Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

Archive for the tag “Tony Madrigal”

Modesto’s Cover-up To Start By Firing the Auditor

By Emerson Drake

We’ve learned Modesto’s auditor apprised members of the Modesto City Council’s Audit Committee in a memo on July 19th of her concerns that the City Attorney and the company Meyers Nave had overstepped their bounds by misrepresenting themselves in SR 132 eminent domain legal services.  The memo was sent to Mayor Ted Brandvold and Councilmen Mani Grewal and Douglas Ridenour.

 

That’s when the scheme was created to implement a cover-up of the alleged malfeasance by Meyers Nave, the company Modesto has contracted for legal services, which supplies Adam Lindgren as Modesto’s City Attorney.  Less than two months after Modesto hired Monica Houston as the City’s Auditor and just weeks after the memo was sent to the City staff;  City Manager Joe Lopez and Attorney Adam Lindgren implemented a series of job performance evaluations in secret (closed sessions) supported by Council members Bill Zoslocki, Doug Ridenour, Mani Grewal, and Jenny Kenoyer  The City Attorney demanded they go into closed sessions for the evaluations.    For those unaware Council members can’t reveal to the public what is said during closed sessions.  It’s our understanding that four and possibly more closed sessions were scheduled.  But obviously and according to their plan, we don’t know what transpired but we doubt it was hugs and smiles.  Probably just the opposite (acrimonious with hostile overtones) since they are trying to silence Monica.

 

In an article in the Bee dated Oct 10th by Rosalio Ahumada, the City Council meeting was detailed quite well except at the time he and the rest of us weren’t aware of the memo behind some of Ted Brandvold’s and Kristi Ah You’s comments.  During the Council meeting, about 1 hour and 19 minutes, Mayor Brandvold suggested documents were being falsified  by city staff.  If the documents that the Auditor has don’t match the documents the city now has or any falsification is present then heads should roll starting with the City Attorney and City manager for suborning the falsification or alteration of city documents.  If you listen to the council meeting when Mani comes back in you hear lots of static. We’ve been told before the interference is caused by someone’s phone being on.  Mani was the only one that left the dais.  You have to wonder who he felt the need to call for instructions. But there’s more…

In the memo Houston includes actions by Meyer Nave of supplier favoritism including no bid contracts. Also included are suggestions of fraud, waste and abuse in the assigning of contracts.  These charges could expose Modesto to financial loss.

There have long been questions about the large sums of money Modesto is spending for legal fees.  We are aware lawyers are expensive but having a real City Attorney is cost effective compared to outside council/firm is extremely expensive. We and others have submitted Public Record Requests truing to find out just how much Modesto pays in legal fees but to this point the items provided by the city are so redacted it makes them almost useless.  They black out so much information it’s almost impossible to tell what services the invoices are paying for.  Also coming into question is the assigning of legal contracts.  Is Meyers Nave receiving quid pro quo for their assigning lucrative contracts for city business?  What are they hiding?

 

All things considered it would seem we have a Sacramento legal firm adding to their bottom line using questionable legal means at our expense and they, with the help of the inept City Manager and a few members of the City Council,  are willing to orchestrate a the firing of anyone who stands in their way.  Why is it when someone steps forward to warn the City Council of problems they get shown the door?  When will Modesto start working for ALL of the people who live here and not just special interest groups that quite often don’t ?

 

More food for thought:  Meyers Nave is council for four other cities in Stanislaus County which would give them a large power block on StanCog and  Stanislaus LAFCO or Local Agency Formation Commission.  Before your eyes glaze over LAFCO has the final say on cities wanting to expand and develop.  In Modesto they enabled a new  area of Beard Industrial to avoid paying Modesto user fees which was against their policy until Modesto special interests intervened.  So we not only provide below cost subsidized  electricity we don’t charge them the extra six percent user tax that you and I pay for electricity, sewer and water.

 

 

 

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For Honesty, Integrity, Service, It’s Terry Withrow

By Emerson Drake  

 

When we’re evaluating candidates for local office many times it comes down to the lesser of two evils.  When it comes to the Stanislaus Board of Supervisors District 3 it’s an easy call because we have an extremely qualified candidate, Terry Withrow.   Sometimes candidates come to the position with preconceived notions.  Other times their notions/ideas have been pushed on them by special interest groups.  One of things that make Terry Withrow exceptional is he listens to his constituents.  I know that sounds easy but in this day and age that requires fundraising to get your message out, special interest groups (the Chamber of Commerce and developers) and those who collect politicians for money and personal power (George Petrulakis) will supply the money, but at a price.  Terry doesn’t take money from the deep pocketed developers.

 

When neighborhood residents come to Terry with concerns he hears them out and helps to find solutions.   He doesn’t pretend to have a magic wand (like his opponent does) and that all he has to do is wave it and everyone is instantly happy.  He understands how the County works and assists in not only explaining the correct path but he helps to get the ball rolling. And he doesn’t take his eyes off the ball, he stays focused through to the end.

 

He supported Modesto, Salida, and Wood Colony residents in their unified goal to preserve our way of life, our neighborhoods and our precious (some of the best in the World)  farmland.  When Salida became concerned about Cannabis shops being placed in Salida, Terry made sure their wishes were respected.

 

During the recent drought Terry was in the forefront in establishing and working with the Stanislaus County Water Advisory Committee bringing farmers, businesses and residents together to help resolve water issues and drought concerns going back to its formation in February 2014.

 

Terry has always remained open to people having questions or concerns.  Whether it’s during or after a Board meeting, a chance meeting in public or or public media, he is always willing to hear anyone’s ideas, problems, or concerns.  I’ve watched him give his cellphone number out to anyone who wanted to talk and especially to those trying to pick an argument.

 

When it comes to local politics it’s not the party that’s important.  Power brokers like George Petrulakis purchase Democrats, Republicans, or supposed Independents as often as they can.  Case in point…George even ran two candidates (one Republican and one Democrat)  against Terry  in the primary this year.

 

We’ve followed our political scene for many years and without a doubt Terry Withrow is one of the best people ever to be elected to office in Stanislaus County.   He deserves our continued support.  Vote for Terry Withrow for Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors District 3.

Creating the Perfect Storm, Developer Style

By Emerson Drake  

It’s getting close to that time again when we get to vote for the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors.  But how do we separate the wheat from the chaff,  the good from the bad,  the place holders from the players.  We could do a breakdown of the political parties they represent. Or we could try to decide by their opinions on topics of importance.  But as most of us are aware, with a few of the candidates,  their opinions are like underwear that’s to say they get changed daily depending on the nature of their audience.

Unfortunately in local politics the latter is mostly true, unless, or maybe especially if their opinions are manufactured by those power brokers behind the scenes.  We have some that believe in paving paradise and putting up parking lots.  And some who don’t know what to believe and are just being used as pawns in a larger game.  Lets back up a few years for a moment and remember when Bill Zoslocki, Craig Lewis, Cecil Russell and yes George Petrulakis  were attending every meeting imaginable saying they needed to extend Modesto’s sphere of influence to the river on Modesto’s north and west sides.  That would have doubled the size of Modesto’s footprint.  And it was to be done in their words.. to protect our farmland.  And that of course was just a lie.

But many people stepped up to the plate among them were Terry Withrow and Jake Wenger, two of the higher profile politicians willing to take a stand against the Chamber’s Transportation Committee which at the time included Zoslocki, Lewis, Russell, and Petrulakis along with the then Mayor of Modesto, Garrad Marsh.  When the massive land grab was temporarily defeated, well at least a stand-off, the Chamber, led by Cecil Russell, George Petrulakis and others let it be know they were coming after Withrow and Wenger.  Let us not forget that soon after the upcoming election in June, Modesto will be taking another look at the General Plan Amendment that will put expansionism back in play again.  Refer  back to the article’s title.

A few short years later (last fall) George Petrulakis masterminded an ambush of Jake Wenger by Stu Gilman for MID  Director Division 4.  They used Janice Keating, the congregation of The House, a church in Modesto, a pocket full of money and a naive dilettante (or maybe I should say cunning) named  Katherine Borges to do their dirty work.  Keating probably made out the best since Gilman actually paid the political consulting  company she runs from her home, Fundamental,  $1,500.  Petrulakis is still owed $17,000 by Gilman for his expertise or was it actually a loan in disguise used for advertising?   Borges swallowed a completely improbable story, or at least did publicly, about Salida getting water from MID, which is contractually impossible, and let Gilman/Petrulakis use her endorsement (she eventually endorsed both candidates).  Now Borges is being encouraged by George Petrulakis (was this part of an earlier promise to get her to support Gilman?) and is running against Terry Withrow for Board of Supervisors District 3.   Could things get any curiouser?  Ahh, yes we can’t forget the chameleon  Tony Madrigal.

One interesting thing to know about George Petrulakis is that he’s an equal opportunity employer.  We learned out in Patterson when land use issues weren’t going his way he’d just as soon buy a Democrat as a Republican. In the past George swayed Modesto City Councilman Tony Madrigal several times… first he’s for saving Wood Colony from developers, then against, and now for again.  With Borges, he managed to find a reason that would allow her to support Gilman (imaginary available water) against Wenger. That along with playing to her desire for the attention.  So now he has two candidates running against Withrow.

In the other race Tom Berryhill a termed out retread who seems to be relying on name recognition, (after all it worked for Dick Monteith,)  Janice Keating who has lost her last two political races and was supported by George Petrulakis and Zagaris,  and Frank Damrell who has been an assistant for a Congressman working on Social Security issues.  Berryhill doesn’t even bother to campaign.  He expects people to remember his family name and vote for him.  He has no viable ideas just the desire for another paycheck from taxpayer’s money.  With Keating it’s pretty simple.  She took $28,000 from a MID slush fund and spoke publicly for the sale of our water to San Francisco.   Imagine if MID had had less water during the recent drought for both Modesto and the farmers to share all so a local businessman (can you say Bill Lyons) could make a windfall profit on selling water to the state.

Watching a recent Modesto Bee forum a few observations jumped out.  Tony Madrigal reminded us of Armando Arreola, a perennial Mayoral candidate in Modesto, who applies one of the three answers he has in his repertoire to every question he’s asked whether they address the question or not.  Katherine Borges the… I was a Democrat, then I turned Republican, now I’m pretending to be nonpartisan, now that even though I keep going to their meetings, the Republican Party chose not to back me… used former candidate for Supervisor Scott Calkins’  ideas from four years ago, which she loudly disdained then as she was actively campaigning for Withrow.   I know it’s hard to follow the changes ( remember the underwear analogy) but you can’t, and don’t have to,  make these things up.   Terry Withrow has stayed the course amid the stormy seas.  He defended Wood Colony and Salida from the aggressive aspirations of the Chamber of Commerce’s land grab developers.  He’s been a consistent voice for promoting our homeless issues despite the Modesto Mayor’s along with the Modesto’s business community’s (DoMo) foot dragging.  And he was one of the prominent voices on County water issues during the drought. The fact that land use attorney George Petrulakis has two candidates in the District 3 race, Madrigal and Borges, brings super clarity to the issue. Terry Withrow is the only real choice if we want insure the public has an independent voice on the Board of Supervisors in District 3.

District 4 is even less complicated.  Tom Berryhill has no vision, no ideas, and like Keating is running from political decisions made in the past. Berryhill and his ‘funneling money’ questions that he seems to be dodging every step of the way.  And Keating with her close ties to the paving paradise development community including selling her “opinions ” to the highest bidder.  Of the three running Frank Damrell  stands out compared to  the two tired political hacks he’s facing.

 

 

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.

 

 

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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