Blog Posts - March 2012

More Ghost Writers In The Sky?

By netboots, on Mar 29, 2012

Mr. Steve Bankhead was kind enough to allow the Fishing Report to reprint his Op-Ed that was published today in the Register-Parjaronian. Here it is: 
More Ghost Writers In The Sky?
       
A finely written and detailed Mar. 24 guest column by Stella Romo disputed statements by Councilman Emilio Martinez in his Mar. 1 column "Lack of transparency root cause of city's problems."  One part of his piece questioned the relationship between Romo Properties and the Watsonville Redevelopment Agency, while other parts reflected on RDA dealings with the Manabe-Ow project, Evergreen Apartments, and other matters.
     
The resulting Mar. 27 response by Martinez to Romo motivated a reexamination of the issue, and the first thing that struck me was the fact that over three weeks had elapsed between the Martinez piece and the Romo rebuttal.  However, the Romo attempt at discrediting Martinez came within 48 hours of Councilman Bersamin voting to fill his own vacancy...an action for which Martinez still has a legal challenge resulting from Assemblyman Luis Alejo's exercising that highly questionable "right" in 2010.
   
 I'll overlook the fact that in this city begging for new businesses and jobs, our council majority passed over applicant Marty Corley, whose position as manager of the large local business and employer Couch Distributing provides him both badly needed fiscal experience and connections to potential new businesses.  I'll also overlook they instead selected Felipe Hernandez, whose past record of being a Watsonville Brown Beret co-founder, UFW political coordinator, and SEIU organizer doesn't exactly make him a business magnet.
   
 Instead, I'll focus on the timing of the Romo piece and on past opinion columns similarly attacking Martinez on various issues.  There was the Nov. 20, 2009 column by former Mayor Antonio Rivas, criticizing Martinez' opinion that poor city economic performance could be improved by returning to citywide elections for mayor.  Rivas' column proudly listing the city's many achievements under the current system was very detailed, and written in an impeccable style never witnessed in his spoken comments or emails I've received from him.
     
Then there was the Mar. 13, 2011 column by then-Mayor Daniel Dodge, disputing an earlier piece by Martinez comparing the relative staffing and budgets of Watsonville and Pasadena.  Dodge's finely written piece was filled with incredible details of the two city's financial structures, like "City manager/human resources:  Watsonville has 6.25 staff and a budget of $1 million, compared to Pasadena with 33.6 staff and a budget of $6 million.  Watsonville's per capita cost is $20, versus $40 for Pasadena."
   
Finally, I'll overlook the clever statistical maneuver of factoring city population into the comparison, providing the appearance of Watsonville residents getting staff at half the price of Pasadena, despite simply figuring the cost per staff member results in much more similar costs  of around $170,000 per worker.  It still remains somewhere between difficult and impossible to believe Dodge was able to include such minute budgetary details without assistance from the city manager or other members of staff. 
     
I'm afraid this raises the possibility of staff time by the city manager and/or others being anonymously expended to assist in attacks on a political opponent.  That might be nothing more than paranoid imaginings, but to quote Henry Kissinger:  "Even a paranoid can have enemies." 
     
In hopes of dispelling such misgivings, I request City Manager Carlos Palacios issue a statement swearing that no such anonymous assistance by him or other city staff has ever been provided in attempts to silent a critic. 

IT’S YOUR MONEY-DO YOU KNOW HOW IT’S BEING SPENT?

By Emilio, on Mar 26, 2012

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This document is the first page of the “Summary of Disbursements” of around 20 pages. It is actually a list of “expenditures” or lists of checks the city issues. Note that in this document it states that the checks issued in the period from 02/29/2012 thru 03/13/2012 totaled $3,306,779.99. This is your 3.3 million dollars!

Council members receive this document on Monday afternoons the day before Tuesday city council meetings. It used to be that council members received this list of costs minutes before each city council meeting until I made a big stink about it and City Manager Carlos Palacios finally conceded to provide them on the Friday before city council meetings. Now we are receiving them late Monday afternoons which gives us little to time to review how our city is spending yours and my money. Why? Don’t they want us elected officials, which you elected to report back to you, to know how your money is being spent?

Council members are asked to approve these expenditures at the city council meetings on Consent Agenda.  Basically they are not up for discussion unless a council member pulls this item (expenditures) from the Agenda and questions some of the costs. I do most of the time because sometimes I’m aghast.

Note that City Manager Palacios did not sign this document (highlighted in yellow) for his approval of listed payments. I asked him why he didn’t sign it a few weeks ago and I have not received a response as of this date.

List of Expenditures

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You may not be able to see this one page too well-- it lists the number of the check, the date it was issued and to whom. I highlighted a cost that I questioned which was a $6,493.04 check issued to the law firm of Grunsky, Ebey, Farrar & Howell. Our City Attorney, Alan Smith, works for this law firm, thus when the city pays Mr. Smith for his services the check is issued to the law firm. I asked for an explanation for these costs a few weeks ago and as of this date, I have not received a response.

After asking for an explanation for the following costs and not receiving one, I sent an email to City Clerk Beatriz Flores (the keeper of records) and made a Public Records Request (Yep, I have to make a public records request for these expenditures although I am an elected official representing you, the tax payer)

Fire Shocker, Mule & “Shut Up…Shut Up!” Revisited

By netboots, on Mar 22, 2012

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Seems that the 1999 KME is back in the yard for more work-the aerial ladder truck may now be having problems with its platform which stabilizes the truck. In around 20 days it will be 4 years since we issued a $225,000 check for the truck and 10 months since it was driven in, well may be towed in, to town just before the 4th of July Parade. Since then, sparks seem to be flying and possibly the city wants to shut those up who are voicing safety concerns including the Watsonville Fishing Report. Take a look at the following portion of the “Temporary Directive” issued to the Watsonville Fire Department on Wednesday.

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After reading the document I felt it necessary to write to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for clarification as the Directive, in my opinion, seemed too broad. But, then what do I know? This reminded me of former City Council Member and Supervisor candidate Antonio Rivas who screamed at members of the public at a city council meeting to “Shut up!...shut up!” because they voiced their concerns regarding fluoridation. I know…I am just beating that rented mule into the ground.

Pre-Congratulations to Felipe Hernandez?

I am of the opinion that Planning Commissioner Felipe Hernandez will be selected to the city council maybe before you read this. Mr. Hernandez did not list his occupation in his letter to the city council asking for their support, but I sure hope that he has some experience managing a business or budget because come this July the city will need all the help it can get. Hey, but at least he is willing to put his hat into the wringer…I mean ringer.

DEWEY, CHEETHAM & HOWE

By netboots, on Mar 21, 2012

Assembly Member Luis Alejo wrote a letter to Mayor Eduardo Montesino and city council members this past Monday voicing his support to appoint Planning Commissioner Felipe Hernandez to the city council. I was surprised and wondered if Alejo is out of the loop here in Watsonville since he moved to Salinas, has just gone loopy, or is it his standard ploy of getting news media attention for himself.

When the NFL draft comes up here real soon, how possible is it that the Indianapolis Colts are going to trade their first round draft pick, Stanford’s quarterback Andrew Luck, straight across to the 49ers for QB Alex Smith? Planning Commissioner Corley has about as much chance as being selected to the city council as Smith has becoming a Colt. And Alejo is so worried Corley might pull an upset that he took the time to sit down and write a letter on state letterhead to our mayor and city council? Are we to believe that?

I wonder if Felipe Hernandez is cognizant that most likely Alejo is using him for his own news media grabbing attention stepping stone. If he isn’t, then he should fit right in with the majority of our city council.

But, if I was Commissioner Hernandez I would be more upset with Santa Cruz City Council Member Tony Madigral for also voicing his support along with Alejo’s. Council member Madrigal pleaded no contest on Nov. 2010 for using a computer and text messaging while driving and was sentenced to 3 days in county jail. We can thank the big guy upstairs that council member Madrigal isn’t a fireman here in Watsonville and driving the new, well somewhat worn, aerial ladder fire truck. Can you imagine, no brakes and the driver text messaging while also Googling “How to avoid jail time?”

Thursday’s city council meeting will probably be more like a chest thumping contest and a back slapping party. Watsonville is doing great and we are all proud of ourselves for all the jobs we created and all the new businesses we attracted to our downtown.

And take a look at that new parking lot we paved…we don’t want anybody tripping and falling after a night of drinking.

“Vindication” or Has Anybody Checked the Vin #?

By netboots, on Mar 19, 2012

Maybe some of you recall the Sentinel Headline of June 29, 2011 and story by reporter Donna Jones:

“Watsonville fire chief vindicated as new fire truck arrives: Delay of used aerial ladder truck sparked criticism”

At last week’s city council meeting (03/13/2012) Fire Department Battalion Chief Bob Martin Del Campo said that the 1999 aerial ladder truck was once again undergoing repairs and would possibly be ready to go into service in two weeks which would be at the end of this month.

The “truck will be repaired at the end of the month” strategy, which has been used since last June (9 months ago) when the Sentinel in essence vindicated Fire Chief Mark Bisbee, ironically is beginning to show some transparency. The end of the month anticipated date for completion of repairs basically buys more time and gives the illusion that, for example, the truck will be running this month. What month and what year?

But, I do have to say I empathize with Battalion Chief Del Campo because he is being left to answer questions while Chief Bisbee has been a no show at city council meetings. But, then maybe Chief Bisbee has decided that he has misled the city council long enough already.
Next month on April 20th it will be 4 years since we issued the $225,000.00 check for the fire truck to Fire Trucks Plus and still the fire truck is not in service. And as some of you know the truck was AWOL for almost 3 years questioning the whereabouts of the money for that time.

Last week fireman and union representative Corey Schaefer wrote an email to Mayor Eduardo Montesino regarding the safety of the fire truck (# 4471) In portion Mr. Schaefer wrote to our mayor: “Beside from what you may have heard, every time the firefighters attempt to test, drive or operate this truck, they find another thing broken. To date: there are still things drastically wrong with this truck.”

I had written to Mayor Montesino that a serious safety issue existed with the fire truck and the mayor responded that I was making it a political issue. As you can well imagine I took exception to our mayor’s statement because something as serious as safety should not be compromised by politics.

What is wrong with the fire truck? From what I gather the crux of the problem is that the electrical wiring is basically a bird’s nest. I am of the opinion that the reason an electrical schematic has not been found for the fire truck is because one does not exist for the changes made either to the wiring or for the generator which some sources believe was swapped before we received the truck. If the generator was swapped it will be a costly endeavor to replace it along with replacing/repairing the wiring.

The city paid $117,000.00 to have the truck refurbished yet we never have received a list of costs for labor and materials for this money. Why?

The city has paid both KME (the manufacturer) and Burton’s of Modesto to inspect the truck and attempt to repair it and both times the issue of the electrical schematic not being available has been the preventing factor to the truck being repaired. Now we are having our in-house mechanic attempt to fix the electrical problem? Why?
Fireman and union representative Corey Schaefer has asked Fire Chief Mark Bisbee, in writing, for an independent safety inspection of the fire truck. He has not received a response. Why?

Almost a month ago I asked our city manager how much this fire truck has cost taxpayers to date. No response. Why?

NATIONAL SUNSHINE WEEK IN WATSONVILLE OR STICK IT WHERE THE SUN DOESN’T SHINE?

By Emilio, on Mar 16, 2012

 “Sunshine Week is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the public's right to know.”

The following was provided by a reader who wishes to remain anonyms, probably for fear of retaliation with which I can relate. The person wrote that this best describes Watsonville today. I know who this reminds of:

Dictatorship: (authoritarianism, fascism, repression, oppression, tyranny, despotism) A government controlled by one person, or a small group of people. In this form of government the power rests entirely on the person or group of people, and can be obtained by force or by inheritance. The dictator(s) may also take away much of its peoples' freedom. In contemporary usage, dictatorship refers to an autocratic form of absolute rule by leadership unrestricted by law, constitutions or other social and political factors within the state.

For some scholars, a dictatorship is a form of government that has the power to govern without consent of those being governed (similar to authoritarianism), while totalitarianism describes a state that regulates nearly every aspect of public and private behavior of the people. In other words, dictatorship concerns the source of the governing power (where the power comes from) and totalitarianism concerns the scope of the governing power (what is the government).

Negative selection (politics)is a political process that occurs especially in rigid hierarchies notably dictatorships, but also to lesser degrees in such settings as corporations or electoral politics.

The person on the top of the hierarchy, wishing to remain in power forever, chooses his associates with the prime criterion of incompetence –they must not be competent enough to remove him from power. Since subordinates often mimic their leader, these associates do the same with those below them in the hierarchy, and the hierarchy is progressively filled with more and more incompetent people.

If the dictator sees that he is threatened nonetheless, he will remove those that threaten him from their positions – "purge" the hierarchy. Emptied positions in the hierarchy are normally filled with people from below – those who were less competent than their previous masters. So, over the course of time, the hierarchy becomes less and less effective. Once the dictator dies — or is removed by some external influence — what remains is a grossly ineffective hierarchy.”

Sentinel’s Editorial Regarding Sunshine Week 

I was somewhat astounded with the Sentinel’s quote, “But our belief that the public has a right to know how its money is being spent is why the Sentinel for the past three years has been publishing salary databases on public employees.

Yes, the Sentinel did do that, but what they didn’t report was Watsonville’s Deputy City Manager Mario Maldonado’s salary in their article back in February (02/13/2012) when they headlined: “Watsonville’s payroll drops: Fewer employees work fewer hours to save city 3.2 million” by reporter Donna Jones. Although Maldonado was quoted in the article, his name didn’t even appear on the list of Watsonville employees with their earnings in the same story.Why?

MEADOWS MANOR MYSTERY TOUR or Every Picture Tells a Story?

By Emilio, on Mar 13, 2012

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Medows Manor Mobile Home Park residents on Blanca Lane wanted to know one thing, did the owner of the park have the proper permits to add 14 new additional units. The residents have been complaining that their mobile home park was in dire need of road repairs, and that it has poor drainage, sewage backups, poor lighting, and electrical problems. So why was the owner being allowed to add new units without first assuring them that these issues would be first addressed, they were asking.

Assistant City Manager Marcela Tavantiz has been of the opinion since before 2008 that there was little the city could do because the state has jurisdiction over the mobile home park. Her position is partially factual. Both she and the state were of the opinion that a 30-40 year old permit issued by the County of Santa Cruz back in the 70’s was still in effect and that the new owner of the mobile home park, Kenneth Waterhouse, could now add 14 mobile homes.  

It took me, an elected official, around 7 months and around 150 pages of emails, mostly between me and Assistant City Manager Tavantiz, to determine that the city allowed the mobile home property owner to hook up to our city’s sewer system without a Permit and without paying the $156,283.98 in permit fees.  And that the city did not and still has not issued a Stop Work Order to the construction crew even after determining these facts.

Although, after my continual experience with the lack of transparency in our city government, I did not anticipate a 7 month journey which included countless of hours writing and answering emails, making numerous long distance telephone calls to the State of California’s Department of Housing and Community Development, and conducting research, all while Assistant City Manager Marcel Travantiz withheld some documents and provided me with misleading information.  

It was Déjà vu all over again-the nightmare of the missing 1999 KME fire truck fiasco.

Being a trained investigator, what caught my attention was a blatant red flag: that being that Assistant City Manager Tavantiz first attempted to mislead me that a “Stop Work Order” (a city used document) was issued when she supposedly determined that the work crew hired to build the pad for the mobile homes at Meadows Manor had hooked up to our sewer line without a permit. After several emails asking Ms. Tavantiz for a copy of the “Stop Work Order” that the city supposedly issued, Ms. Tavantiz finally admitted that a “verbal” Work Stop Order was issued. A “verbal” Work Stop Order is both non applicable and/or non-existent. And, why would Ms. Tavantiz attempt to mislead me? I mean, we are dealing with around $157,000.00 here, right?

So, I began asking questions, you know, Due Diligence, and found out that a lawsuit was filed in 2001 at the Santa Cruz Superior Court (and resolved in 2008) by Meadows Manor Mobile Home Park owner Kenneth Waterhouse against the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development.  It seems that Waterhouse sued the state to obtain a permit to install the 14 mobile homes. Apparently the 30-40 year old permit issued to the original owner may not have been transferable so Waterhouse sued the state to obtain a permit. This contradicted Assistant City Manager Tavantiz’s opinion that the 30 plus year permit was still valid.  

It seems that an Agreement was reached between Waterhouse and the State before a trial was held which included requirements by both parties.

Would you believe that Assistant City Manager Marcela Tavantiz was not aware of the lawsuit? She gets paid over $165,000 per year and I get paid not even 5% of her wages and she can’t find this document which I Googled? 

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Would you also believe that Assistant City Manager Marcela Tavantiz was not aware of the Agreement made between the state’s HCD and Waterhouse? Yet, she claimed to have a relationship with both Kenneth Waterhouse and his attorney David Spangengerg? Well how about this letter from the state’s attorney to Spangenberg outlining the Agreement? After sending her a copy of this document, Assistant City Manager Tavantiz wrote me an email stating that she was also not aware this document existed.  

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You see that last name on this page? “Dan Fitzgerald”, the “NAO Manager”? He was an employee of the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development at the time this Agreement was written on August 1, 2008. Today, Mr. Fitzgerald works for Kenneth Waterhouse, the Meadows Manor Mobile Home Park owner, as a “Consultant”. Imagine that. Fitzgerald, who may have a conflict of interest, is in charge of constructing the pad for the 14 units at Meadows Manor.  According to an email from Tavantiz, Fitzgerald does not have a Contractor’s License. Then why didn’t the city take exception to Fitzgerald being in charge of hooking up to our city’s sewer line?  

Then, after my continual dog style sniffing, the state’s HCD Field Inspector, Chris Anderson, seemed to throw Assistant City Manager Tavantiz under the bus. He wrote the following email:

CASINO TO OPEN IN WATSONVILLE?

By netboots, on Mar 9, 2012

A Fictitious Business Name Statement was recorded in the Register-Pajaronian on March 8th for Tres Lounge and Casino. And, it seems that it will soon be operating at 184 Main St.

Now, why didn’t they open the casino at the Gottschalks building downtown? They could have had a restaurant upstairs and gambling downstairs and it could be like the Garden City Casino in San Jose.

Mutiny  AT THE FIRE STATION?

A city employee speaking with the condition of anonymity said that after the 1999 KME aerial ladder fire truck was attempted to be put into service last week (once again) that the ladder got stuck after it was raised and would not come down, and that upon either headlights turning off or on, the power steering quit operating at the rear section of the aerial where the second driver is located.

The city issued a $225,000 check for the fire truck back in April 2008 after receiving a federal grant, but did not purchase the fire truck until December 2010 after I initiated an investigation seeking its whereabouts. This April will be 4 years since the city issued the check to Fire Trucks Plus but the truck has yet to be put into service without concern that it can operate within its expected performance.

The source reported that a heated exchange between some fire fighters and Fire Chief Marc Bisbee erupted after Bisbee demanded that they drive the fire truck. A few weeks ago fire fighter and union representative Corey Shafer wrote a memo to Bisbee asking for assurances that the 1999 KME was safe to operate. He requested an independent inspection of the fire truck. As of today it does not seem that Bisbee responded to Shafer’s request.

I wrote several emails to both City Manager Carlos Palacios and City Attorney Alan Smith. I asked about the city’s liability exposure if the aerial ladder truck failed during a response and a member of the public was seriously injured especially now that it is apparent that the aerial has experienced a multitude of mechanical problems. Also, compounding the issue is that a city mechanic has been doing some of the work on the aerial. I am surprised, well maybe not, that City Attorney Alan Smith has not rendered an opinion and/or responded.

I also asked how much this fire truck has cost the city after all the repairs…..you guessed right…no answer from our city manager. 

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