Lessons to be learned from grand jury mess
Sep 22, 2011 | 1192 views | 0 0 comments | 22 22 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It’s safe to say the city’s reply to the Stanislaus County Civil Grand Jury probe this week offered few surprises.

Similar to past responses that the county board of supervisors has offered the jury, most of the jury’s recommendations were largely refuted by the city in their response from their interim city attorney, Tom Hallinan.

Granted, many of the grand jury’s recommendations were highly unreasonable. Those include its call for City Councilwoman Annette Smith to step down because she voted on matters pertaining to developer John Ramos after having a tenant-landlord relationship with him. We agree with Hallinan’s assessment in the official city response in this matter, that this financial relationship “didn’t even meet the FPPC requirements for disclosure.”

The grand jury also stated, ridiculously, that council members cannot meet one-on-one with constituents who have building projects, calling such routine behavior a Brown Act violation. We understand the complex issues surrounding development. Sometimes the influences council members come under is intense, but since when did we drop “representative” from representative democracy? Developers have the same rights as others. Serial meetings, if they prove to be taking place, are illegal, but there is no law prohibiting an individual or an organization from meeting with all of their elected representatives.

The jury’s report was sloppy and erroneous at times. It felt politically charged, and its conclusions seemed to lean too heavily upon testimony from citizens who had a specific agenda against three council members they did not like: Smith, Dominic Farinha and former Mayor Becky Campo. It’s disturbing that Smith and Campo were singled out for not attending ethics training courses, but the report did not mention that others were also behind in their ethics training at the time, according to city documents that the jury requested and had in their possession. In the words of Hallinan, the apparent bias “taints the entire report.”

Ironically, the city’s response to the grand jury appears to have some of the same deficiencies as the grand jury report itself. It’s exceedingly one-sided and seems to lean solely on the testimony of a few — in this case, the current and former council members who are under fire: Smith, Campo and Farinha.

As an example, the report takes Campo’s statements about meeting residency requirements at face value, when evidence appears to indicate she was at least skirting the line of what was allowed by law.

What’s lost in both the grand jury report and the city’s reply is an independent voice that is not influenced by the emotional cesspool that has enveloped Patterson politics in recent years. Of course, this issue evolved from a situation that was emotionally charged from Day One.

The dispute over the future location of the Del Puerto Health Center continues to color this city’s dealings more than a year and a half after the issue was supposedly resolved.

What could have been handled in a calm, rational manner turned into a firestorm that took on a life of its own. People involved in both sides of the dispute only further stoked the flames.

Both Mayor Luis Molina and local resident Mike Anderson expressed the desire to move beyond this mess as they spoke during Tuesday’s council meeting.

Those are good words. We’ve heard this before; let’s see it stick.

But first, it’s important to reflect on how the city got into this dilemma in the first place. In the words of Molina, let’s knock off the finger pointing. All those who were involved in this fiasco should stop to consider the role they played. Most people feel it’s time to ponder how we can create a better-working, more functional community.

At the end of the day, it’s far better to try to resolve our own problems in Patterson than to get an outside body like the grand jury involved.

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