Our Voice: Time to leave Churchill alone
by Press Editorial Board
Feb 14, 2014 | 11901 views | 102 102 comments | 298 298 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Here at the Tracy Press, we continue to research a story on city-issued credit cards for staff. We do not yet have all of the facts, and seriously doubt whether anyone else does either. Still, there are a few people around town who are ready to throw City Manager Leon Churchill out of his job.

We were in the process of investigating that story when Churchill announced at the Feb. 4 City Council meeting that he had been counseled more than once by the council for his use of city-issued credit cards for personal items. According to Mayor Brent Ives, Churchill reimbursed the city for any charges for personal items. Ives also said that he felt the City Council handled the issue appropriately, privately discussing it as a human resources issue. Further, Ives said there was no evidence to suggest malfeasance.

In the public meeting, Churchill admitted that he had made mistakes, but he and Ives publicly agreed that there was no intent to defraud the city. “If for one minute we thought there was any deliberate attempt or any truly devious attempt to try and defraud the city, then we would have certainly taken other actions,” Ives said.

That satisfied some observers and not others. Dave Helm, owner of Helm’s Ale House in downtown Tracy, brought the issue to a council meeting in January and remains in hot pursuit of Churchill. Helm said he thinks the city is trying to sweep the matter under the rug.

It’s an election year. Ives is retiring as mayor, and there are two other council seats up for vote in November among the five-member City Council. The local economy is rebounding, and with that comes a revival of activity and interest in commercial and residential development.

When the economy was in the tank, it was no coincidence that political rhetoric cooled for a few years. Now, once again, there is much at stake in local politics — and old wounds have not fully healed. Issues surrounding the growth control ordinance, Measure A, passed in 2000, remain controversial, with forces lining up on either side.

We hope that this year’s election in Tracy will remain issue-oriented and debates will take place in the spirit of people of goodwill airing their differences out in the open.

Additionally, we hope that Tracy does not degenerate into a reflection of Washington, D.C., where important matters take a back seat to political paybacks to whichever party is in power at a given time.

By all accounts, including an otherwise stellar recent employee evaluation, Churchill has done a terrific job in six years as city manager. Tracy is financially healthy and poised to grow into a model community as more good job-producing entities seek to locate here, despite the limitations of the residential growth control ordinance.

Obviously the city should carefully review its policies and procedures on use of credit cards to reduce the possibility of future problems. Unless there’s more to the story than we’ve seen so far, we support Churchill and believe the community should also give him the benefit of the doubt.
Comments
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ketchupsavegetable
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March 13, 2014
You know, Tracy Press, by turning this space into a pro-Churchill board lately, permitting pettiness about swimming and redacting everyone else... it's not exactly subtle. It raises questions.
BIG_DanT
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March 13, 2014
It'd be interesting if the witch hunters zealousness to can the swim center plans actually backfired? I wonder if the interim manager is pro swim center? I guess time will tell.
cody01
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March 13, 2014
I'm serious. This entire scandal has turned into leverage for a political maneuver.

There was no intense investigation that led to the capture of this guy. He admitted it himself at a counsel meeting.

For those whom wish public office, Do it on your merits, NOT, by making the opposition look less than. Park your car next to a garbage can, Which looks better?

Slander, Defamation of character,This makes the other party look like less of a person. The more character a person has, The more those that can never attain it will try and chip away at it. Bring you down to their level,or, beyond. Happens.

@Ketschup. Read it. What does it say about admitting to it before the crime is discovered, paying it back before admitting, Admitting it publicly knowing the possible penalty? He knew he would be found out anyway, therefore, He took the power out of it. Someone was going to tell on this guy. No doubt. He knew this. He knew there would be power in finding it, Rather than admitting it. Step down, Take your lumps, Move on.

Since no one wants to come up with an amount that was "Embezzled", I will set the amount at $2.99. That's Two dollars and ninety nine cents. For what? A candy bar. A Biggin'
BIG_DanT
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March 13, 2014
These witch hunters don't want a swim center.

Will be interesting to see if getting rid of Churchill will help their goal to get rid of the swim center. Any new City Manager would have to have more common sense than the witch hunters, and see a sense of community value in a swim center, that the witch hunters still cannot see.
cody01
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March 12, 2014
When this was first came out in the press, I commented.

If various parties were covering for Churchill, They probably had issues of their own. I do accounting so I am aware of the cost of this document search and assimilation.

Who pays for it? Mr. Helms can search through all the documents he wants but, He is not qualified to report. Only announce the existence thereof.

As of the first publication, Documents, Ledgers,Journals, Credit card statements, Checking, Savings, Trust accounts,Etc,., would need to be acquired from all City Dept's. This would include the police dept.

These folks that have decided to go on this witch hunt. I think any city, state, or, Federal employee should understand transparency(Full disclosure).

Where all of this will go? Looking at these comments, it appears these folks didn't even know who to call.

Prosecute everyone. This investigation will probably lead to everyone. Including those initiating discovery. How much was "Embezzled"????

That was paid back, In full. The city got the money back. The guy had a problem. BFD. Make him go away. He probably knows not to do it by now. What he did was stupid. Evidently, He didn't have the culpability part.
DHELM
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March 09, 2014
Ornley-Ives did not take it to DA, the police department did.

The documents I ordered are at the city clerks office which I have paid for. If you care to call the AG by all means do so. I will review the documents and advise of my findings.

I lost my previous location 2 years ago so I have no idea where the decade comment keeps coming from.

Your unintelgellible rants defending those who break the law, violate polices, misuse public funds, abuse the public's trust are tiresome. Then to claim you didn't do anything about because you deemed it to be a small matter just shows you're true colors, an aplogolist shill for Maciel and Ives.

The matter(s) may need to go to the AG or feds because the DA obviously has no interest in dealing with Churchill or others that have broken the law...Baxter Dunn ring any bells?



mthouseman
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March 09, 2014
http://www.ajc.com/news/news/breaking-news/dacula-councilman-accused-theft/nd747/

Guess where you live does make a difference in being arrested or not for similar crimes

ketchupsavegetable
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March 10, 2014
Embarrassing, isn't it? A tiny village in Georgia gets it right, but...
ketchupsavegetable
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March 09, 2014
Rayder, I don't see much to gain by involving the candidates for DA because the whole Churchill fracas will be over before June. Whatever they say now won't matter.

The important, time sensitive thing is to get in touch with Jim Willett. For one thing, prosecution would result in a reasonable case for the City not to pay out hush money... I mean severance pay, on the grounds of the repeated willful misconduct leading up to termination. I know it seems unlikely, too dependent upon a sense of honor and decency by the city government, maybe too optimistic. But then, I never thought Churchill would even be fired. I

expected him to get a raise.

Secondly, prosecution would result in disqualifying Churchill from regaining any CA government job in the future. An indictment would prevent that; it is part of the Penal Code. (I don't know if this would prevent him from returning through the back door as a contractor... so we'd need to keep our eyes open.)

I say let us email Jim Willett ASAP. Here it is again for everyone: Put it in your browser, then click on EMAIL US. He reads his email.

http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=pen&group=00001-01000&file=503-515
ketchupsavegetable
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March 09, 2014
OOOPS. I provided the wrong link. Here is how to email District Attorney Jim Willett:

http://www.sjgov.org/da/dynamic.aspx?id=12336
TelaCommuter
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April 06, 2014
I would think you don't know what you are talking about then rosa62.

The officer that tried to sue for alleged discrimination WAS eventually dismissed from his job.

You really think crime went up, when the city was crawling with FBI and CHP?

You make stuff up as you go.
rosa62
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April 06, 2014
I forgot to add that you're entitled to your opinion TelaCommuter, but not to your own facts. I would suggest you provide some proof to back up your opinion about what a wonderful job you think she did.

It can't be the crime rate because that didn't improve; it can't be because of a reduction in internal conflict because that didn't improve either.

By all means, if you have tangible facts to back up your opinion I am more than willing to review them.
TelaCommuter
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April 06, 2014
I like how you make stuff up about those you disagree with rasa62. First you say she did a good job and then you say she did a lousy job. I see no reason to hate her when she also brought the crime rate down. She also fired a cop who thought he deserved a promotion because he was hanging out at the schools. I think he thought he was retired or something while he was on the dole and wanted promoted as well. So, she knew what was going on and I think she was on top of things a lot more than you are willing to admit.
rosa62
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April 05, 2014
Actually, she did do a good job with the Sandra Cantu incident but that wasn't her it was her staff. She got out of their way and let them do their job.

Regarding everything else, she did a horrible job.
YuHouh
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April 05, 2014
Rosa that was low. She did a heck of a job during tough really tough times.

Why all the hate?
rosa62
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March 12, 2014
Sorry, I meant indictment.
rosa62
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March 12, 2014
You are right. An endightment doesn't disqualify you from public employment.

What it does do is label you as a questionable character for future employers. Kind of like George Zimmerman isn't a racist, right?

The difference is that Churchill didn't need to be indighted; he actually admitted to his theft in a half hearted effort to save face. The man (I use that term cautiously in his case) is a fool and should have been fired following the Thiessen matter.
mdsmith17
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March 11, 2014
An indictment does not disqualify you from public employment, only a conviction does.
rosa62
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April 07, 2014
Clearly you're confused TelaCommuter.

If you review the national crime statistics during that period you will find that Tracy's crime rate went up during her tenure.
Ornley_Gumfudgen
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March 09, 2014
As with virtually anythang, when one detects a problem, it's important ta take that information ta th people assigned ta deal with th problem. Rosa allowed that person, in this case, ta be identified but frum th comments it seems that no one has, ta date, provided that information to her. As I recall, frum researchin rosa's "education" of me, that person ain't th City Attorney, ain't th County DA but is th State Attorney General.

It's been admitted that Ive's didn't lie when he claimed he contacted th county DA about Leon. But, was that, accordin th th law that rosa uncovered fer us, th correct person that has th authority ta really take action on it, namely th State Attorney General Kamala Harris?

Not defendin th counsel, Leon or anyone else. But it seems ta me ya could save a lot of time an consternation by tarnin th information ta her an her staff ta investigate an if anythang is out of order she'll take care of it.

Those "thousands of documents ta be reviewed" can be done a lot quicker with a more speedy result than just sittin on it while ya get around to it an hope it works. But it don't drag it out fer political purposes now does it?
rosa62
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March 09, 2014
Mr. Gumfudgen, I agree the State AG would be the correct person to contact regarding the entire matter.
rayderfan
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March 08, 2014
You are correct ketchupisavegetable. It's right there in the California Penal Code, Section 508.

"Every clerk, agent, or servant of any person who fraudulently appropriates to his own use, or secretes with a fraudulent intent to

appropriate to his own use, any property of another which has come into his control or care by virtue of his employment as such clerk, agent, or servant, is guilty of embezzlement."

I wonder if the Mayor and Council actually had the City Attorney check with the DA regarding Churchill's embezzlement, or if that was just their way of trying to quiet the public so they could sweep the matter under the rug?

My guess would be the DA and the State AG hadn't heard about the matter until it hit the paper. It would be worth the effort to touch base with the State AG and the County DA to see if they ever received a call.

I will give them a call on Monday to see and report back to everyone here in the blogs.
ketchupsavegetable
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March 08, 2014
Rayder, and to everyone...

Write to the Attorney General of San Joaquin County, Jim Willett. Put this in your browser, and click on "Email US."

http://www.sjgov.org/da/dynamic.aspx?id=12336

I did yesterday, and I didn't just get a phone call from some flunky at the AG's office, I got a phone call from Mr. Willett himself within hours. HE READS HIS E-MAIL. Take the time to send him your comment, and encourage everyone you know to do the same.

I thought that Brent Ives was making it up when he said that the DA's office was contacted, and the DA feels no law was broken. On the phone, I asked Mr. Willett to confirm what Ives said. HE DID. I asked him to explain why no law was broken; he would not, saying that he doesn't divulge details in ongoing cases. I asked him to issue a public statement; he said he would not. So... there you have it. As I said, please take a few moments to send an email, and encourage your friends to do so also.
rayderfan
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March 09, 2014
Thanks for the information klv. I'm happy to know that Ives told the public the truth regarding his inquiry. I will give him credit for that but honestly, I don't know what to believe when it comes from him anymore.

Anyway, I am not sure if you read the Stockton Record on March 8th but if you did you would have found the article below.

If you read the last paragraph I have shared (not the entire article) it says that Jim Willett is not running for the County DA's position this year. I wonder if that has anything to do with his decision not to get into this matter. It may be worth our while to contact the candidates who are running and find out their opinion about the matter.

Here's the portion of the article I mentioned.

Clock runs out for June 3 ballot spots.

By Zachary K. Johnson

Record Staff Writer

March 08, 2014 12:00 AM

STOCKTON - In this year's primary election, a sergeant is running to unseat his boss, two colleagues on the Stockton City Council will compete for a seat across town on the dais of the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors, and, no matter what happens, there will be a change of leadership in the county's District Attorney's Office.

Friday was the last day for candidates to file the necessary paperwork to reserve a place on the June 3 ballot. When the deadline struck at 5 p.m., the race was all but over for unchallenged incumbents, and a number of powerful county offices are guaranteed to be filled without a runoff vote in November.

Contests for sheriff and district attorney will be decided in June.

Only two candidates are running for a seat left open by departing District Attorney Jim Willett. Tori Verber Salazar, a prosecutor, is running against Gary Hickey, once a county prosecutor and now a defense attorney.

ketchupsavegetable
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March 08, 2014
If there is still anybody who believes the fable that Mr. Churchill only violated city policy, but not the law, click on the following, but get some smelling salts first... if anybody still sells them.

http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=pen&group=00001-01000&file=503-515
DHELM
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March 08, 2014
I found E-mails from Ives regarding travel reimbursement which did not comport with city policy. I asked him about them and obviously made him angry. As a citizen we have a right to know how our business is being conducted and how local government is spending our money. When politicians and city employees conceal the truth there is a huge issue.

Rickman called for an investigation into the 50k check from Serpa to the city for Sturmer, the shortening of the runway and the renegotiation of the FSO lease. Hurtado actually denied the check was from Serpa, despite the fact it came from his company. She reasoned that since Sturmer had attached a cover letter, it actually came from him. So, if someone mails something illegal, the person delivering the item is the person responsible? I think not. Ms. Hurtado's presentation to council sought to gloss over the entire sordid affair and conceal the truth. Maciel bullied everyone that sought the truth defied folks to take it to the DA, grand jury or AG's office and ridiculed anyone who questioned the propriety and motivations of citizens asking for clarity. I will give it to Ives, he did allow the discussion without castigated those who asked questions.

There are thousands of documents yet to be reviewed. Transactions involving other people have been identified but the work continues. I will not mentions names or instances until I have solid facts, it is simply not fair to call people out until I have reviewed all of the documents.

The city made this mess and they should clean it up. I have little faith that will occur, especially since the outside auditor concealed Churchill's illegal activities and admitted to that in writing.

There are over 140 city credit cards of the street. Ms. Haruyama stated she only reviews transactions over 10k, so that leaves a lot of wiggle room for people to do the wrong thing. Lets not forget the she is doing the work of two people and obviously took over a mess.

Tracy should clean up it's own mess, but before that can happen, our leaders would have to acknowledge there is a problem. The DA obviously doesn't have the time or inclination to get involved so maybe it's time for the AG or feds to get involved.

The only person I would trust to look into this is Hampton. I doubt he would receive the resources or cooperation to adequately investigate this mess. Besides, he reports to the city manager, or acting city manager, who reports to the council. They didn't want to see the truth, still don't.

Ives calling Churchill a wonderful City Manager, saying another town would be lucky to have him and then wishing him well with 9 months of full salary and paid health benefits is an affront to decent hard working taxpayers. If that's what his contract says, who ever wrote it and latter approved it should be fired.

vocallocal
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March 08, 2014
Mr. Helm, I agree, who would want to be a political person in Tracy? The fact is as you pointed out - Many others within our employed and elected officials are involved. Follow the money and you will find many hands...
DHELM
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March 08, 2014
Rosa,thank you for the kind words.

Laurie-I have no political ambitions. Maciel did not show leadership. He ran around town calling me the village idiot and stated this whole thing would blow over and things would go back to business as usual.

Rayderfan- I appreciate your clarity and strong voice but you are in error with regard to Nicolau's and Miles involvement with regard to the Churchill matter. Nicolau has called the council to task regarding the airport and other issues but had nothing to do with Churchill.

Miles has called the council to task for many issues, most notably calling for Churchill and Sodegren's termination for covering up past issues.

I discovered the financial irregularities while researching other issues. The city's budget, the CAFR report, issues surrounding the DA with Serpa,(7 million in giveaways, raising the sewer rate for everyone and 2 million still not collected as agreed from Serpa) caused me concern. I made numerous PRA's, asking for information in different ways. It appeared my requests were being interpreted in the narrowest form to conceal information, so I expanded my search. Churchill is not the only one involved.
rayderfan
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March 08, 2014
Mr. Helm, Thank you for the clarification. It was an assumption on my part based on my viewing of Tuesday night's city council meeting. I appreciate your letting me know about that so I can correct my own thoughts.

In the future I will be sure to reserve judgements until I have all the information. I apologize to you and to Mr.'s Nicolou and Miles.
rayderfan
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March 08, 2014
Apparently there were some comments that deleted so here they are. LaurieLasagna wrote:

LaurieLasagna

5 Hours Ago

Forgive me if I'm a little confused by all the hatred. But the rest of the city board voted with Maciels. I don't know him, but in your zeal for hate mongering, you're essentially telling us that Maciel led the way and the rest of the members followed him. I think you feel that makes him a little snit, but if you step back and re-read all your bickering, you might see that you just made Maciels look like a leader. We voted for Rickman, but I'm not sure we are seeing a leader there. So I'm on the fence. Convince me one of them is not the bigger puppet. And by the way it doesn't matter who gets elected. If you boys disagree with that then grow a pair and stop the pissin contest over whose puppet is better and yada yada yada. Save the sickness for Washington.

The she said:

LaurieLasagna

5 Hours Ago

Meant grow a pair and run for office.

rayderfan
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March 08, 2014
To which I replied:

You know Laurie, I might agree with you if Maciel, once he found out what was going on the first time, had called for a special audit to review all of the credit card accounts over the past 6 - 10 years so he could make sure this was the only time this type of thing had happened.

Unfortunately, he didn't do that!

What he did do was plan on letting Churchill off with a warning, a slap on the wrist and a paid vacation. They even gave Churchill back his credit card and that's why Churchill was able to steal from the citizens multiple times.

Yes, this was not an isolated incident by Churchill, and Maciel and Ives both wanted to cover it up so they wouldn't have to deal with it. It was the leadership of Councilpersons Mann, Rickman and Young that stood strong and forced Ives and Maciel to see it their way. With help from people like Mr. Helm, Mr. Miles and Mr. Nicolau who all three helped bring Churchill's theft to light so everyone would know about it.

That's why there appears to be all this so called "bickering" about this matter. Because our city officials tried to pull one over on the taxpayers of Tracy and they got caught. It doesn't speak well for our community.

vocallocal
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March 08, 2014
I am sure Leon was not the only employee using the city coffers for their piggy bank. That is why they had to FIRE him. It set a legal precedent the city could not afford. How many others will be fired right behind Leon? That is the question of the day.
rayderfan
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March 08, 2014
I agree vocallocal and I am almost certain that's why Maciel and Ives wanted to sweep this whole thing under the carpet and make it go away as quickly as possible.

That's why I don't have any faith in Maciel or Ives. I don't think either one of them want the entire truth to come out because they have to much to lose.

Maciel could lose his bid to be Mayor, which I believe, would crush his oversized ego.

Ives doesn't want his legacy tarnished by having the voters find out that theft and corruption at City Hall have been the norm under his watch as Mayor.

Think how that would bode for him if the public, or his clients found out that for all these years Ives; who has been consulting with other special districts about how to run an effective governing body; was discovered to have been allowing corruption, theft and misuse of public funds to go on in the city in which he was Mayor.

That would literally kill any possiblity of him getting additional consulting contracts with special districts and send a message, across the state, that he is no expert on how to run a clean, uncorrupt government.
vocallocal
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March 08, 2014
The Tracy Press voiced their opinion and bias for Leon Churchill. To expect any reporting or fact finding story regarding the current sordid affairs inside our local government will never happen.

I appreciate Dave Helms and the action he took to expose Leon. Bravo and thumbs up to Dave!
rayderfan
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March 07, 2014
And by the way, here is the web address for the Grand Theater Center for the Arts Board of Directors if you verify the relationships for yourself.

http://atthegrand.org/BoardMembers
rayderfan
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March 07, 2014
And by the way, here is the web address for the Grand Theater Center for the Arts Board, just in case you want to verify the relationships.

http://atthegrand.org/BoardMembers
rayderfan
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March 07, 2014
I would like to take a moment to remind everyone that the Editor of the Tracy Press is Michael Langley, the son of Ann Langley.

Ann, along with her son Michael, just happen to be members of the Board of Directors for the Grand Theater Center for the Arts.

Mr. Churchill, is friends with Mrs. Langley and her son. Mr. Churchill also directly supervised the staff of the Grand Theater. He also developed the budget allocation for the Grand Theater and approved all purchases for the Grand Theater.

Are you beginning to see the connections?

So, for anyone to think the Tracy Press would do anything short of supporting someone like Churchill would be insanity.

Churchill used the system to his own advantage and I think, with a little pressure from the District Attorney and the State AG Churchill might have some stories to tell regarding how things "really work" here in Tracy.

Of course if that was to happen, some of our elected officials might begin to get a little nervous.



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