COMMENTARY: Bugs on the wall in City Hall

April 7, 2008

By KAREN VELIE and DANIEL BLACKBURN

There’s a tight clamp on information coming out of Atascadero City Hall, what with the FBI hanging out and all, so it’s been tough to get information out of those hallowed confines, stuff like this…. While city officials have been going 12 rounds with each other, mediators have been brought in to suppress probable knockouts.

That and other reports about hush-hush stuff going on in The Colony’s inner sanctum have been gleaned from a gaggle of reliable sources, all of whom are seeing and hearing all that we report here.

These sources include elected city officials, city employees, and a few highly connected individuals.

So what you read here has been confirmed by numerous sources, but is unverifiable in the classic news story sense. That’s why this piece is clearly labeled “commentary.”

Anyway, with national security and all, there’s a lot of stuff that just must remain secret. Or so we’re told. This is what we have now:

The ongoing FBI investigation of Atascadero’s city government is said by our sources to be focusing on possible under-the-table payoffs to, or overly-cozy relationships between, upper level city management, some elected, some not, and some private individuals. FBI officials won’t acknowledge any investigation, but sources tell UncoveredSLO.com that numerous city officials, staff, and one particular land developer have been interviewed by the federal gumshoes. City sources say they are informing FBI agents when the opportunity arises that FEMA and taxpayers really did get screwed by phony-baloney applications for the Youth Center.

The FBI’s current interest in Atascadero is just one of the city’s serious ongoing problems. Disputes between the city’s Community Development Department and management have been brewing for more than two years. A common staff complaint is that certain individuals in management demand that specified projects — some of which have been red-tagged –- simply be rubber-stamped, green-lighted.

“Things have not changed,” said one “It just gets worse every year. Staff is disgusted and disappointed.” Community Development director Warren Frace regularly reminds his minions at meetings that the Printery was in active use during the San Simeon Earthquake, even though most seasoned employees quietly acknowledge that they know it was not.

Employees allege they have been stripped of authority to do the regulatory jobs they were hired to do, and that contractors and management inform them of what projects will be approved with little or no scrutiny.

Late last year, officials hired Creative Mediations to help iron out internal problems with the city’s development workforce, at a cost of approximately $7,500. Chief Executive Officer Jesses Sostrin of that group met with staff from Community Development on four separate occasions, ending earlier this year.

The mediating consultant’s Website describes his function thusly: “When dialog escalates into argument and agreement seems hopeless, there is a way to get through it all… Welcome to Creative Mediation.”

Following the final session, McKinney, Assistant City Manager Jim Lewis, and Assistant to the City Manager and City Clerk Marcia McClure Torgerson met with other staff to discuss some of the issues raised during mediation.

“We have a culture of tell no one and look the other way,” one employee said. “McKinney was upset with staff over things discussed with the mediator. Jim gave his ‘Wade and I cannot tell a lie’ speech.”

A city-sponsored “ethics meeting” intended to foster trust was a must-attend last week for city council members and upper management staff. It quickly turned into a forum for council members Tom O’Malley and Jerry Clay to attack Mayor Mike Brennler, according to some who attended. Brennler ran for office last year on a platform of addressing corruption in City Hall.

O’Malley and Clay alleged that Brennler did not trust city staff. Brennler flushed, and O’Malley shouted, “Look at how red he is! He is angry.”

Shanks pointed out O’Malley’s body language, rocking back and forth, and suggested he was angry, too. O’Malley then became disrespectful to the facilitator.

Clay and O’Malley charged Brennler with reporting on KVEC’s Dave Congalton Show that the community center was built on a toxic waste dump. In fact, Brennler never took a stand, one way or the other. A podcast of the show in question is available on the station’s Website.

After hurled charges of mutual disrespect, O’Malley commented to attendees that Brennler would not survive the next election.

And that’s what’s been happening in SLO County’s most divisive little city.


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22 Comments

  1. ccn_debate says:

    Member Opinions:
    By: Anonymous on 4/25/08
    If you want to know where the failure is at city hall, connect the dots and they will lead you to the city manager. Who else would have an overpaid and under qualified assistant representing our city? Where else would you have the redevelopment director placed in a broom closet rather than out there bringing in business? And the beat goes on. Truly a crime worth investigating. What a pity the new council majority did not have the courage to rectify the situation. We need bright new leaders on the council and a new city manager with fresh ideas, energy and charisma to lead us out of this ongoing mess that worsens with each day.
    By: Anonymous on 4/24/08
    Insider,
    Unfortunately the money you talk about is hush money. Could you imagine what the consequences would be to the City Manger and the Councilmembers who used Marty as a scapegoat. It's been told directly to me that Marty was in fact used as a scapegoat on this one. Does anyone really think that Marty just went to work one day and made that telephone call? There are also other people in the private sector who were brought into this and it would be devastating to the City Manager and some Councilmembers if this were ever to go to open court. If you remember when Marty wanted to appeal this in public that the whole case was shut down, he was reinstated, temporarily demoted and then placed back at full pay. But what does he do now? All of his responsibilities are handled by the City Manager and Marcia Torgerson. Just another day in the old Mudhole.

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  2. ccn_debate says:

    By: Anonymous on 4/23/08
    dewdog

    unfourtunately I hope we can find a more efficient way to remove the sacrificial lamb than with Tracey. Last I heard he was still getting full pay and benefits and sitting in a broom closet. I think we are even paying his attorney cost for suing us. We could save 500k a year with just these two possitions.
    By: Anonymous on 4/23/08
    Alright Insider. i think you are absolutely correct although you may be on the conservative side with your estimates. As usual you know they are never going to tell us the truth.
    Your right on regarding the Rotunda Building. It's a fabulous building although once again the City attempted to file ANOTHER fraudulent claim with FEMA and has apparently got caught regarding the foundation issue. Someone at the the City has to ultimately stand up and tell the public the truth of what repairing the Rotunda really is. It is easilly a $50-$60 million dollar job.
    As far as the person processing the applications to FEMA unfortunately she will be the next Marty Tracy and be the scapegoat for the City Manger and the City Council
    By: Anonymous on 4/23/08
    By the way she's the one who ran the applications for the printery and the veterans building. What the hell is going on.
    By: Anonymous on 4/23/08
    insider says:

    We can not afford the cost of this FEMA money. The printery was at least misrepresented. Does the city have the money to return to the Feds for that. Please lets not get so caried away with the nessesity of restoring the rotunda that we commit fraud in the process. Take the legitmate resources available, take a picture and hang it inside a new modern version that reflects the history of city. We were 500k over budget a month ago 1 million over a couple of weeks ago. If anyone really took a look at the current budget and the speculation of permits in the next two years it would be clear before another 2 months pass they will update our shortfall to 2 million. Lets not add to that with this FEMA scam.

    April 7th, 2008 at 7:16 PM

    LAST NIGHT THE CITY MANAGER TOLD THE CITY COUNCIL THAT THEY WERE NOW 1.5 MIL IN THE RED. NOTE MY ESTIMATE WAS THEY WOULD REALIZE THEY WERE 2 MIL IN THE RED BY 2 MO FROM MY ORIGINAL POST ON APRIL 7. I STAND BY MY ORIGINAL PREDICTION ALLTHOUGH IT MAY BE A BIT CONSERVATIVE. THIS GIVES THE CITY MANAGER AND HIS GIRL WITH THE ROSY COLORED GLASSES UNTIL JUNE 7 TO REVISE THIER FAILURE TO ADD TO 2 MIL IN THE RED. AT THIS POINT I WOULD LIKE TO UP MY ESTIMATE BUT THAT MIGHT BE A BIT PRESUMPTUOUS. IT'S TIME TO TAKE SERIOUS STEPS AT CITY HALL. CUTTTTTTTT!!!!!!!!! THE BUDGET YOU IDIOTS. YOU CAN'T KEEP ALL THESE EMPLOYEES. START BY GETTING RID OF THE ONE WHO KEEPS TELLING US OUR SALES TAX IS DOWN 19% BUT NOT TO WORRY BECAUSE THE WAY SHE LOOKS AT IT ITS ONLY 10%.

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  3. ccn_debate says:

    By: Anonymous on 4/19/08
    Tom may be on a new band wagon while they are doinf the EIR for Wal Mart in Atascadero. I read where the state nurses UNION is endorsing Jim Patterson. I think Tom Comar was a nurse at ASH. Therefore one may assume that he may be diverting his time and the UNION'S funds over to cover Jim Patterson"s campaign
    By: Anonymous on 4/19/08
    So has Tom Comar returned from his Union meeting, I mean fishing trip yet?
    By: Anonymous on 4/16/08
    Is there a city-county official, employee, judge, grand juror, or media journalist in SLO County who isn't a consideration influenced provider of Personal Services for the highest criminal-class bidder?
    By: Anonymous on 4/15/08
    Atascadero residents can be split into two distinct personalities, the West Siders and the East Enders. The East Enders are described below by Uncle Daddy. The West Siders make a point of ignoring the unsavory elements and cling to the view of their town as some version or Carmel By The Sea. It’s not. It’s Atascadero By The Loony Bin.

    The extent of the West Enders delusions about their town can be seen clearly in the Carlton Hotel. How severely mentally ill does one need to be to think that people will pay $350 per night to stay in downtown Atascadero. Within spitting distance of the 101. Come now. It’s time for a reality check. For $225 you could stay in Shell Beach in a room where you can piss into the Pacific from your balcony.

    But, this is what the West Siders sincerely believe about Atascadero, that Neiman Marcus and Ruth’s Chris should occupy the Wal Mart parcel. And that is why the have what they have, i.e., absolutely nothing but old, decaying commercial spaces filled with overpriced crap wanted by nobody. Believe it or not, before investing money in a new location, business’ do something called a demographic study. The demographics of Atascadero do not now, and never, ever will support the retailers the West Enders think they deserve.

    Yet their attitude is, “if we can’t get our William Sanoma, the East Enders can’t get their WalMart”. And so it is that they have an overgrown rattle snake sanctuary across the street from the failed Outlet Shops, which currently houses tenants with Lease Clauses allowing them to vacate if the Wal Mart is not built.

    And the decay continues.

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  4. ccn_debate says:

    By: Anonymous on 4/14/08
    It's shocking to see what the high IQ residents of Atrashcadero have gotten themselves into.

    While the average citizen has been wife beating, meth taking, stabbing, drooling, passed out, pissing up the wall, and staring longingly
    at their sisters, the elected official have acted badly.

    Shocking!
    By: Anonymous on 4/14/08
    It's becoming quite clear that our City "leaders" and mismanagement are all in this together to curtail the growth of Atascadero both physically and financially. Where are they? With all of the controversy not one of them has made a public statement regarding these issues. As all of know there are 2 sides to everything in Atascadero and this is true with the city council. If everything wasn't ok one of the sides would be grasping the cuurent conditions and accusing the others of every conceivable thing in the world. BUT-they are all SILENt. Why is that? Could it be that they are All involved in whatever is going on. Sorry folks, even George Luna.
    Ultimately their silence is going to wake up the silent majority in this town and at some point an explanation will have to be given as to who authorized the fraudulent report and application for the FEMA funds for the youth/recreation center. Somebody did it? Then we also have the fraudulent application to FEMA for the earthquake damage to the Veterans Building. Unfortunately the city manager is placing the financial officer in the position of responsibility for this report. The city manager runs this city and should take responsibility for both of these unethical actions. And of course if the city council wasn't aware of what was going on they all should resign for not being involved or we all can come to the conclusion that they are all involved with these actions. Even George.
    By: Anonymous on 4/14/08
    I agree about the recession proff high salaries, 401K, car allowances, city credit cards that they wine & dine on bonus's, gift cards and all the other perks. Something needs to be done with the budget and the city employees sucking us dry. Thats a job for the city council. Fire Wade and structure a salary program thats in line with the pay scales in SLO.
    By: Anonymous on 4/13/08
    Of course the developer fees and redevelopment taxes are high. How else would they pay the recession-proof high salaries, extensive travel, vacations, home loans, high-value perks, etc for McKinney, Lewis and friends?
    By: Anonymous on 4/13/08
    Initiative Supporter where is all off this new retail development? I have been an Atascadero residence for over 20 years and downtown looks worse today. We should congratulate ourselves on the new Lube Shop welcoming people to our city. The silent majority are starting to speak out for retail growth to save the city.

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