Saturday, February 16, 2013

Behind the Draft Drama

We've all heard the old saying, "There are two sides to every story" and quite often, there are more than just two. I'm going to share my side of the story regarding the Goodwin Study draft "leak". 

Let's begin with a brief history of the Goodwin Consulting Study. At their board meetings on August 7 and August 8, 2012 respectively, the County of Stanislaus and the City of Modesto agreed to spend $60,000 of taxpayer money on a fiscal feasibility study for the annexation of Salida by the City of Modesto. Originally, it had been thought that the study would be available within 60 days of the dates they were approved in August, but after several months of waiting and no study, it was finally revealed that Goodwin Consulting did not consider the 60 day countdown to begin until they had received all the needed documents and information from both the City and the County which did not occur until about November 2012.

In the interim months while waiting for the study to be released, there was much politicking going on behind the scenes by politicians in Modesto. And added to this was the growing frustration of Salida's residents as we waited for the fate of our futures which was pinned on the data in this study.  So the Chairman of the Salida Municipal Advisory Council (aka Salida MAC), Thomas Reeves, decided to do something about it and I quote, "To give Salida a voice at the table" and with the County and City form "The Salida Annexation Ad Hoc Committee".  Thomas called and invited me to be on the committee and I must admit, I was reluctant to agree at first. Because in no way, shape, or form, do I want to assist the City of Modesto in annexing Salida. But I ended up agreeing because I could be one of "Salida's voices at the table" and Salida needs a voice to defend against the political talking points.

The make-up of the Ad Hoc Committee is supposed to be three representatives from each entity: representing Salida besides myself are Salida MAC Chairman Thomas Reeves and former Salida Fire Chief Dale Skiles*. (*NOTE: I'm using Chief Skiles former title here since he's serving as a Salida representative). Representing Stanislaus County are Supervisor Terry Withrow (and possibly Supervisor Dick Monteith), along with staff*. Representing the City of Modesto are Mayor Garrad Marsh and Modesto Councilman Dave Cogdill Jr. along with staff*. (*NOTE: I don't know who these staff members are as I have not met them yet or seen any document where they are named.)

We had been told that the Goodwin Study would be available in early December 2012 so Thomas scheduled an Ad Hoc Committee meeting for December 13th at Perko's Cafe in Salida. While I dreaded attending this meeting, I was glad that Thomas placed the meeting in Salida and not in the lion's den. And in case you are wondering why I dreaded attending, its because as I stated before, I do not want to assist in the annexation of my town to Modesto. 

When that cold winter day arrived, not only was there no Goodwin Study, but the only two to show up from the County and City were Withrow and Marsh. In spite of there being no study to go over, the meeting proved useful for me because I felt I found my place and that's "Devil's Advocate". Marsh says something and I counter it. In a way, I realize that it may inadvertently be helping him, but its not something he wouldn't find out anyway. For instance, we've gone round and round a few times discussing Salida Sanitary and sewer related-issues but I'm not telling him anything he couldn't find out for himself by contacting Salida Sanitary.

But the significant part of this meeting that relates to the Goodwin Study was that Withrow and Marsh said, "We should be getting a draft of the Goodwin Study in early January and we'll take a look at it before its released to the public." At no time did they ever say, "But not you Salida - not you Thomas Reeves, not you Dale Skiles and especially not you, Katherine Borges". So when Thomas, Dale and I left Perko's that day, we fully expected to be viewing a draft of the Goodwin Study in early January. Thomas scheduled the next Ad Hoc Committee meeting for January 10, 2013.

On January 3, I spoke with Withrow and asked him if the draft had come in. He said that it had and I asked if I could see it and he replied, "No". I didn't question him at this time as to why I could not because I just assumed that it was because I'm a "hostile" and that Thomas would get to see it because he's not a hostile. (BTW- "Hostile" is my word, not theirs - I'm a 'call it like it is' kind of person.) However, the next morning, I received an e-mail from Thomas stating that the January 10 Ad Hoc Committee meeting had been cancelled and changed to January 28th which happened to be the day before the Salida MAC meeting where the study was the main agenda item to be discussed. I wrote back in an e-mail to Thomas that, "They did get the draft but Terry said I cannot see it.  Knowing that and having to wait til the day before the meeting makes it look like they're hiding something." When Thomas replied back that he wasn't allowed to see it either, that REALLY concerned me! (Click here to read a member of the public's version of events surrounding the January 10 meeting.)

Later that evening, Modesto Bee reporter Ken Carlson called but I missed the call. When I returned his call, I had missed him so I started writing an e-mail to him. When I proofread the e-mail, I saw how bad it sounded so I texted Withrow and asked him to call me. He did and I tried to make every case possible to be allowed access to the draft like agreeing to sign a confidentiality statement. Withrow said that the reason they were withholding the draft was because they didn't want to release it in case it had errors. I replied, "How do you know I won't catch any errors? I know a lot about Salida". Still no dice. I even asked if they would accept it not being given to me but at least give it to Thomas. Withrow said he would make some calls and call me back. When he did call, he said that Stanislaus County CEO, Monica Nino, would not allow it. Needless to say, Thomas and I were not happy with this outcome and Thomas ended up canceling the January 28th Ad Hoc Committee meeting. I was good with this since we weren't allowed access to the draft, we had nothing to discuss. The meeting wouldn't have been anything more than a dog and pony show.

I never did end up speaking with or e-mailing Ken Carlson and on Sunday, January 6, his article appeared in the Modesto Bee in which it quoted Modesto City Manager Greg Nyhoff as saying, "He expects city and county staff will spend about 10 days checking the report for accuracy. He estimated the review will be completed by month's end." So counting ten business days from that date I estimated that we might be able to view the Goodwin Study on or around January 18th. On January 17, I asked Withrow if we would get the study the next day and the answer was still "no" and it may be another two weeks before we would.

With the publication of the article in the Bee, the public knew there was a draft of the study received. And it would be quite normal to assume that ALL the members of the "Salida Annexation Ad Hoc Committee" would be allowed access to the draft. How would anyone know any different? I mean, how ludicrous is it to deny a draft to the very people whose lives it affects?  

So when someone innocently asked me what I thought of the draft because they had heard Bill Bassitt of the Workforce Alliance say that the draft favored annexation and that he had included the annexation in the Alliance's Strategic Priorities for 2013, I was furious! Here the draft had been withheld from us Salidans, but someone within the City of Modesto or Stanislaus County had leaked it to the Alliance!

Bassitt's strategic plans for Salida were to be included at an Alliance Board Meeting on Monday, January 28, 2013 at 3 pm. We passed the word and planned to attend to hear just what was in this draft that we weren't privy to, but that Bassitt was.

We showed up at the scheduled time on Monday only to learn that the meeting had been changed that morning from 3 pm to noon. How convenient for them that all the board members and officials had been notified but the public had been left out! The Alliance blamed their violation of the 72 hour notice afforded by the Brown Act on an "I.T. glitch".

The next morning, January 29, I attended the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors meeting and shared just what I thought of the draft leak and the meeting switcheroo. Following is an excerpt of the comments I made during the public comment portion:

"I tried to attend the Alliance meeting yesterday because I had heard the Goodwin Study would be covered in the meeting and in spite of being on the Salida Annexation Ad Hoc Committee, none of the Salida members on the committee have been allowed to view the draft so I figured that at least I could learn what was in the draft at the Alliance meeting.  
It can be quite discouraging being a Salidan when you see the laundry list of those who are working for Salida to be annexed.  Besides the City of Modesto, there's Mayor Marsh's buddy, Denny Jackman, Modesto City Councilman Joe Muratore, Vintage Faire Mall, and now the Alliance and those are only the ones I've heard of.  The odds, the power, and the influence that's against little Salida just continues to grow and grow. And the worst news of all is what's in the Goodwin Study.  I now understand what you're hiding from us because while I may not have been allowed to view the Goodwin Study draft, I know what's in it thanks to someone who attended the meeting. I know Bill Bassitt included it in his “Strategic Priorities for 2013” which he will be submitting to the Board of Supervisors.  The Alliance has big plans for an annexed Salida and control of Salida's Enterprise Zone.  He said that the Goodwin Study highly favors annexation and the City and County support it."
It was actually fairly difficult for me to read this aloud because I had been seething with rage over it. I not only felt fury over the cronyism of the leaked draft but also that it sounded to me as if the Alliance had already sliced and diced up an annexed Salida for development. I managed to get through my comments and then I immediately left. 

Modesto resident and Salida ally, Emerson Drake, had also shared public comments about the leaked draft and the Alliance meeting. So during a break in the Supervisor's meeting, Withrow and Nino questioned him about it and sent a county employee to question Bassitt. Bassitt promptly denied it. When it comes down to it, whether Bassitt actually received a copy of the draft or perhaps a City/County employee just talked too much, it could still be proven he had knowledge of the draft -IF- his comments about the draft proved true, and/or if the Salida annexation is in the Alliance's strategic plans for 2013.

My copy of the Goodwin Draft
That evening was the Salida MAC meeting with the main agenda topic being the Salida annexation issue. Withrow took the floor first and presented copies of the Goodwin Study draft to Thomas, Dale, and myself. He referenced the leaked draft and that he was giving us a copy despite being told not to by the County because he thought we should have one for transparency's sake. 

I have heard from others that Withrow may be in a lot of trouble for doing this. That there might even be legal ramifications against him. I truly hope that doesn't prove true because he did the right thing when no one else did. The draft should have never been withheld from us in the first place and its a travesty that it ever was. Stanislaus County would tarnish itself irreparably if it indeed plans to prosecute his just action. 

The final version of the Goodwin Study was (FINALLY) released to the public on Monday, February 11, 2013.

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