Rickman starts probe of Surland airport deal
by Michael Langley
Nov 29, 2013 | 6535 views | 17 17 comments | 39 39 recommendations | email to a friend | print
At the regular meeting of the City Council on Tuesday, Dec. 3, council members will discuss the merits of a full investigation into a $50,000 payment to the city made by local developer Surland Communities LLC on behalf of Turlock Air Center.

On July 1, Turlock Air submitted its minimum annual payment to the city of Tracy for fuel operations at the Tracy Municipal Airport. Accompanying a hand-delivered letter to the city attorney’s office was a check for $50,000 written to the city by Surland, which had agreed to pay Turlock Air’s fee for 2013.

Councilman Robert Rickman said he found out about the payment during the regular council meeting Oct. 15. Tracy lawyer Steve Nicolaou, who procured a copy of the letter and check through a public records request of the city, presented them during a discussion of whether to change the length of the 12/30 runway at the airport from 4,002 feet to 3,996 feet.

“What got my attention that council meeting, I heard about the agreement and got a copy of the agreement from staff and it’s something I had never seen before,” Rickman said.

Rickman said in an interview Nov. 18 that when he went to public events after the Oct. 15 meeting, he faced questions from citizens who wondered whether the city had engaged in an unethical deal with Surland. The Ellis project, which Surland is developing, is northwest of runway 12/30 and might, according to city statements at previous council meetings, be allowed to add more homes if the runway were shortened.

“Some of the allegations were that it looked dirty. Even that night, someone mentioned the word ‘criminal,’” Rickman said.

At the next council meeting Nov. 5, Rickman used his time at the end of the agenda to publicly call for an independent investigation of the payment and events surrounding it.

“I have very little information on it and I’d like to put these accusations and stuff to rest,” Rickman said. “I don’t believe we have anything to hide, and if something questions our integrity, I take that stuff very, very seriously.”

City Manager Leon Churchill said he welcomed an investigation and flatly denied anything unethical.

“There is no agreement with the city,” Churchill said. “I cannot deny the possibility there is a third-party agreement. At least there is one to where Les (Serpa, president of Surland) paid Turlock Air’s minimum payment to the city for $50,000, and that’s what that check is.”

In fact, Serpa said the payment was one of several things Surland was asked to do this year to defuse tension about the Ellis project’s impact on the airport.

Serpa said Steve Stuhmer of Turlock Air approached Surland for help making the payment to the city. He said John Favors, then president of the Tracy Airport Association, also asked Surland to underwrite a celebration at the airport this past summer, and the former city community services director, Rod Buchanan, broached the topic of Surland paying for a $50,000 wash rack at the airport.

“We thought it was going to be peace. After talking to Favors and Stuhmer and the airport guys out there, we’re going to fund their summer event.” Serpa said. “So we gave (the TAA) $10,000. So we paid Stuhmer’s $50,000, and we really thought both of those things would bring us peace.”

Serpa denied any unethical behavior, adding that the payment to fund the TAA celebration was made with the full knowledge of the association board.

Churchill said city laws and policies do not prohibit any third party from paying someone else’s bill.

“As a general and a generic issue, that’s not a problem,” the city manager said, “Clearly, folks have a problem with Les Serpa. This is not about city policy. This is about, Should the city be doing business with Les Serpa?”

Rickman said in the Nov. 18 interview that he did not have a problem with Surland or Serpa but had yet to receive any further explanation from the city manager about the transaction.

“We have to govern by transparency,” Rickman said. “When you have accusations of this magnitude, dirty dealings, backroom deals, criminality, some of the things I’ve heard, it’s something that should make us stop and look.”

At least one other council member agrees with Rickman. Councilwoman Nancy Young echoed the need for transparency during an interview Nov. 19.

“The truth of the matter is, information is conflicting, and that’s frustrating,” Young said. “We could not do it behind closed doors; we have to do it in a public setting.”

Rickman has introduced an agenda item for Tuesday’s meeting to discuss whether to have the city staff hire an independent investigator. If a majority of the council approves, staff members will return at a later date for the council to approve the person or people selected.

“If there is something, then we have to hold someone accountable for that,” Rickman said. “If not, we can let the public know we did nothing wrong.”

• Contact Michael Ellis Langley at 830-4231 or mlangley@tracypress.com.



 
Comments
(17)
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CopyLeft
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December 03, 2013
The comments of the past few days have all missed the most important point. The money Surland gave to the airport is only serving to illustrate that our airport is losing money. Rickman is blatantly being asked to waste taxpayer money once again.

A few people can use him to file an investigation if they want to waste THEIR money, but I will object, only because WE will be asked to pay for this when their carping is all said and done. If this is a thorn under his skin (or really someone else's) then by all means pay for it yourselves.

When Surland stops paying to keep the airport open, we will have to pick up the tab with more taxes and continuation of Measure E. I watched TV and saw the same thing Rickman saw regarding the airport. The airport has resorted to blatantly asking for financial support like an alcoholic bumming for money on the corner. We the taxpayers should not be asked to continue this.

One thing I think everyone who watched cable TV should be able to agree on is that Rickman is wasting money. Years from now that money will go down the freeway with nothing to be gained. Money that could have been spent elsewhere if Rickman would just have the intestinal fortitude to simply request his buddies to pass the hat - at the ale house instead of city hall.

fortheunderdog
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December 04, 2013
What point are you talking about? I certainly don't see your point re: the Tracy Airport losing money. The point of the article is Surland paying Turlock Air's bill.

Churchill even said “I cannot deny the possibility there is a third-party agreement. At least there is one to where Les (Serpa, president of Surland) paid Turlock Air’s minimum payment to the city for $50,000, and that’s what that check is.”

This is the matter that Rickman will be looking in to.



CopyLeft
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December 04, 2013
Surland had 10 lawyers there when he said he paid it. He said they asked him for the money. He also was asked for more money by the airport. It says so right in the paper. The airport is flat broke.

Wmnuzumt
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November 30, 2013
I only have one question. Why are Rickman and Young so interested in the airport deal? Could it be that Rickman and Nicolaou have something in common? From what I have heard they both hang out at Helms new place. If someone

brings up a subject that is already being discussed by the city council and the city manager, they are either trying to stir up a bunch of crap. Or distract people from the truth. Rickman does not like Churchill, it is common knowledge with anyone that knows anything about city business. As for Young I believe that story about someone putting rocks in her yard shaped in a derogatory manner is BS
PuppyDogg
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December 02, 2013
Could be they both have something in common with each other Wmnuzumt - Integrity. Maybe they're doing what they're doing not becasue someone may have a negative thought or opinion about them but, becasue it's the right thing to do.

I think Rickman and Young are asking or did ask the right questions but, weren't satisfied with the answer. If that's the case, I support them and their actions 100%.
Showmestate
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December 03, 2013
Even though his drinking friends were the ones saying it. He should have asked them at the meeting and he didn't say anything. He should have said wait a minute Dave... I'm innocent till proven guilty. But said nothing.

Young just said she knew she was innocent, as a matter of fact like. I think it was like she was squirming about it too.
me-here
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November 30, 2013
Thank you councilman Rickman or keeping on top of this. Ives protection of Serpa/Surland is very long standing..ever since he worked for them.

The airport fiasco needs to be put to rest. Just another excuse for another lawsuit for the City to lose.
behonestguys
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November 30, 2013
Good to see that 2 of our concilmembets and the City Manager want a full investigation of this matter. Interesting though that we don't know where Ives, Maciel and Manne, Surland's three amigos, stand on this issue. Wonder if they'll use their votes at Tuesday's council meeting to put the brakes on any such investigation?
jtashjian
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November 30, 2013
“So we gave (the TAA) $10,000. So we paid Stuhmer’s $50,000, and we really thought both of those things would bring us PEACE.” I do not know Les Serpa'a definition of PEACE but to me sounds like a shorter runway, more houses and - yes you guessed it- a *#^& load of money. I am glad someone in the city counsel has the backbone to question this. Go Rickman.

khunter3
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November 29, 2013
Mr. Stuhmer's prior behavior, while running an aviation service in Montrose Colorado, should have excluded him from consideration for any contract with the city of Tracy. At the time Mr. Stuhmer received the Tracy airport fuel contract he had an outstanding (unpaid) judgement against him for election finance law violations in Colorado. Specifically, for illegal funding to defeat an elected representative who had voiced opposition to Mr. Stuhmer's business conduct. This was a matter of public record, and was brought to the attention of the Tracy city council at the time Mr. Stuhmer's petition was being considered. Unlike me, the city had no problem with Mr. Stuhmer's election tampering, or his failure to pay court assessments. They may not have a problem allowing Surland, who has a vested interest in restricting, or closing, the airport, to pay Mr. Stuhmer's contractural obligations.
pcmiles
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November 30, 2013
No one has mentioned the facts that Mr. Stuhmer was in default for failing to make fuel sales payments to the City and that he has been barred from doing business in the State of California for failure to remit sales tax. Principled City leadership would bar Mr. Stuhmer from future business with the City.
eyeswideopen2
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November 29, 2013
Search in articles and look at the dates of these articles.

http://tracypress.com/view/full_story/23543317/article-Your-Voice--Airport-decisions-rest-on-economics?

http://tracypress.com/view/full_story/20536417/article-Re-lined-runway-means-more-aircraft-for-Tracy?

http://tracypress.com/view/full_story/20224380/article-Lawyer-seeks-answers-to-airport-issues?

http://tracypress.com/view/full_story/18642402/article-Council-to-sort-out-runway-length?
fortheunderdog
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November 29, 2013
In my opinion, anytime Surland/Serpa has any dealings with the city I suspect foul play. Some, if not most, of the residents know the history between Ives' dealings with Surland/Serpa and it does not go over well. When Ives' time as mayor it finished I don't think he will be remembered as a mayor with ethics or morality. The alleged backroom deals with Surland certainly clinched that.
eyeswideopen2
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November 29, 2013
First the runway was too short, about 4 feet or so, then it needed to be 4 feet longer for Amazon to use, then it needed to be 4 feet shorter again so SURLAND could build more houses. Now we see SURLAND paying money to help the airport??? Do you really want to buy a house at the end of the runway??? Remember all these stories when there is an accident and see where the fingers will point. Glad to see a council member who is not on the Surland wagon asking questions
Sneaky
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November 30, 2013
At least the construction guys are staying employed. It must amuse them to get called in to add a few feet then get called out to remove it a few months later.
emmaspencer
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November 29, 2013
Anybody thats lived in Tracy knows that anytime the name SURLAND or SERPA is involved, there's corruption ahead with the city, I see this as just another attempt to do another end run around city hall for building permits.
Showmestate
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December 03, 2013
It's funny that 10 people think Surland is out to get us. Because Surland developed Redbridge. News flash nothing's corrupt about Redbridge. I have lived in Tracy for almost a decade and never heard about "corruption".

The same people have been saying this same thing at city meetings for almost ten years. Ever hear of a judge? Yah? Pcmiles tried that path and had his case tossed out of court, but continues the rant at every city meeting with about ten other people.

Jeesh! You people remind me of the goofballs at the ComicCon convention. But not as fun. Mean actually. Some of them still stewing that Celeste's campaign was not all they thought it was cracked up to be. Leftover mockingbirds repeating old campaign rhetoric.

And Rickman already knows all this? Or at least should have known better.


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