Monday, October 1, 2012

Joe Muratore and "the low-hanging fruit"

During the last attempt by Modesto to annex Salida in 1996, Joe Muratore was a 17-year old junior at Grace Davis High School. Like most teen boys, his biggest worries then were likely girls, grades, and fighting acne so he may not have even been aware the annexation attempt had occurred.

In the interim time, Mr. Muratore graduated college, worked for several different companies, and was elected to the Modesto City Council representing District 4, which covers the La Loma area of Modesto. Its his position as a council member and his current employment as a Principal at a commercial real estate brokerage company that has coalesced into an agenda to push for Salida's annexation by Modesto.

You see, Mr. Muratore represents clients who have land holdings in Salida. His name is on a real estate sign located on Pirrone Road in Salida for a tract of vacant land listed for $1.7 million. (see below)

Now Mr. Muratore has a right to be of the opinion that Salida should be annexed by Modesto. And he has the right to represent clients that have land holdings in Salida. But what he SHOULD NOT be doing is voting in his capacity as a member of the Modesto City Council on ANYTHING involving the annexation of Salida as its clearly a conflict of interest, yet this has already occurred!

At the August 8, 2012 Modesto City Council Meeting, Mr. Muratore declared a conflict of interest on Item 20 which was "Consider approving loan documents in the amount of $1,000,000 for Habitat for Humanity...etc." but he did not do the declaration and recuse himself from voting on Item 27 which was approving the Salida annexation feasibility study. Since his business stands to benefit by Salida coming into Modesto's sphere of influence, Mr. Muratore should be recused from all issues regarding the annexation just as Stanislaus County Supervisor Terry Withrow has recused himself from all West Park votes because his family owns land within West Park's footprint.

To elaborate more on how Mr. Muratore's business dealings would benefit as a result of Salida being annexed, it goes back to the land surrounding Mr. Muratore's current listing on Pirrone Road. As it stands right now, the land surrounding that area that is part of the Salida Community Plan is bound by developer agreements for 25 years. If Modesto annexes Salida, those same developer agreements are shortened to 8 years. It would clearly behoove Mr. Muratore's clients to have that term shortened by the transition of Salida into Modesto's sphere of influence.

The lackadaisical attitudes of Modesto's officials regarding Mr. Muratore's conflict of interest are just shocking.  At the September 11, 2012 Modesto City Council meeting, a Modesto resident, Mr. Emerson Drake, raised the issue of Mr. Muratore's conflict of interest during the public comments portion. As reported in the Modesto Bee by Ken Carlson in "Modesto replies to report on NSP", Modesto's City Attorney, Susana Alcala Wood replied to Mr. Drake that, "...she had advised the councilman he could vote because of the general scope of the study." Ms. Alcala-Wood needs to define just what she thinks exactly "general" means in regards to the scope of the study. I see nothing general about it!  Its scope is the fiscal feasibility of the annexation of Salida, not the fiscal feasibility of annexing the general land surrounding Salida!

Furthermore, what's rather appalling regarding Ms. Alcala Wood's response and Mr. Muratore's lack of recusal is that Mr. Muratore already has a precedent for voting and personally benefiting from a previous incident of conflict of interest! Mr. Drake raised this issue at the board meeting and has written about it on his "Eye on Modesto" blog which you can read here. In the previous incident of conflict of interest, Ms. Alcala Wood had given Mr. Muratore the "ok" to vote on the issue as well. Mr. Muratore may wish to seek a second legal opinion on whether voting on Salida annexation issues is a conflict of interest before he lands in trouble again thanks to Ms. Alcala Wood's approval.
Photo source: Modesto Memes Facebook Group. Used with permission.
Character from HBO's series 'Game of Thrones'

Modesto's backroom politics machine has been lobbying for Salida's annexation for some time now. As Mr. Drake reported in 2011, Mr. Muratore and his business partner, Ryan Swehla, who is a board member of Modesto's Zoning Adjustment Committee, have publicly stated that they desire "the low-hanging fruit" of land in and around Salida. With obvious business interests here, these two men need to be recused from everything involving political processes and decisions affecting Salida. 

Its time for Salidans to decide the future of Salida; and not more politicians from Modesto!

NEXT POST: Politispeak - Addressing the talking points 

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