The response, drafted by interim City Attorney Tom Hallinan, particularly takes the grand jury to task for its call for Councilwoman Annette Smith to be ousted, saying that it appears she was targeted from the beginning.
Council members voted 5-0 to have Hallinan send the written document back to Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Ricardo Cordova before a Sept. 27 due date, though Mayor Luis Molina voiced a few reservations about the harsh tone of the report.
“We all have great respect for the Grand Jury,” Hallinan said. “But this time they were wrong.”
Hallinan said faulty reasoning by the Grand Jury led to faulty recommendations, most of which the response disputes. His opinion was even stronger in written form.
“This is the most outrageous and inappropriate recommendation our City Attorney has seen in 17 years of reviewing Grand Jury reports,” Hallinan wrote in response to the grand jury’s view that Smith should either resign or be subject to a possible recall election. “To engage in political advocacy is completely and utterly contrary to the charge of the Grand Jury.
“This recommendation cannot be implemented by (the city) and as such, shouldn’t even be included in this report.”
In addition to criticizing the tone of the report as being somewhat harsh, Molina said he was tired of a negative tone in Patterson politics in general and wanted to put some of the issues mentioned in the report in the past.
“We (council members) have to be held to a higher standard,” he said. “I think we’ve learned a lot and will continue to learn a lot.”
Patterson resident Jeff Lustgarten expressed concerns about the tone of the response, adding that the public didn’t get much time to review the document, which was released just hours before the meeting. He said that he felt there were probably more findings in the grand jury’s report with which the city could have agreed, such as declaring at each meeting which council members had not completed their ethics training.
“(Hallinan’s response) doesn’t show respect to the grand jury, and it’s hostile,” he said.
Patterson resident Mike Anderson said he hoped that Patterson residents could put the whole episode behind them and move forward.
“The city has spoken, and we’ve gotten everyone’s opinions,” he said. “I hope that we can move on now.”
Smith remained silent as others spoke, frequently looking down to read Hallinan's report as other people referenced it. Yet she made the motion to accept the document and forward it on to Judge Cordova after requesting a slight variation in wording.
In addition for calling for Smith’s removal, the initial grand jury report recommended that former Mayor Becky Campo pay back money she received as mayor because she allegedly lived outside city limits. It also 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 that developer John Ramos be reimbursed for $27,000 in legal fees. The grand jury also advised that Ramos return that money to the city.
Hallinan’s response dismissed all of those grand jury recommendations.
The interim city attorney particularly questioned the grand jury’s criticism of Smith for allegedly failing to recuse herself from a vote regarding Ramos’ legal fees while she had a financial relationship. While the jury indicated that Ramos had written off expenses for Smith in the past, Hallinan stated that Smith merely rented a storage unit from Ramos and had not rented commercial property from him since 2006.
The landlord did not write off any expenses, but simply reversed erroneous charges that were made after Smith vacated the storage unit, according to Hallinan’s response.
“The Grand Jury ignored this evidence which didn’t even meet the FPPC requirements for disclosure, or the threshold for disclosure as set forth in the City of Patterson City Council Handbook,” Hallinan wrote.
“It is clear from this ‘finding’ that (Smith) was judged guilty from the start by this Grand Jury,” he stated in the response.
He also contended that the council voted to pay Ramos back incurred legal fees only after Logan and former City Manager Cleve Morris had verified those costs.
As for Campo, Hallinan’s report stated she was living at a property within city limits with her mother until the end of her term after a home of hers had gone into foreclosure.
The city response did agree with the grand jury’s assessment that Campo and Smith had been behind in their required ethics training, but the final version of the report approved by the council also indicated that had been true of either Councilwoman Dejeune Shelton or the late Councilman Sam Cuellar. It further stated that the grand jury had been aware of those details.
“The Grand Jury requested and received validation of this fact, and chose to ignore their own discovery,” Hallinan wrote. “This selective prosecution of (Campo and Smith) by the Grand Jury taints the entire report.”
Hallinan noted in his written response that the City Council has since created an official job description for the City Attorney position, something that the grand jury said had been lacking.
The grand jury’s report was released June 27 following a year-long investigation. By law the council had 90 days to respond to that report.
• Nick Rappley can be reached at 892-6187.