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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.