Atascadero manager admits falsehoods

December 2, 2008
Mayor Mike Brennler conducted his own investigation of City Hall and unearthed some interesting truths

Mayor Mike Brennler conducted his own investigation of City Hall and unearthed some interesting truths

By KAREN VELIE

Atascadero city officials lied in public statements regarding an eminent domain controversy and made a scapegoat of a city employee.

City Manager Wade McKinney, one of those officials, confessed the deception only when testifying under oath in depositions earlier this year.

Outgoing Mayor Mike Brennler, a retired police detective, unveiled results of an investigation he conducted privately, exposing the seamy underbelly of Atascadero city government. The mayor apologized to the employee, Atascadero Redevelopment Director Marty Tracey, at a Nov. 25 council meeting. He requested that McKinney and the 2005 council, then-Mayor Wendy Scalise; Councilpersons George Luna, Tom O’Malley, Jerry Clay, and Becky Pacas also make amends with Tracey.

Brennler’s report focuses on the eminent domain dispute that resulted in three lawsuits against the city that were settled for approximately $110,000 earlier this year. Brennler utilized transcripts of numerous depositions in concluding that Tracey was used as a scapegoat by city officials.

A stack of those depositions, towering more than a foot high, document how the 2005 Atascadero City Council and several city officials violated numerous laws and repeatedly altered stories while pointing fingers at Tracey.

In February 2005, Tracey left a message on the Gaughan family’s answering machine, warning the semi-retired couple that the council had met in closed session and had directed staff to move ahead on eminent domain proceedings on a property the Gaughans owned across from the Carlton Hotel.

It is a violation of the Brown Act for council members to discuss eminent domain proceedings in closed sessions, according to Tom Hart, deputy director of the California Redevelopment Association.

Questioned by reporters regarding Tracey’s phone message to the Gaughans, McKinney, Scalise, two council members, and ex-city attorney Patrick Enright denied they had been involved in starting eminent domain proceedings. They claimed Tracey, whom they repeatedly dubbed a “rogue” employee, had not been in the Feb. 2005 closed session meeting in which Tracey stated the council voted to move ahead on eminent domain proceedings.

However, Brennler’s report includes e-mails documenting McKinney’s knowledge of the eminent domain proceedings.

“I am very glad to see eminent domain is headed forward,” McKinney wrote to Tracey in a March 2005 e-mail. “I think this is the real answer.”

Amid a public outcry regarding the eminent domain issue, city officials terminated, then rehired and demoted Tracey. The official demotion alleges he had been fired for negligently misrepresenting the city; being untruthful; threatening the Gaughans; and placing his hand in front of his face when confronted by a photographer. Officials kept details of Tracey’s demotion from the public until a few weeks ago, claiming such disclosure would violate Tracey’s privacy rights.

Brennler’s report concludes that Tracey did not misrepresent the city, was truthful, and did not threaten the Gaughans.

McKinney told attorney Ron Scholor in Nov. 2005 that Tracey was not in the closed session, according to Scholor’s investigative report.

But this May, McKinney admitted in depositions by Tracey’s attorney, David Warren, that he and the council were not honest about the eminent domain proceedings. And he acknowledges that Tracey was present during the closed door session.

Asked why city officials never made know to the public that Tracey had not misrepresented himself to the Gaughans, Wade said, “We’re protecting Marty’s privacy rights.”

“The personnel exemption under the California Public Records Act was developed to protect intimate details of personal and family life, not business judgments and relationships,” according to California Code and case law.

McKinney eventually said he approved of the phone message Tracey had left the Gaughans.

In Atascadero, not even the mayor is given easy access to public records. It took Brennler more than a month and a half to get copies of the McKinney, Gaughan, and Tracey depositions. First Amendment Coalition attorney Peter Shear asserted the city’s varied reasons for squelching Brennler’s access to the records were not valid.


12 Comments

  1. ccn_debate says:

    Member Opinions:
    By: MartyTracey on 1/30/09
    I am writing in response to a letter to the editor authored by Ray Johnson (Dec. 21), and discussed in earlier posts below.

    In his letter, Mr. Johnson states: “Brennler is a self-appointed ‘private investigator,’ who has issued a long report as his last official duty. He wasn’t appointed by anyone to do that. In that he already had an agenda; his bias influenced his judgment. Clearly it was not an unbiased investigation and report.”

    I remind Mr. Johnson that the city of Atascadero Report of Investigation concerning my conduct was conducted by Ronald J. Scholar, who was a defense attorney out of the same office in Sacramento as then City Attorney Patrick Enright.

    Wade McKinney said that Mr. Scholar would be conducting an “independent … fact-finding inquiry.” I demanded a fair public hearing that did not occur.

    Mr. Johnson further states: “The problem with his crusade is the public is getting one side of the story without a fair hearing.”

    Finally, a member of the public calling for a hearing. I stand ready to assist Mr. Johnson, and look forward to the holding of the “fair hearing” he seeks. My request is that this be a truly independent public hearing. No more engineered results.
    By: Truthbeknown on 12/24/08
    Here's wishing you all a very merry Christmas and happy 2009. I'm on holiday break, so see you after the holidays!
    By: George on 12/23/08
    a few trolling comments removed.admin
    By: mcdonald on 12/23/08
    Brennler and Luna wanted to leave. T.O. and J.C. won't be leaving under their own volition.
    Keep Smiling.
    By: insider on 12/23/08
    to MyThoughts

    Like you wouldn't be smiling if T.O. & J.C. were gone instead of Brennler and Luna.
    By: Michelle on 12/23/08
    Nancy- didn't you already tell us that you think insider is JC? You gave us some excellent correlations as to his every day unusual verbiage. With that said as a reminder I ask you not to be so hard on this man. By his own account, "He is always forgetting everything"
    By: Cindy on 12/23/08
    To truth Be known
    I reiterate: As with insider its a waste of time to dignify your statements with a response.
    I add: I suspect that you and insider are one and the same person.
    By: Jordan on 12/23/08
    The people of Atascadero have their hands full. After reading this story and scanning the reports I think it's going to take outside intervention to force accountability and restore respectable, honest governance to this citizenry. By no means should this blatant disregard of "the rights of the publics check and balance safeguards" be tolerated. One has to consider that this is only the tip of the iceberg. These facts only came to light because Mr.Tracey left a message on an answer machine and Mr.Brennler
    spent a great deal of time performing a harrowing investigation. How often have similar violations occurred that went unnoticed?
    By: Nancy on 12/23/08
    Thuthbeknown – So much for your antics. I call it antics because I can't believe anyone is actually walking around the streets this intellectually incapacitated. Its a waste of time to engage you in any meaningful dialog.
    You don't have the ability to assimilate information or you are just continuing to play your "ABA/CFA game.

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  2. ccn_debate says:

    By: Unbelievable on 12/22/08
    Boy insider, whatever is the problem? The mayor is charged with keeping the decorum of the meeting. Was it you that stood up and made noises?
    What bylaw was broken? If this is such a big deal for you, please bring it up to the CC and see if they do anything about it.
    By: Cindy on 12/22/08
    The Facts are the Facts,
    I have seen nothing to refute the facts in Mike Brennler's report and it appears all the attachments bear witness to its credence. This report is not an opinion but a compilation of documented FACTS. Yet, there are still those who will try to challenge and admonish the messenger. Such a sad state Atascadero is in. It has become "A Bitter Atascadero" (ABA).

    Unfortunately those with hidden agendas will become more bitter as more is revealed over the next few months, and BTW I'm not smiling.
    As for Ray Johnson, he has more integrity when he says nothing.
    By: BIG_SMILES on 12/22/08
    I'm not impressed with Mr. Johnsons letter.
    Thou does protest too much

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  3. ccn_debate says:

    By: Unbelievable on 12/22/08
    Wow Insider! What a letter that Mr. Johnson has written! It has zero substance and does nothing to refute any of the accusations leveled by Mr. Brennler's report. Fact – McKinney lied again and again. So far, no one has denied that.
    You seem so happy these days – did WalMart put your resume on the top of the pile for greeters?
    By: MikeB on 12/22/08
    Insider must be feeling some anxiety and the need to toss yet another lie.

    No citizen was evicted from a meeting. One did disrupt a meeting by standing up and yelling. The police officer who attended the meeting was professional and polite and during a break, asked the citizen to refrain from such behavior. If Insider feels the police officer did not act appropriately he should direct an inquiry to the Chief of Police.

    Ray Johnson's letter to the Tribune bemoans my report to the citizens of Atascadero as well as my criticisms of city management.

    In assessing Ray Johnson's letter, remember that Johnson was instrumental in hiring Wade Mckinney. Johnson was also part of that shadow group who called themselves "Central Coast Taxpayers," and who inappropriately commingled the Office of the County Assessor and the Wal-mart project. Johnson is also part of the group "A Bitter Atascadero" who were behind the failed recall.

    Johnson suggests I should just “quietly depart” like other past council members. Based on Johnson’s track record one has to ask if he has quietly departed? Sounds a bit hypocritical doesn’t it?

    My purpose in criticizing the City Manager is based on significant failures which include dishonesty, failure to produce documents, failure to complete timely final inspections on Gearhart projects, bridges and even our own City Hall Annex. Our City cannot continue operating this way!

    If citizens are expected to follow the rules shouldn’t they expect the same from City Hall.

    So I guess my response is that I am not going quietly and yes`I do have an agenda … I will continue to advocate for honest government on behalf of those who live in Atascadero.

    Mike

    PS: Insider: You asked me to produce the e-mail authored by Al Fonzi. Please ask Al or Roberta Fonzi for a copy. I provided a copy to Roberta when I raised the issue at the commission meeting. If they are reluctant to provide you a copy, I will provide the text or I can show you my copy assuming you have the courage to identify yourself.

    By: insider on 12/22/08
    Please read "Brennler has an Agenda" by former mayor Ray Johnson letter to the editors in todays Tribune. Right on Ray, you got it.
    By: insider on 12/22/08
    The most serious violation of the any member of the CC was the night Brennler ordered a APD officer to evict a citizen from the meeting. No CC member even the so called Mayor has the right to direct puplic employees however Brennler tried to make a career out of it. Bye Bye Smokey. And good riddance.
    By: CarolAnnRiley on 12/21/08
    These are serious Brown Act violations. Charges should be filed against the remaining seated council members. They should resign and apologize to the public or be legally removed.
    By: insider on 12/21/08
    If Brennler has this e-mail he should produce it. Otherwise its just all heresay just like 90% of his garbage, just heresay. Brennler is a sad, mad individual that managed to cost the City hundreds of thousands of dollars, nothing more nothing less. Still smiling

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