UPDATE: Lyons disavows email about West Park vote
by Jonathan Partridge | Patterson Irrigator
Jun 21, 2012 | 1277 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Former state agriculture secretary Bill Lyons was surprised to learn that Stanislaus County Supervisor Terry Withrow had withdrawn from a June 19 vote on the PCCP West Park project because of a potential conflict of interest.

That surprise turned into shock, he said, when Lyons got word that Withrow — his former political opponent for the District 3 supervisor’s seat — did so because of information in an email that appeared to be from Lyons.

Lyons said Thursday, June 21, that he had nothing to do with the message, and he planned to say so in a formal letter to the county.

“I was very upset for a couple of reasons,” said Lyons, who runs Mape’s Ranch in Modesto off Highway 132. “First of all, someone used my name inappropriately, and also, both Supervisor Withrow and myself have tried to bury the hatchet.”

The email in question noted that the Maring family, with whom Withrow is related by marriage, and Del Mar Farms, which is co-owned by Withrow’s brother-in-law Jon Maring, both own property near the former U.S. naval base in Crows Landing, where West Park would be built. The writer of the email then questioned why Withrow should be able to vote on the project.

Supervisor Jim DeMartini, whose district includes the West Side, said this week that Withrow’s wife has a partial share in the Maring family land.

The message was sent to a Modesto Bee reporter and copied to Stanislaus County Assistant Executive Officer Keith Boggs and Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill O’Brien at 8:49 a.m. the day of the supervisors meeting.

“In Terry’s own words ‘his (sic) is an accountant and can work figures,’” stated the email, sent from billlyons82@hotmail.com. “I think anyone that can do basic math can figure when surrounding properties are developed, the undeveloped values increase significantly.”

Lyons said Thursday that he had told both Withrow and DeMartini, another West Park opponent, that he had nothing to do with the email.

While Withrow has said he will not vote on any West Park issues from this point forward to avoid the appearance of a conflict, Lyons emphasized that the decision was entirely the supervisor’s.

Withrow said this week that he had no idea who wrote the email, but he saw no need to investigate.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s irrelevant,” he said. “I don’t care who sent it. It made us look at something that obviously needed to be looked into.”

County Counsel Jack Doering, who forwarded the email to Withrow, agreed.

“We have no interest to know where it came from,” Doering said.

He said he contacted Withrow after receiving the email from Boggs to find out whether there was an actual conflict of interest. While he acknowledged the possibility that Withrow could prove there is no conflict, Doering described that as “a tough hill to climb.”

Still, Lyons said he was disappointed that no one from the county had called him up before the vote to verify whether he wrote the message.

DeMartini said he was surprised when he initially heard the email had come from Lyons and he doubted that the Mape’s Ranch owner had anything to do with it.

“I’ve known Bill Lyons for a long time, and it’s just not his style to do something like that,” he said.

In the end, supervisors voted 3-1, with Withrow absent from the boardroom, to give West Park developer Gerry Kamilos seven more months to complete a draft environmental impact report and specific plan and to complete ground leases. DeMartini cast the dissenting vote.

Kamilos’ plans entail building a 2,930-acre industrial park on and around the 1,528-acre former Crows Landing naval airfield between Fink and Marshall roads south of Patterson. The project would include a 250-acre solar facility and a 157-acre “inland port,” where two trains each day would transfer goods bound to and from the Port of Oakland. Most recent figures from Kamilos indicate that the project would provide 13,000 permanent jobs and 3,000 temporary construction jobs.

Kamilos said this week he was shocked when he heard about the email, characterizing the use of Lyons’ name as identity theft.

“That’s a criminal act,” he said. “Impersonating somebody is illegal, as far as I’m concerned.”

He said that West Park, too, was hurt by the email and suggested that the person who wrote the message might have intended to disparage West Park, as it could appear that West Park representatives or supporters were using sneaky means to try to remove Withrow from the dais.

“It’s annoying, and it’s distracting from the work that we have to do,” Kamilos said.

DeMartini said this week that he did not think Withrow’s presence at the June 19 board meeting would have changed the outcome, but he said he was saddened that the supervisor did not have an opportunity to speak. He speculated that the email was written by a West Park advocate.

DeMartini noted that Withrow is a certified public accountant and said he would likely have raised good questions related to West Park’s finances.

“I think it disservices the county by not having those questions asked,” DeMartini said. “Conflict of interest anymore is getting to be too broad.”

• Contact Jonathan Partridge at 892-6187, ext. 26, or jonathan@pattersonirrigator.com.

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