That includes nearly $2,385.69 spent by the city of Patterson alone, according to agendas and receipts from Stanislaus County Mayors Working Group meetings that the Irrigator requested from the county’s nine cities.
The city of Patterson showed agendas and bills for meetings hosted nearly annually since 2005, at times including hefty dinner and gift expenses.
The first mayoral meeting in Patterson took place in April 2005, when David Keller was mayor. The mayors convened at the Diablo Grande clubhouse in April 2006 for a second meeting in Patterson to discuss a transportation sales tax and regional infrastructure, among other agenda items. The city reimbursed Keller for their $495.36 bill for 10 filet mignon and shrimp scampi dinners.
Bills during other cities’ meetings ranged from a little more than $80 to more than $600 for meals, and even more for gifts.
Attempts to reach Keller, who continues to live in Patterson, were unsuccessful this week.
While most cities did not include receipts for gifts given, the city of Oakdale showed gift baskets totaling $360 donated by ConAgra foods, on top of the mayors’ meal during their meeting there last year.
Patterson’s most recent bill related to the mayors group was from a Feb. 8 meeting, when $287.18 in city money was spent for dinner and alcoholic drinks at El Rosal in Patterson. In addition, the city paid $148 on gift baskets given to visiting mayors. Patterson Mayor Luis Molina later reimbursed the city for more than $80 in alcoholic drinks. Last May gift baskets handed out to attendees cost the city some $456.
The Feb. 8 agenda for the meeting in Patterson listed items such as “Ag preservation-growth boundaries and LAFCO” and “Countywide Tax Sharing.”
On Oct. 4, Molina presented the rest of the Patterson City Council with what has been categorized as an agricultural land preservation plan the mayors group worked on.
Before the October meeting, the mayors group requested that each council review a map outlining long-term growth areas in the county and areas of agricultural land.
Molina had sought to have the city planning commission review the plan — part of a possible countywide initiative to seek voter approval of a regional plan — by placing the matter on the council’s consent agenda of routine items.
The council shot down the proposal 4-1, however, and the Turlock planning commission rejected the idea the same week.
Molina said the group of mayors was simply “tossing around ideas.”
The mayors meetings went on long before he was elected, and he carried on the tradition, he said.
“I worked with staff, who was in charge of putting the event together,” Molina said.
He denied giving directions to order gift baskets, however.
Patterson City Manager Rod Butler said he was given general direction to make the meeting similar to one that occurred the month before in Modesto.
Gifts were distributed and dinner was served in January in Modesto, but that city’s government provided no receipts for meetings in 2011 or 2012.
While the city of Patterson was forthcoming with all information related to the mayors meetings, that was not the case with all other cities in the county. The city of Ceres produced only agendas and no receipts, while Turlock produced only receipts and no agendas. City officials from Riverbank — the only city that indicated it had no record of Mayors Working Group meetings taking place there — said they had neither agendas nor receipts.
Riverbank Mayor Virginia Madueño, who acts as the mayors group’s elected leader, said this week that she hosted a meeting of the group at her house in 2011, but it was private and involved no city workers.
“I never had any (staff) support, never included the staff for these last two years,” Madueño said.
Madueño was one of three county mayors who removed themselves recently from the Stanislaus County Council of Governments policy board, a 14-member group of elected leaders that makes decisions regarding regional transportation issues. Oakdale Mayor Pat Paul and Modesto Mayor Garrad Marsh also stepped down. The board consists of members of the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors and the city councils of all nine cities in the county.
The mayors group came under fire last month from Californians Aware, an open-government advocacy organization. Terry Francke, the group’s legal counsel at that time, stated that the group’s meetings constituted a quorum of StanCOG members, triggering open-meeting violations. He said the public needed to be properly notified of the meetings, and they needed to be open to the public. The group agreed to do so.
Patterson Councilwoman Annette Smith, a vocal critic of the group, said this week that she disagreed with the direction the group had taken.
“I totally disapprove of the agendas and what they’re doing outside of their elected bodies,” Smith said. “It is a gross manipulation of the duties of the offices in which they were elected.”
While calls to Francke and Marsh were not returned this week, Madueño said she did not understand the recent scrutiny, as the group had been meeting for many years.
“If this is too much for the media and public to take, then we don’t need to meet,” she said. “I guess we need to go back to the way things were before, when everybody lived in their individual silos. It’s not worth the headache.”
She said Tuesday that she planned to make her thoughts known during the Mayors Working Group meeting that was slated to take place Wednesday evening, April 11, at Marsh’s Modesto home. That meeting was expected to be closed to the public, despite the group’s pledge to keep meetings open and publish agendas.
Molina defended keeping the meeting closed, saying privacy was sometimes necessary.
“I think we need to meet informally over dinner sometimes,” he said. “We are not a decision-making board.”
• Nick Rappley can be reached at 892-6187, ext. 31, or firstname.lastname@example.org.