Civil Grand Jury says Patterson council better, needs more improvement
by Jonathan Partridge | Patterson Irrigator and Nick Rappley | Patterson Irrigator
Jul 05, 2012 | 1851 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Stanislaus County Civil Grand Jury found this week that the City of Patterson has defined its city attorney role and is monitoring ethics training for elected leaders following the jury’s 2011 probe into city matters, but continues to have problems complying with open meeting laws.

The findings released Monday, July 2, come after the Grand Jury released a highly critical report about several current and former city officials in June 2011, followed by a scathing written response from the City Council in September.

The grand jury response also stated that the grand jury seeks to provide “unbiased oversight,” seeming to address last year’s accusations in the City Council’s response that the grand jury was engaging in political advocacy by calling for Councilwoman Annette Smith’s ouster.

“The grand jury is one means to inform citizens that government is operating efficiently and in an ethical, honest manner,” stated the response from the jury’s Continuity Committee. “The grand jury investigates policies and procedures and makes recommendations to improve local governmental operations.

“It has no power to enforce its recommendations. It only informs citizens about some of the legislative and administrative work of their local governments.”

The grand jury’s findings followed up on three recommendations that the grand jury made in 2011:

• The jury called for “an actual job description” for the City Attorney position that would list job specifics, transparent billing practices and a schedule of job evaluations.

The jury noted that the city has adopted an ordinance regarding the city attorney position that includes a job description.

• The jury had requested that the city post whether the mayor and all city council members are in compliance with state-required ethics training.

The jury noted that the city of Patterson now does this, and it recommended that all public bodies within Stanislaus County adopt similar measures.

• The jury called for Patterson’s City Council to comply with the Ralph M. Brown Act, which governs public meeting laws. After reviewing the minutes of council meetings from July 1, 2011 through this past December, it had determined that the council violated the Brown Act during its Nov. 1 meeting regarding the proposed purchase of real estate negotiations. The agenda item listed a large list of parties, consisting of John Ramos, the Wong family, Keystone Flex Associates LLC, Carol Nunes, Virginia Azevedo, Jamke and Grewal, Manmeet S and Jaskiran K.

The grand jury’s Continuity Committee determined the agenda item was insufficient because it failed to provide the nature of the negotiation, the public purpose of the proposed acquisition and the roles of the named parties. The committee’s follow-up report called for the city to pay continued attention to “the letter and spirit of the Brown Act in all matters that come before the City Council.”

The report disputed the city’s contention that Council Member A (who city officials have presumed to be Smith) had a financial relationship with developer John Ramos and not a “fiduciary” relationship.

Smith has referred calls for comment to City Attorney Tom Hallinan or Deputy City Attorney Doug White. White said Thursday, July 5, that the city attorney’s office would have a response at the special City Council meeting scheduled for Tuesday, July 10.

The report made no mention of other recommendations within the grand jury report, indicating those would be forwarded on to the Stanislaus County District Attorney's office.

For instance, the original Grand Jury report called for Smith’s ouster, by either citizen recall or her resignation, stating she had failed to recuse herself from a vote regarding developer John Ramos’ legal fees while she had a "fiduciary" relationship with him. It also stated that Ramos had written off expenses for Smith in the past.

In addition, it criticized Smith for allegedly confronting a resident in a supermarket parking lot and using abusive language. The report stated further that she pressured city staff members to fire former Community Development Director Rod Simpson.

The report also recommended that former Mayor Becky Campo pay back money she received as mayor because she allegedly lived outside city limits.

In addition, it stated that the city should file a complaint with the California State Bar to chastise former City Attorney George Logan for alleged improprieties, such as failing to be in the room when the council voted to reimburse Ramos for $27,000 in legal fees. The grand jury advised that Ramos return that money to the city. It also admonished Councilman Dominic Farinha for wrongfully awarding attorney's fees to Ramos, wrongfully attempt to dismiss a city employee, meeting privately with Campo and Smith to discuss city matters and pressuring a city building official to expedite an inspection on his property.

The city's formal response in September denied all of those major findings. Smith also filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against the county in late September alleging defamation and civil rights violations against her. Councilman Dominic Farinha released an individual response to Presiding Judge Ricardo Cordova through San Francisco-based law office Murphy, Pearson, Bradley and Feeney, denying the Grand Jury’s allegations against him.

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

• Contact Nick Rappley at 892-6187, ext. 31 or nick@pattersonirrigator.com.


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