn’t what the law says.    When we started this Public Record Request(PPR) for the private emails the Council has been using we were told the total email numbers were probably few and the topics inconsequential.  If, when they say a few, they mean 14,000 you have to wonder what inconsequential means.

But there’s more:  The 14,000 emails are only those on the City’s servers. Any emails sent from private email accounts to private email accounts are NOT included in the 14,000, and the city refuses to supply the email addresses saying the Council members will be given guidelines to follow and they will be going through their own emails to see what is relevant and what isn’t.

So the Mayor and Council that claim to be completely transparent and yet are using private email accounts, to conduct city business, are now going to police themselves?

Most reasonable people if asked would say that’s inconceivable. And to borrow a line from the Princess Bride, I don’t think that word means what you think it means,  especially when it comes to Modesto politics.

Modesto City Council says business as usual..SPEND…SPEND…SPEND

By Emerson Drake  

Tuesday night the council had the chance to slow down on spending by implementing a freeze on hiring (except for police numbers going from 218 to 240), promotions, and spending but they chose not to.   With the exception of Tony Madrigal, who made a motion supporting the freeze. Unfortunately the motion died for a lack of a second.
 
There were two lengthy closed secession discussions regarding evaluating City Manager Jim Holgersson.  Holgersson’s machinations became public when Fire Chief Slamon resigned to take a job with a Department  one third the size of Modesto’s.  Between forcing the Chief Slamon  to change his mind or else  on accepting grant money and Holgersson’s recently come to light involvement regarding Cecill Russell, Chateau Provence, and Rank Security involving illegal camera placement and electricity theft which was discussed by MID General Manager Greg Salyer at Tuesday’s MID meeting the Council’s tolerance for Holgersson’s antics  may be waning.
 
So the Council intends on spending money we may or may not have And Brandvold said the plan needed more work and with George Petrulakis and the Chamber pulling his strings things just might get a little interesting.

The City of Modesto Treats Businesses Better Than it does Its Residents.

By Emerson Drake  modestoarch (1)

Can you imagine being behind more than 30 days in your water/sewer bill what Modesto’s reaction would be?   Yep, it would cut off your service. And before the speculation begins I’ve never had my water cut off. As anyone knows that has owed the city money they can be pretty cold hearted.
Now imagine you have collected money that you owe to Modesto but refuse to pay them.  What would the city do? Well if you are a business absolutely nothing. Budgetel Inn on McHenry operated by United Resorts LLC has owed Modesto lodging taxes (transient occupancy tax) since August of 2008. That’s right 2008 and they finally got around to trying to collect in earnest  and started proceedings October 29, 2014.   Modesto Tax Administrator, Gloriette Genereux ruled in January of 2015 UR LLC owed $106,623.50 in outstanding TOT and penalties.
Since then the Motel has played the lawyer game and stretched out the proceedings by mailing challenges to the wrong party and agreeing to pay, then failing to honor its promises.  All of this comes from tonight’s Council agenda Item 14. agendaitem145316  and agendaitem1425316
Budgetel has been bargaining in bad faith from the beginning in our opinion.  They’ve held on to the City’s ‘OUR’ money since 2008 and it’s time for it to come to an end.  Unless of course they’ll let residents wait 8 years to pay their bills like they do businesses.

Modesto’s Latest Money Giveaway

By Emerson Drake dridenour

 

When a politician tells you what something isn’t they’re telling you exactly what it is. Talking about Modesto considering to give Modesto Neighborhoods Inc $900,000 Modesto Councilman Doug Ridenour was quoted as saying “This is not a power grab, this is not a money Grab.” Now you know exactly what it is.

Modesto’s history of keeping track of public funds is atrocious. Consider our track history of NSP2 or Neighborhood Stabilization and Preservation funds. Ryan Swehla created Trinity Ventures and received the lions share of the millions of dollars in grant money. Then former City Councilman Joe Muratore, Swehla’s real estate business partner, had to return $68,000 or be charged with a felony by the feds for his participation.

Then there was SCAP and Joe Gibbs who took public money for rebuilding homes and was supposed to be renting them out to low income families. But instead placed their friends and relatives in them.

The city was supposed to be overseeing these funds but instead they went to political insiders. Can we trust our politicians with our money without watching them closely? Heck NO!

To borrow a line from Frank and Ernest, Our problem is we have too many teachable moments and not enough learnable ones.

The High Cost of Being a Resident of Modesto California

.By Emerson Drake   inflation
The City Council keeps raising the cost of living here in Modesto by charging us more for the necessities. Check your water and electric bill and you’ll find a 6% city tax  ($6.00 for every hundred dollars on your bill)  just for the privilege of living here. And now they want to raise our sewer bills even more to add on to the sewage treatment plant. The funny thing is, if you can call it that,  of the majority of the companies that use our sewage treatment facility, most of them DON’T pay that tax and one is even suing us for over billing. 
 
For the few companies that do pay the city tax there is a cap or max limit on the tax they have to pay.
 
Everyone encourages us to conserve water, and we should,  but now the city wants to raise our rates because they aren’t selling as much water and need a higher profit margin to cover their spending.  Because they can’t control their spending WE have to pay more. 
 
Residents are encouraged to conserve electricity but we pay more than large.companies, that chew through electricity at an ever increasing rate, 17 cents vs 10 cents per kWh, PLUS we pay the city utility tax and most of them don’t!
 
Now the City Council wants to give another set of one time incentive pay to MPD managers, totaling almost a quarter of a million dollars. Remember just a few short months ago we paid millions of dollars in one time bonuses to city employees. I guess we’re just lucky there are fewer of the MPD managers so our bill is less.
 
The really strange thing is there are actually people out there saying we should be happy paying extra to support big businesses, large corporations and the wealthy.  Talk about a sense of entitlement.

Local Candidates Didn’t Want You to See What They Were About to Do

By Emerson Drake                       modestologo

On Wednesday March 25, 2015, the Modesto City Council held a special meeting away from video recording devices.  Ostensibly it was to decide if they should send a letter in support of five other cities in Stanislaus County regarding a decision the Local Agency Formation Commission better known as LAFCO, made.  The Commission isn’t sexy or well known but is vitally important when it comes to setting boundaries and settling disputes.

But let us begin the conversation  with a little ground work.  LAFCO was intending to set actual values to the in-lieu of fees part of the mitigation discussion.  Several cities proposed setting their own fees.  For example LAFCO research suggested for the fees to be meaningful the price needed to be around $7,000 per acre and Patterson for one, was proposing $2,000 per acre of prime farmland.

The Special Meeting with NO Video Recording

LAFCO’s intention of visiting the fees has been public knowledge for several weeks.  They notified the Modesto City Council by email two weeks prior to the meeting according to Mayor Marsh.  And of course they posted their agenda as required by law.   The special meeting was requested by Council members Kenoyer, Cogdill, Zoslocki, and Lopez.  The topic of the fees could have been dealt with at the last meeting of the city council but instead they choose to have a meeting not in their official chambers but in a small meeting room, 2001, on the second floor.

Six members of the public were present Craig Lewis, Brad Barker,  Cathy Zoslocki, Kevin Valine,  myself, and Tom Halan,  the Patterson City Attorney ( if I got that name wrong I’m sorry, who just happened to be in the building on other business).

When the Council members weighed in Jenny Kenoyer said she didn’t understand what LAFCO was intending to do  and she didn’t appreciate the last minute meetings with out prep time.  Dave Cogdill complained about  the cities losing control of their mitigation fees.  Bill  Zoslocki claimed it was an over reach by LAFCO.   Dave Lopez said LAFCO was over stepping their bounds and claimed Jenny Kenoyer agreed with him.  He also blamed Mayor Marsh for not writing a letter supporting the other cities. During the meeting Kenoyer never commented on Lopez’s remarks.  And John Gunderson said he needed more time to think about whatever it was LAFCO intended on doing.    Marsh tried to explain LAFCO was just setting a price so there would be a level playing field for all of the cities but Kenoyer and Gunderson just had a blank look on their faces.  The others just kept repeating their previous comments like mantras. Just saying the same thing over again.  The work of developer special interests was obvious.

Now I realize this sounds like just sound bites but it was the entire text of their statements at this point.   Each of them, talked twice and they just repeated their brief statements.

Members from the public

Brad Barker went first and was the most eloquent and informative.  He carefully explained to Kenoyer and Gunderson what LAFCO’s intent was and walked them through the chaos that would ensue if each city could set their own fee levels.  The Patterson City Attorney just restated the cities should be allowed to keep control of their own fees.  I reminded the Council of the Patterson building fees which were woefully short on being able to build the needed infrastructure for the tarffic which eventually come  and that the County had to step in to pay for the costs of rebuilding the roads.  Also having seen the blank faces of Gunderson and Kenoyer,  I tried once again to explain what was happening later on that night at the LAFCO meeting.  Craig Lewis read some of Ed Persike’s op ed piece from the Bee that day and also trotted out the book the Coming Jobs War which actually says to do the exact opposite of what he, the Modesto Chamber of Commerce and the developers are pushing for.  But unfortunately as we learned at a Modesto Planning Commission meeting, most of the commissions members who opened the book didn’t read past the first few pages (one to two pages) and unfortunately, the general public has read even less.  But pretending to relay information from a book gives the air of knowledge.  Unfortunately it just makes it easier to manipulate them.

At the end of the short meeting Kenoyer and Marsh voted against sending the letter and Cogdill,  Zoslocki, Gunderson, and Lopez voted for the City Manager to send a letter in support of the other cities.  In other words,  at this point in time in the City of Modesto,  special interests rule.  After the meeting they each stuck to their short sound bites.  Especially Gunderson. He had that feral, almost goofy look  he gets.  You know the one a child gets when they think they have fooled you and just kept saying he needed more time to consider everything over and over again as if that explained everything away.

The Four Who Were Shills for Developers Promoting SPRAWL

dcogdillbzoslockidlopezjgunderson

The Bottom Line

LAFCO, thanks to Terry Withrow,  Jim DeMartini,  and Matt Beekman made us all proud and went forward and set the price for land fee mitigation in the amount of $7,000 per acre.

The following are the letters sent by various groups both for and against LAFCO’s proposal.

commentstoLAFCO

City of Modesto Knowingly Violates State Labor Code

By Emerson Drake   modestoarch (1)

On September 23, 2014 a citizen of Modesto stood up during the public comment period of the Modesto City Council and asked if applicants for jobs with the city were going to be required to provide passwords or sign-on to their social media accounts. The concern is that there are questions prospective employers are not allowed to ask applicants such as their religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, race,  sex, and disability status.  Some of this protected information is easily obtained when looking at someone’s social media accounts.

Modesto Police Chief Galen Carrol was asked to respond.  He replied that it was important to see what an applicant is posting and gave as examples, excessive drinking, nude photos of themselves and others, illegal drug use among others.  While we shared some of the Chief’s concerns, it is illegal to ask an applicant to sign into their social media accounts in the presence of a background investigator or hiring supervisor.

California Labor Code 980 section 3-a & b  Passed 9-27-12 effective 1-1-13

LABOR CODE, SECTION 980

980. (a)  As used in this chapter, “social media” means an electronic service or account, or electronic content, including, but not limited to, videos, still photographs, blogs, video blogs, podcasts, instant and text messages, email, online services or accounts, or Internet web site profiles or locations.

(b)  An employer shall not require or request an employee or applicant for employment to do any of the following:

(1) Disclose a username or password for the purpose of accessing personal social media.

(2)  Access personal social media in the presence of the employer.

 

Oops….so the Chief is blatantly violating state labor code and he dmitted, no flaunted it, in front of his boss, Interim City Manager Jim Holgersson, and the City Attorney Adam Lindgren.  The City Attorney has been found wanting in several decisions he has made and actions he failed to stop….from violation of free speech rights (signs in the council chamber ato not allowing a second public comment after a proposal has been changed), and now he’s either clueless or complacent…we’ll let the reader decide.

On Monday the Council will interview Jim Holgersson for the permanent job of City Manager.  It’s our point of view that he isn’t up to the task due to failing to protect the rights of Modesto’s citizens from intrusive and illegal questioning by the city staff he currently oversees and the companies he’s outsourced the background checks to.

On April 16, 2013, a legislative review committee considered the potential need for a law enforcement exemption to Labor Code 980, but decided it would probably be unconstitutional and chose not to make such an exception.

The Modesto City Council and Chamber want to Hire This Man for City Manager?

By Emerson Drake   IQUIT

When Modesto City Councilman Bill Zoslocki is pushing something he saves Modesto Chamber of Commerce lobbyist Cecil Russell from having to support it.  Here is a story about Jim Holgersson, the man they (the Council and Chamber) want to hire as interim city manager.  Public record requests are a wonderful thing.

Ousted Arlington city manager’s scathing review, perks detailed in public records: Former Arlington City Manager Jim Holgersson resigned in September amidst a scathing review from his peers, which was made public under the state’s open records act by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram over the weekend.

The review, commissioned by the city of an outside firm, pointedly noted that “there are major gaps between the way Jim Holgersson perceives himself versus the way his employees and internal customers” do.Holgersson’s six-year tenure was ended by that evaluation, which notes that his response to the findings was “professional but defensive.”

Holgersson took the review to heart; he resigned and took the remaining eight months of his $214,152 salary on his couch.In a story by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram,  city council member Mel LeBlanc said ”the consultant thought he was irredeemable. The questions we had as a council were, ‘Could he be coached, could he be managed by us back into a leadership capacity?’ All answers came back, ‘No, this has gone too far. It was valid, empirical evidence that we had a leadership problem.”

press release by the city at the time of Holgersson’s hiring claims his starting salary would be $190,000 but said nothing of pension provisions, car or phone allowances and the other non-salary perks of a public executive’s pay package.

***
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

And yet they want to hire this man.  The question we have is WHY? It goes to show just how low the City Council and Chamber of Commerce have stooped to.  It’s time to ask if the Council is being serious or do they think it’s still April 1st.?

Marsh, Zoslocki, Lewis, Russell, and Nyhoff were Collaborating All Along

By Emerson Drakechamberslargeplan

We’ve all listened to the Modesto Chamber of Commerce tell their story, some of us six or seven times,  of how their Transportation Committee met over a six month period (it gets longer every time they tell it) met to discuss Modesto’s land expansionist  planning needs for the next twenty years.  In previous articles we  chronicled how the Chamber went from needing 1,000 acres to over 25,300 of land during their series of presentations to various civic groups and  public entities. The above map is from their July 2013 presentation. This represents their goals and is an early view of what the comprehensive General Plan scheduled to begin two years from now will look like if they get their way.

As usual when it comes to people attempting to manipulate the public for their own selfish interests what they don’t tell us is just as, and sometimes more important, than the information they disseminate.

For example during these ‘planning meetings’ that Mayor Marsh and City Manager Nyhoff attended along with members of the Chamber’s Transportation Committee, they discussed how best to seize Wood Colony land for an industrial park and sneak Salida’s already zoned business park land from them to be placed under Modesto’s control.

I admit after hearing Mayor Marsh paint George Petrulakis and the Chamber as  ‘evil’ and a position we don’t totally disagree with, as the people we really had to worry about compared to himself and his friends,  I was surprised to learn of the initial collaborations. When his friends, Councilwoman Kenoyer of  (I don’t have to worry about Wood Colony because they can’t vote for me) fame,  and Councilman Gunderson who just can’t stop repeating “no one is talking about annexation”, while the Mayor keeps using the terms annexation and eminent domain, don’t make anyone feel they can be trusted.

Part of the ‘art of the deal’ was the watering down and delay of Denny Jackman’s Residential Urban Limits proposal.  An arrangement was made so the Chamber wouldn’t fight it when it came on the ballot but at the council meeting where it was proposed, a little ‘kicker’ was added.  Councilman Cogdill proposed that Modesto would repeal the Measures A and M  which deal with the public’s ability to control land acquisition and development(sewer expansion) by the city by requiring public advisory votes.

All of the General Plan Amendment discussion has been orchestrated from the beginning by just a few people. For example the rank and file of the Modesto Chamber of Commerce don’t get to vote on the Board of Directors, they’re appointed, the same is true of the Alliance.

The Modesto Planning Commission and Staff spent the better part of a year holding workshops for the public where Bill Zoslocki and Craig Lewis passionately advocated for a much larger footprint for Modesto.   People came forward and expressed themselves very succinctly.  And the Planning Commission’s meetings,  Brent Sinclair and the rest of Modesto’s planning staff listened to the public’s wishes and proposed a footprint which was in line with Denny’s original RUL proposal.

Then the politicians stepped in.  For a while you needed a score card to understand where each one of them stood.  From Nyhoff’s open mic fiasco where he dissed everyone who disagreed with the Chamber, we learned why Jenny turned her back on both her campaign promises, to protect prime farmland and keep Salida for Salida. The bumbling John Gunderson, so elated  the Mayor was finally talking to him as an equal, rubber stamped every proposal Marsh made whether he understood them or not.  For Cogdill and Zoslocki the mantra is “more is better.”  But Zoslocki added “but I can’t be caught voting/going on the record for it.”  Lopez, after being warned about people willing to energetically campaign against him in the Board of Supervisors race, disavowed any interest in Wood Colony. And Madrigal, well Tony is still out collecting prom dresses, rather than focusing on the larger tasks needed by the city.

But it all began with a few greedy real estate men (Zoslocki and Lewis), a small handpicked few from the Chamber,  a City Manager who spent more time working for the desires of a few in the Chamber of Commerce than he did the people of Modesto, and a Mayor who though he could write his own legacy by stealing the land from the residents of Salida, the farmers of Wood Colony and the German Baptist Brethren who, to take a page from Jenny Kenoyer’s book,  don’t vote anyway.

And We, the Citizens of Modesto are the only ones who can stop this.  And what have we been doing?  We’ve been  saying…. Sir, can I please have another?

It’s time to take back our City Government from the greedy special interests that are intent on ruining Modesto.

 

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