City responds to grand jury report
by Michael Langley
Jun 13, 2014 | 4530 views | 17 17 comments | 35 35 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A report from the San Joaquin County Grand Jury, released Monday, concluded that the city staff gave the Tracy City Council wrong information that may have jeopardized federal grants for the Tracy Airport.

The Grand Jury investigation focused on allegations of a secret and illegal business arrangement between the city and Surland Cos. LLC regarding the length of runway 12/30 and a $50,000 payment to the city made by Surland on behalf of the former airport fuel provider, Turlock Air.

The Grand Jury examined whether there was any secret agreement between the city staff and Surland to reduce the length of runway 12/30 from 4,002 feet to 3,997 feet, which would allow Surland to build more homes at its planned Ellis development because of a reduced safety zone for landings and takeoffs at the airport.

Surland proposed an amendment to the Ellis Specific Plan on April 26, 2013: Surland would fund airport fuel payments to the city for a number of years and the city would reduce the runway length and allow Surland to recoup some of the money from fuel sales.

City staff members have maintained that they rejected the proposal outright, and the Grand Jury found no evidence that the city entered into any written contractual agreement — secret or otherwise.

“Ultimately, what I’m focusing on is the grand jury’s determination that there was no evidence to substantiate the complainant’s allegations of a secret and illegal business agreement,” interim City Manager Maria Hurtado said. “I think, for me, that is a very good sign.”

Councilman Robert Rickman was not completely reassured by the findings.

“Their conclusion, it raises some questions,” he said.

Rickman, who would not confirm or deny whether he was interviewed by the Grand Jury, quoted the area of the report he was concerned about.

“ ‘The grand jury questions whether there was specific quid pro quo between the city and the developer for political or other considerations, or just a city attitude of knowing what the results would be but “wink wink” we won’t say anything.’ Even though there’s nothing illegal about this,” he said, pausing for a few seconds before moving to another topic.

Mayor Brent Ives, who confirmed that he was interviewed by the Grand Jury, said the report showed what the council had known for months.

“The Grand Jury came up with exactly what the council came up with: There was no finding of any legal issue with what we did,” Ives said. “We had pretty extensive discussions in the public with council and staff in the more immediate aftermath of the thing. So the Grand Jury is asking the same questions we were already answering for ourselves just four or five months earlier.”

Rickman said that except for his continued questions, there was little public transparency.

“There’s questions that should have been asked in the very beginning and no one did. I was the only person up there willing to ask questions,” he said. “Questions that I asked were blocked every single time. I was the only council member on that thing.”

The report also found that a staff report presented to the council on June 18, which claimed that reducing the length of the runway by five feet would have no effect on future Federal Aviation Administration grants to the city, was inaccurate and incomplete.

In its opinion, the Grand Jury wrote that reducing the runway length would have benefited the Ellis project being developed by Surland, but there was no definitive proof that city employees deliberately misled the council.

On June 3, the city confirmed the FAA measurement of the length of runway 12/30 at 4,001 feet.

Mayor Pro Tem Michael Maciel said he still believed the city staff did nothing inappropriate.

“Surland saw it (questions about the length of the runway) as a potential opportunity as a shortcut to get these things they wanted. And the city staff said, No, that’s not how we do this,” Maciel said.

Rickman said that despite the misinformation, no one on the staff was held accountable.

“When there’s no accountability and no explanation, it becomes scandalous. And this is exactly what happened here,” he said, adding that he did not know what staff members were responsible for the wrong information. “That would be whoever got the information. In this case, I’ll let the public decide on that.”

Rickman said there were times when the staff did not give the council all the facts.

“I think there’s been a problem in the past, and in this issue in general, that staff’s report has kind of pushed council in a general direction,” Rickman said, though he would not single out any former or present employee. “I think who we have up there now, Maria (Hurtado) and Chief (Gary) Hampton (interim assistant city manager) and Jenny (Haruyama, administrative services director), I think the public accepts and trusts those individuals.”

Maciel, who said he was not interviewed by the Grand Jury, said it was clear the staff did nothing wrong.

“People wanted to drive certain perceptions that things were going on, that there were backroom deals. As we know now, there weren’t,” he said.

The Grand Jury report made no determination on the appropriateness of the actions but suggested that the council should adopt a policy requiring city staff members to disclose all substantial changes proposed to any major developments in the city to avoid the perception of collusion.

The Grand Jury also recommended that the city adopt a policy governing third-party payments for contractual obligations to the city, after reviewing a $50,000 payment made by Surland to cover money owed to the city by Turlock Air, then the fuel provider at the airport. The report said there was no indication that the payment was illegal or inappropriate, but a policy could alleviate the appearance of impropriety.

The panel recommended that the City Council instruct the city staff to make a comprehensive review of FAA and state safety zone requirements.

The Grand Jury also issued a recommendation about contractors with the city. The panel found that the city extended a contract with Turlock Air to provide fuel at the airport for 25 years without checking on the status of Turlock Air’s state license. The jury recommended that the city adopt a policy to review any contractor’s license before renewing or amending a contract.

Councilman Charles Manne, who would not say whether he had been interviewed by the Grand Jury, said he was looking toward the future now that the report was public.

“The Grand Jury agreed the claims couldn’t be substantiated and instead provided valuable recommendations,” Manne wrote in an email to the Press. “I intend to take the Jury’s recommendations seriously and the council will discuss them at the appropriate time.”

Rickman said he believed the council should accept completely all of the recommendations. He added that the city might not have suffered the black mark of a Grand Jury report if his initial questions were not dismissed.

“It is up to the council to be the watchdog,” he said. “I think I do already, to be honest with you. On this whole issue of the airport stuff, I asked some very, very tough questions. I asked stuff behind the scenes and I wasn’t getting any answers.”

Councilwoman Nancy Young did not return requests for comment.

The city staff is drafting responses to the Grand Jury report and will present them to the council during the regular meeting Sept. 2 for consideration and approval. The city will then send those responses to the Grand Jury.

Read the entire report at the Grand Jury website.

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

 
Comments
(17)
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tinwings
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June 19, 2014
If if quacks like a duck and looks like a duck...IT'S A DUCK!

No matter how they twist this story, it still smacks of impropriety.
Tracyite4life
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June 19, 2014
Right. Except some of you saw a goose, called it a duck, got Fish and Game to come out, they told you it was probably a goose and when they left you picked on the word "probably" and proceeded to tell everyone you DID see a duck and it was time to hunt.

That about sum it all up for you?

And before you make an ostrich comment to continue the bird theme ... please don't.

rayderfan
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June 19, 2014
It's "Duck Season"!

"Wabbit Season"!

"Duck Season"!

"Wabbit Season"!
Tracyite4life
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June 14, 2014
By the way, I just got off work and was rereading this, what is up with the comment about wanting to hold someone accountable, but not wanting to name them then saying we should decide?

No. Are you serious? So we should do his job for him? For every vote how about he just ask us how to vote. It's called representative democracy. How about he does his job.

We pay him to figure out who is responsible. He had no trouble calling out the city manager guy. Clearly he can't or doesn't want to.

Gutless. Just gutless.

fortheunderdog
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June 13, 2014
"...Grand Jury investigation focused on allegations of a secret and illegal business arrangement between the city and Surland Cos. LLC..."

Does this really surprise anyone who's followed this "partnership" between Ives and Surland?

"The Grand Jury examined whether there was any secret agreement between the city staff and Surland to reduce the length of runway 12/30 from 4,002 feet to 3,997 feet.."

So the city decides to say the 4,002 runway length is 3,997 so Surland can benefit by building more homes. So changing the length in writing to -5 feet may cost the airport grant monies. That's just great.

"Mayor Pro Tem Michael Maciel said he still believed the city staff did nothing inappropriate."

Did he actually say this with a straight face? This is the guy who initially said Churchill did nothing inappropriate.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. This city's government is made up of "good ole boys" who will allegedly try anything to get what they want until they're caught.







BigDanT.
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June 13, 2014
It doesn't surprise me for a different reason than your opinion. It does surprise me that Rickman keeps voting for Surland's offer. That does surprise me.

What does not surprise me is the investigation. No it was not a surprise. The council member called for it himself.

I'm only surprised that the same council person who called for an investigation is now asking the people to decide, instead of both investigations.

I would like Rickman to stick with his conviction if he truly believes what a few of you are saying.

If Rickman denounces Surland's deal, I could see some possible merit to the accusations being tossed around.

It does not make sense for a council person to seek to cause divisiveness for political gain.

I'm sure the majority of the public can clearly see through what he's doing. But if he got up and publically denounced Surland's offer that would be a whole new ballgame.

We'll have to wait to see how he votes. Until that time comes, if we look at this logically, it seems to me like Rickman wasted a lot of taxpayer monies.

I have noticed a few of his followers around town saying the public should vote on the Surland deal. I would like to know if that comes from Rickman, or if he is told what to say, by his followers.

Because this stall tactic of Rickman's has culminated in him parroting what his followers are suggesting. I think Rickman called the FCC to push this to a public vote.

I just want to know why a few people control one person to delay a business owner's offer, when the person they control already approved the offer?

rayderfan
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June 13, 2014
You're right fortheunderdog. Maciel is definitely one of the "good ole boys".

He's about as dirty as they come; in my opinion.
Tracyite4life
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June 13, 2014
Looks to me like the one member of council has an obsession problem like the others who went after the city manager who was fired. from the one comment it sounds like he was even part of that.

so the grand jury spent months coming to the same thing the city did? and there are still suspicions?

does he seriously think he is the only honest man? who is he protecting? it's clear he has no respect for the staff that works for him or anyone else on the council.

people, don't mistake being a self-righteous *&*&*%^%$ for being a maverick and truth teller. if he was, he would sometimes agree with those he doesn't like.

don't be fooled. there's clearly something more going on with him ... and it probably isn't good.
behonestguys
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June 13, 2014
One crucial point the Tracy Press left out of its article is this - that by shortening the runway to under 4,000 feet, Surland would have been able to build more homes in the Ellis Project,something that even Churchill admitted to during the August 6, 2013 Council meeting according to the minutes of that meeting. So, as Zack Johnson of the Stockton Record pointed out in his June 11, 2014 article on the matter, by paying $425,000.00 to help cover Turlock Air's obligations to the City as proposed in the "quid pro quo" memo from Les to the City dated April 26, 2013, starting with the $50,000.00 check that was cut from Surland to the City on June 19, 2013, the day after the Council voted to start the process of reducing runway 12/30 from 4,002 feet to 3,997 feet,the expectation was to lower the runway to less than 4,000 feet so Les could build more homes and make millions more. Just follow the money folks ........
jtashjian
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June 13, 2014
An illegal business arrangement between the city and Surland? NO WAY! There is absolutely no evidence that Surland has Maciel, Ives and former city manager Churchill were politically connected. Complete speculation I tell you. The fact that Maciel & Ives have a voting record always in favor of Surland is merely coincidental. The fact that all their political comments favor the city's relationship with Surland does not mean anything. Honest upstanding citizens like Maciel & Ives would not get in to a "wink-wink" backroom deals - they are the pillars of this community - God help us.

BigDanT.
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June 13, 2014
Actually the entire city council gave the wink wink. It was not one or two people who approved Surland's offer. It was all. And Rickman does not do a very good job of asking questions. Sometimes I wonder if he knows what he is doing. When he asks a question it sounds like an accusation and people can more easily dismiss an accusation than a question. Even in Rickman's email to the newspaper it sounds like an accusation and we still have no clue to what question he is asking?

I presume he was asking for an investigation. Then he got two investigations and refused to tell us if he even bothered to participate in those.

He approved Surland's offer, but to me he still seems confused about how to do his job. Why does Rickman approve an offer then ask for an investigation and leave everyone in town dissapointed?

Replace Rickman with someone who knows what questions to ask. When he ran for office he said he wanted to do the job. So far, what we see in Rickman looks like a dog chasing his tail.
rayderfan
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June 13, 2014
This type of thing has been going on at City Hall for years and this article paints a very clear picture of what the problem is.

It's clear that Maciel and Ives don't see any problem because they are part of the problem

There's no need to replace Rickman, in fact we need more people like him on the Council. At least he's willing to make accusations of wrong doing when there is wrong doing. Besides, he's a sworn officer of the law, he should be making accusations when there's evidence of collusion.

Keep in mind that when Rickman was first elected to office there were a couple of times he dressed the former city manager down in a public meeting. Everyone should know that he was told, by Ives, that his actions were inappropriate and that they would not be allowed again at a Council Meeting.

Rickman was elected by the people, not appointed by Ives and the Mayor, no matter who it is, does not have the ability to restrict any Councilman's ability to question city staff and to call them out in public. That's what they are paid to do.

Keep up the great work Bobby. You're doing exactly what the people want you to do.
CarpenterNewton
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June 13, 2014
Go get 'em, Rickman! Keep up the good work.
BigDanT.
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June 13, 2014
I'm guessing the evidence of collusion is Rickman's discussion that he had in private? It would help if you shared more information. It is plain to see that he had it out for the former city manager from the beginning. Like oil and water, so it is no big surprise they got into it in a public meeting. What Rickman does well is complain about others. Like you are doing, actually. But take it outside.

The pragmatist in me does not care about Rickman's difference of opinions with the former city manager. What I would like to see is plain and simple and it is in regards to the Surland offer that Rickman approved. Is it a bad deal now, or is Rickman just still miffed at the former city manager.

From what we are seeing, it does look like Rickman is dragging his "dressing down" of others into the Surland deal to give it less appeal? I don't want to know more about Rickman's ego or his squabbles with former employees who he won't name in public anymore.

I simply want to know why he voted one way and then changed his mind. Or was this whole thing nothing more than Rickman chasing his tail. Again, if Rickman is right than why can't he articulate that without getting into a squabble? Now Rickman is saying the public can squabble (or "decide") who was right in his squabble with the former city manager?

I don't see how Rickman voted for Surland's offer if he knew all this from the beginning? I wasn't for Surland's offer at the beginning, but when the entire gang of them voted for it I thought this is it. It's finally going to move forward, so let's go for it. But now, I'm beginning to wonder if Rickman is throwing himself under there to make the appearance in front of the FCC, like he doesn't know any better. And now he wants us to decide. Sorry, but it does look confusing that Rickman is asking questions and asking us to make up his mind. We're not paying him to make decisions?

I could see asking questions. That would be fine. But to ask questions, simply to delay an offer that he approved, does raise questions. Does Rickman know what he is doing when he is voting?

At first I decided the answer was, yes he does. But for a few years all his votes were showing us the opposite. Now I either need to hear something more convincing, or I need to see Rickman stand up, put his money where his mouth is and denounce Surland's offer.

If I were a business I would give anyone else on the council money, but not a hypocrite.
fortheunderdog
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June 13, 2014
jtashjian, when I first read your comment I thought you were being sarcastic but then realized you're serious. How long has your head been stuck in the ground? You obviously haven't been following all the shenanigans over the past 18 years between this city's government and Surland. Ives and Surland are like peanut butter and jelly, iced tea and lemon, flies and crap. The latter best describes the relationship. It's beneficial to the residents of this city that this is Ives' last term as mayor. His mini-me, Maciel, will more than likely try to take his place and that would be a mistake to elect one who's been hanging on to ones apron strings.
jtashjian
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June 13, 2014
fortheunderdog: I WAS BEING SARCASTIC. OMG!
fortheunderdog
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June 14, 2014
My sincere apologies to you jtashjian.


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