Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

Archive for the tag “Tony Madrigal”

We Deserve a Better City Council

By Emerson Drake    

Prior City Councils helped to guide us through the recession created by the 2007-2008 financial crisis.  Recently we’ve been  faced with the need to chart a new course for Modesto.   Unfortunately the current council seems to be taking a step backward.  In the last four years we’ve had transparency replaced with obfuscation and thriftiness with a spend-it-like-you’ve-got-it mentality. The most tenured council members are Bill Zoslocki, Jenny Kenoyer, and Tony Madrigal and they just happen to be up for re-election.

No Council oversight:  City staff has run amuck with contracts.  An example is with the Garrett Thompson contract for soft patch, first being signed in 2012, then being doubled in 2014, then tripled from its original numbers in 2016, and the most recent increase was without Council approval.   And Acting City Manager Joe Lopez, tried to slip it in under the radar under a consent item at a recent Council meeting.  He blamed it on human error and accepted no responsibility.

Most recently we’ve been informed about a second contract where we paid $426,452 more than the contract called for.  Again… no real answer as to why this happened.

Should this surprise us?  Probably not since Joe Lopez says more of these financial bombshells will be coming. When will they be coming?  After the election.

Now they want to buy a city block:  The senior three council members, Zoslocki, Kenoyer, and Madrigal, all want to but a city block for $3.1 Million.  They want to use money (steal it would be more accurate) that earlier councils from 1998 to 2008, and we the taxpayers put aside, to build a fleet maintenance facility.  A facility we need since the one we were using was on the land we overpaid for and subsequently sold to the state for the new courthouse.  It doesn’t matter to these three that the same block has been up for sale for years and several developers have been pitched the deal and everyone of them walked away because they determined it wasn’t financially feasible.  When asked what they intend to do with the property, to paraphrase,  their answer was “we don’t have a clue, but it sure sounds like a good idea doesn’t it.”

The Red Lion will never go bankrupt!  As a reminder to put it short and sweet… in Modesto’s past, the city bought and then used the property under what’s now called (oops spoiler alert) the Double Tree as collateral for the Red Lion hotel to be built. It went bankrupt and the city lost the land.  But maybe it’ll be different this time! After all Ryan Swehla and Benchmark have already been offering their management services (for a price) to the city.  Even Craig Lewis offered his services for financial management. Local businessmen always want to get their fingers in our pockets.

Don’t they say that doing the same thing over and over is a sign of insanity?

Under the senior three we watched former City Manager Ted Holgerson threatened to terminate then Fire Chief Slamon which would result in him losing his retirement, if he gave the benefit of his experience and his opinions rather than giving the party line that Holgerson and the senior three wanted.  Because of this, Chief Slamon eventually resigned from his position and took a position with a city half the size of Modesto.

Under the senior three Zoslocki, Kenoyer, and Madrigal, over 14,000 emails weren’t applied to Public Record Requests.  Using private email accounts instead of city accounts to conduct city business is unethical and obfuscating.  These emails went missing during their term in office.  The city attorney has delayed his response to requests for these emails for the last six months.  To date we’ve received approximately six months worth out of three and a half years.

Under the senior three the City’s situation with CalPers and the union retirement accounts has become more dire.  The issue is so serious that according to some the City could possibly face bankruptcy in the next five years.  But the senior three intend to keep on spending like there’s no tomorrow.

The senior three’s experience hasn’t made Modesto more financially sound.  They seem intent on having us crawl further and further out that proverbial limb and refuse to provide the accountability and guidance staff obviously requires.

The senior three have had their chance it’s time for a new starting line-up.

 

 

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City Staff’s SNAFU or is it something Worse? The $2.1 M Boondoggle

By Emerson Drake  

The Council meeting last week 9/12/17 was confusing and disconcerting so lets go over the numbers, so we’re all on the same page.

On 9/25/12 the Council authorized a five year contract with Garrett Thompson for hot patch work (street repair from water meter installation and small water main repairs) for $749,700 per year totaling $3.748 Million. Within two years the city had spent 75% of the money. So on 12/9/14 two years into the contract staff came back and asked for and received another $3.1 Million to be added to the original agreement.

On 12/15/15 the Finance staff increased the purchasing authority to $9.6 Million WITHOUT the Council’s approval.  And last week staff tried to slide a $2.2 Million catch-up/increase on the consent calendar on a week when it was known it was going to be a short meeting because the Council had to be in Riverbank for joint meeting with the Riverbank City Council.

First of all it’s almost the old bait and switch. Staff tells the Council that $3.748 Million will pay for five years of hot patches and then the amount spent goes up 250%.  It wasn’t cost overruns or because of change orders like Tony ‘the clueless one’ Madrigal  wondered.  Yes, Garrett was the low cost bidder but the contract was by the square foot and that price didn’t go up, city staff just kept ordering more patches and spending money that hadn’t been authorized.

Deanna Christensen claimed someone had entered erroneous numbers multiple times into the city’s Oracle financial system.  The Oracle system was purchased in 2010 at the cost of $7.4 Million and was supposed to prevent just this kind of problem. And to protect the citizens the questions of whether inducements were offered to make the mistakes or could the missing contract language and oversight be intentional?

Among other questions we have are did staff intentionally put out to bid a RFP that could never cover all the worked scheduled/planned?  Was easier to get Council’s buy in for a much smaller amount than was needed figuring then it would be easy to up the approval in the future? If it was the latter then it worked.

Talk about a lack of trust.    Kristi Ah You asked Mayor Brandvold how the search was coming for an in house auditor. His reply was he’d been working on it the last few weeks. But why the questions about an auditor?  We already have an independent outside firm, Moss Adams, auditing anything they’re asked to audit.  The Council wants someone that reports to them at more than twice the cost and not to the City Manager.  If you don’t trust Joe Lopez, and we don’t, then get rid of him and look outside for someone else.  As an aside you might not want to hire someone that works for the headhunters you hire like you did the last time.

Zoslocki, Kenoyer, and Madrigal all voted for the second expansion of the contract and have been there during the boondoggle.  All of them seemed concerned but appeared to be willing to vote to pay the $306,000 that night (but only Kenoyer was willing to verbalize her thoughts).  Doug Ridenour made some of his usual comments that he doesn’t believe in emotional decisions or feelgood proposals but never actually said what those might be.

Zoslocki claimed he talks with respect and doesn’t let emotion enter into his thinking.  That would have drawn a laugh from the audience the night of the General Plan discussion after he melted down and verbally attacked a speaker who showed Zoslocki was hiding his council communications from the public.  And talking about Kenoyer, there is still the video where she rants “If you work for the city, I’m the boss of you”.

The bottom line is it doesn’t take 10 to 12 weeks to discover how and when the erroneous changes were inputted.  It doesn’t take 10-12 weeks to know who was involved.  You don’t get a contract from the city and not know how much it’s worth. For trying to slide this by on consent, Joe Lopez should be gone.  Zoslocki, Kenoyer, and Madrigal by their actions and disconnect don’t deserve to be on the Council.  All three would like nothing better than to have this be swept under the rug until after the elections. And last but not least Garrett Thompson should not be allowed to bid in the current RFP.   People need to be held accountable starting with our elected officials.

 

 

 

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.

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