More on Bordonaro’s special favors

April 11, 2010

Tom Bordonaro

(Editor’s Note: This is the third and last in a series about San Luis Obispo County Assessor and Republican politico Tom Bordonaro.)

By KAREN VELIE

While San Luis Obispo County Assessor Tom Bordonaro says he is not guilty of any misuse of his office or showing favoritism to political friends, critics are pointing to specific instances where he used his office to cut property taxes for friends and promote his political agenda.

Critics also accuse Bordonaro of using his non-partisan San Luis Obispo County assessor position to do favors for businesses and political powerhouses. Bordonaro has been involved in promoting many local political candidates while claiming to have the ability, due to his many connections, to push issues through county government.

“He is not concerned with doing the work of the people,” said a high-ranking assessor staffer who asked to remain unnamed for fear of being fired by Bordonaro. “He is using his office to stay politically involved.”

As an example of his influence, critics say, local businessmen with commercial interests regularly donate to Bordonaro’s political action committee (PAC).

Last year, H. D. Perrett, the Nipomo landowner who has battled to have his 4,700-acre Suey Ranch removed from San Luis Obispo County and annexed to Santa Barbara County, donated $2,000 to Bordonaro’s PAC.

The San Luis Obispo supervisors recently rejected an attempt to move the ranch into Santa Barbara County despite Bordonaro’s claim that he could influence the supervisors to agree on issues he is supporting.

These critics contend that Bordonaro has repeatedly asked his staff to reassess the property of his political allies and business contacts at rates below those of their neighbors at a cost of lost revenue to public schools at a time dozens of local teachers are receiving pink slips.

In 2006, a member of the Atascadero City Council, who openly announced he planned to vote to approve rezoning land for a Wal-Mart store in that town, purchased a home on more than an acre in the city. During the same year, Bordonaro founded the Central Coast Taxpayers Association, a group primarily focused on promoting the Wal-Mart store in Atascadero.

Even though Councilman Jerry Clay paid only $260,000 for his newly acquired Atascadero property, assessor staff found evidence the property was sold below market value and increased the assessed value to approximately $375,000.

Clay objected and Bordonaro intervened, making sure the assessment was lowered, sources said. Currently, the property is assessed at approximately $330,000, assessor records indicate.

About ten years ago, Kelly Gearhart, a former North County developer with a reputation for asking government officials for favors, approached Bordonaro’s predecessor and asked that the county assessor reduce his property taxes without making him go through the proper procedures.

“Kelly Gearhart asked me to lower the assessments on some of his properties,” former San Luis Obispo County Assessor Dick Frank told CalCoastNews.

“I told him he could file an assessment appeal. He got upset and said he didn’t want to go through the appeals process.”

Frank said Gearhart argued that going through the standard written request procedure was not the way he did things.

Nevertheless, Frank denied Gearhart’s request.

While Gearhart and Frank never spoke again, the North County developer would brag of his direct line to Bordonaro, a ranking Atascadero official told CalCoastNews.

About five years ago, Bordonaro bragged that he and Gearhart went to Sacramento for a fundraiser with Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The pair was seated at the head table with the governor and received photographs of themselves with him.

Seats at the governor’s table required a donation of between $50,000 and $100,000. Some county employees are questioning who paid for the excursion.

At about the same time, critics say Bordonaro directed his staff to do favors for Gearhart, including pushing the developer to the top of the list when processing subdivisions.

Gearhart, along with Jay Miller of Hurst Financial Inc., has been the subject of a criminal investigation by the FBI for a range of alleged illegal acts, including racketeering, money laundering and wire fraud.

Some county employees also question why Bordonaro, who is currently the chair of the Republican party in San Luis Obispo County, is reportedly promoting a property tax exemption for his longtime acquaintance and current 4th District County Supervisor candidate Michael Zimmerman, a Republican.

County assessors, such as Bordonaro with a staff of more than 80 people, generally do not get involved in singular homeowner assessor appeals.

As the result of a recent inheritance, Zimmerman is paying more than $13,000 a year in property taxes on 292 acres of land his family owns in Arroyo Grande. If his tax-exempt status is approved, his property tax bill would be eliminated.

Zimmerman met with Bordonaro in his office to discuss what requirements he needs to meet in order to obtain tax-free status for the property, Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman said he plans to build a religious retreat on the land through a charity dubbed God’s Country of Arroyo Grande, which was founded in the 1980s. After he gets his property tax exemption, Zimmerman said he plans to start seeking donations to construct a religious retreat.

“I met with Tom and a staff member,” Zimmerman said. “I have been involved with the Republican Party so I have known Tom for some time.”

Generally, only the portion of land where the retreat is located would be tax exempt and the landowner would still be required to pay taxes on the remaining acreage. For example, a church with a 100-acre parcel, would only have a tax except status on the acreage used for religious services.

In addition to concerns that Bordonaro is providing tax breaks to his friends, some critics question the accuracy of Bordonaro’s travel expenditures.

While a student at California Polytechnic State University, Bordonaro, who majored in agricultural business, was in an auto accident on U.S Highway 101 between San Luis Obispo and Santa Margarita in which he suffered a cervical spinal injury in 1978.

The accident left Bordonaro paralyzed and he uses a motorized wheelchair to get around.

Because of his disability, the county pays for the cost of a room and meals for a companion to accompany Bordonaro on work-related travel outside of San Luis Obispo County.

At a time when many of the county’s elected officials have refrained from billing the county for travel because of budget woes, a check of Bordonaro’s travel records show inconsistencies with the county’s very specific travel requirements.

On Feb. 18, 2009, Bordonaro attended a California Assessor Association Legislative Committee meeting in Sacramento that lasted from 9:30 a.m. until 12 noon. Attendees had the option of then attending a meet-and-greet session with state lawmakers from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Policies allow employees to bill the county for meals and hotel rooms that occur during permitted travel times. The hotel was five hours from Bordonaro’s home in Paso Robles and as such, he was not permitted to charge the county for further hotel rooms or meals after that time.

Under county travel rules, Bordonaro should have left immediately at 3 p.m. in order to make it home by 8 p.m., which is permissible for reimbursement.

Bordonaro billed the county for two rooms on both Feb. 17, 2009 and Feb. 18, 2009.

And more than 24 hours after the last meeting ended, on Feb. 19 at 4 p.m., Bordonaro took a companion to dinner at Joe’s Crab Shack in Sacramento. On the $54 bill which was reimbursed by the county, Bordonaro noted that he had a flat tire.

However, he failed to mention that he had not left Sacramento because he had checked into a Hyatt Regency in the state capital where he spent the next four days attending the 2009 state Republican Convention.

He charged the remaining nights of lodging and the rest of his meals to “Friends of Tom Bordonaro,” his political action committee.

Since Bordonaro first ran for office in 2002, he has kept his PAC active and uses some of the proceeds to donate to such entities as the Lincoln Club of San Luis Obispo County, the Republican Party of San Luis Obispo County and political contenders, such as former county supervisor candidate Debbie Arnold.

His contributors include Monsanto, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Patrick Hedges, Wal-Mart promoter Maury Frauman, county supervisor Khatcho Achadjian, county District Attorney Gerald T. Shea, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians at $5,000 a donation, SLO sheriff’s spokesman Rob Bryn and state Sen. Roy Ashburn (R-Bakersfield), according to Bordonaro’s campaign disclosure statements.

Achadjian is currently seeking the GOP nomination to succeed state Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo) in Sacramento and Hedges is stepping down as sheriff.

In 2009 he received $24,741 in contributions. He reported $47,893 in total expenditures and more than $12,000 in unpaid bills.

In addition, the Bordonaro household receives a portion of every donation made to Achadjian’s run for the Assembly. According to his last recording with Secretary of State Debra Bowen, Achadjian’s PAC has paid more than $9,000 to Bordonaro’s wife, Martha Bordonaro, a mother of four young children and a practicing chiropractor, for running his fundraisers.

Assessor positions are non-partisan. Assessors like Joseph Holland in Santa Barbara County who ran for office in 2002 with promises to conduct the office with integrity and to insure that it is not used for political purposes, which did occur recently in San Bernardino County.

An investigation started by the San Bernardino supervisors ultimately resulted in the arrests of the assessor and four of his staffers for blatant misuse of the office and accepting bribes.

Another example of a favor for a Bordonaro friend was reported by CalCoastNews in a previous article. The girlfriend of Bordonaro’s banker recently sold a bed-and-breakfast in Paso Robles for an amount similar to a home she purchased in Templeton.

The homeowner requested a Proposition 60 transfer, a measure approved by voters in 1986 which allows a property owner to transfer a property tax amount from a current residence to a new residence of equal or lower value. If a property also has a commercial concern, the value of the business is subtracted from the sales amount as part of the computation.

Staff members in Bordonaro’s office originally rejected the Proposition 60 transfer for the girlfriend because it did not qualify, according to a strict formula normally applied for this special tax exemption.

Critics claim Bordonaro responded by asking subordinates to remove approximately $200,000 from the new home’s assessed value for four acres of hobby grapes, a practice not normally allowed because hobby grapes have little commercial value. This deal equates to a total saving of more than $7,000 per year for his banker’s friend.

Nevertheless, shortly after Bordonaro became assessor, he signed a memo that he would not become personally involved in wine grape assessments because of a perceived conflict of interest and provided the document to County Counsel.

A group of commercial wine grape land owners, which included Bordonaro’s father, had requested in writing that the Bordonaro’s office lower commercial grape vine assessments throughout the county.

In a request for a retraction to CalCoastNews for some statements made in a previous article, a county counsel attorney reportedly helped the assessor write his justification for approving the Proposition 60 transfer.

County Counsel attorneys provide legal services to county departments in a manner that is supposed to “promote excellence in the delivery of government services to the public,” according to their mission statement.

“Your statement is false,” said Bordonaro in his retraction request. “The property owner sold her home, not a bed-and-breakfast. The home had one bedroom in a partially converted barn.”

However, sale sheets advertising the property as a bed and breakfast are still available on line and also reportedly in the assessor’s file. Information about the Creekside Bed and Breakfast in Paso Robles can also be located through a number of lodging web-sites.

Note: After Tom Bordonaro was elected to the state assembly, his partner in AAA Plus Business Services took sole ownership of the Paso Robles tax preparation service.

The cost of running the Assessor’s Office has increased by more than 40 percent, from $5,768,270 to $8,207,665 over a five-year period, while staffing has remained relatively constant.


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Saveslocounty

Dissecting the comments scatted throughout the blog unveil the true problem here. There is no accountability due primarily to political connections. The grand jury is not even worth its $15 per day as they have made no positive impact in many years. The DA runs the grand jury and he just wants to hang on to his job until he can retire, so make no waves is his theme. The Attorney General is a joke and has been posturing to regain his title as Govornor one more time and has made no waves. The FBI has way too many BIG cases and not enough staff to take on these small SLO county issues that they have proven to be ineffective in protecting our interests as citizns.


Obviously another political reform act is needed to mandate investigations and streamline the process of removing elected officials. Until then, unless we can elect some ethical enforces, we are doomed to a repeat performances with no change except for the names.


cheseburger

“While Gearhart and Frank never spoke again, the North County developer would brag of his direct line to Bordonaro”, and Gearhart bragged about having an assemblyman who is now are republican congressman in his pocket after giving him 1.5 million dollars of defrauded Hurst Financial investors monies. Is this how big the Hurst Financial conspiracy is? If Kelly Gearhart and the Indian Gaming Casino crew did give Kevin McCarthey investors capital and he had that knowledge that would make him accessory before the fact, and if he didn’t know the monies were investor funds it is still accessory after the fact. Has anyone wondered why know arrests have been made and it seems there won’t be? Without accusing McCarthey as I have before, I am asking this blog for help with this issue, what do we do? Contact who? WHO IS GOING TO DO SOMETHING? The AG seems worthless, somebody call ??????????????????????????????????????? 911 start at the bottom all the top spots are taken.


Cindy

cheese, the FBI is still investigating this. I know it’s frustrating but the wheels of justice turn slowly at times, in fact they crawl. I’m not aware that there is any truth that Gearhart actually gave McCarthy any money to fast track the Pi JI Ho Ta gaming casino. It clearly was rumored that they had him in their pocket but the payoff has yet to be proven. If Nanci Meek is reading this thread maybe she could weigh in, she usually has the latest scuttlebutt on Kelly Gearhart.


BeenThereDoneThat

Chese. I have to wonder about your statement of McCarthey beinging accessory after the fact.


If someone has something they had no knowledge of, what are they guilty of??


To my understanding to be an assessory to some crime you have to have knowledge of the crime being committed at that time. If you didn’t then how is it a crime??


That would be the same as me handing you money tomorrow from a bank robbery you knew nothing about. Does that make you guilty?


Of course if he knew then all bets are off.


cheseburger

BTDT if he gained knowledge that it was investors monies after he accepted the money, it would be accessory after the fact, and he should give it back or go to jail, and to spectator, Bush should of been Jailed for war crimes and Obama let him go, so your think this is political, it is not! As far as Lois Capps is concerned Gearhart did not give her any investor funds so she is in the clear and a very nice lady too.


BeenThereDoneThat

WOW! Play the Bush arguement. Question. Obama let him go? I must have missed that. Let him go for what? I don’t remember ANY charges. Oh and by the way what charges would a President bring? I think if any it would be Congress my friend. It’s like people running around saying Nixon was pardon by Ford. NEVER happened as Nixon was never impeached. He stepped down.


Again show me a REAL case in what you are talking about. Again sorry but you are wrong on this.


Sorry for getting a little off topic but I hate to see things that aren’t true played out as truth.


cheseburger

“I think if any it would be Congress my friend. It’s like people running around saying Nixon was pardon by Ford. NEVER happened as Nixon was never impeached. He stepped down.”, Bush sold out this country for profit, at least Nixon didn’t rat out all his buddies when he went don’t as I;m sure Bush would, or have them shot from a grassey knoll, BTDT, I am not a bush basher but there is over whelming evidence that shubery had a large hand in Kennedy’s death, and has made major bank off these wars, as far as the proff you want I don’t have it. Republicans always see themselves as correct with little comprimise on any issue.


BeenThereDoneThat

ACCESSORY AFTER THE FACT

Whoever, knowing that an offense has been committed, receives, relieves, comforts or assists the offender in order to hinder or prevent his apprehension, trial or punishment, is an accessory after the fact; one who knowing a felony to have been committed by another, receives, relieves, comforts, or assists the felon in order to hinder the felon’s apprehension, trial, or punishment. U.S.C. 18


BeenThereDoneThat

Now show me were any proff exists (other than your say so) that McCarthy has done ANYTHING to assist in keeping Gearhart from being prosecuted or had any knowledge of helping Kelly in any way?


Don’t get me wrong I want to see Gearhart brought to justice but your arguement that McCarthey is an Accessory after the Fact holds no water.


cheseburger

Well BTDT, your my favorite republican but one thing, I’ll bet Tom Bordanado now knows that the 1.5 million dollars Gearhart gave him belonged to creditors in his high profile crooked bankruptcy, do you think he should give back the money? OR NOT!


cheseburger

BTDT I’m still waiting for an answer? And I still and always will respect you a great deal.


JordanJ

““Your statement is false,” said Bordonaro in his retraction request. “The property owner sold her home, not a bed-and-breakfast. The home had one bedroom in a partially converted barn.” Did anyone check out the website that hosts this lovely “Bed and Breakfast”? WOW, that’s one heck of a converted barn and it’s “2 bedrooms” rent for $230 and $240 per night. It’s incomprehensible that county counsel would recommend that Bordonaro put such a blatant lie in writing, but then that is why county counsel is in the public sector working on our dime, it’s a known fact that this particular counsel couldn’t make it in the private sector. It used to be that we all complained about mediocrity being the best we could expect from our paid servants, these day’s we get blatant incompetence and hope they are at least honest.


JordanJ

When is this going to be on Dave Congalton’s KVEC? I am interested in hearing what Tommy has to say for himself. Right now he isn’t looking very good, he looks like a slime ball and so do his friends. Sorry to be so crude about it but he does look like a slime ball if all this is true.


Cindy

I sure would like to take a look at the budgets and financial reports coming out of the assessors office. This $2.5 Million increase isn’t making a whole lot of sense to me. I’m wondering if this represents the bottom line and decreased tax revenue’s are playing a roll here or if this represents pure expense? Has anyone requested a copy of these records yet? I’d like to review the last 6 years but don’t have the time to get down to SLO this week.


Paso Pete

Cindy,


Decreased tax revenues do not make a difference because tax revenues are collected by the Tax Collector and deposited into the county’s general fund. The Assessor’s Officer doesn’t see that money. Much of the expense increase is because Tom did an office reorganization which created 5 management positions paying over $90,000 per year. Supervisors were promoted to these 5 positions and other lower paid employees were promoted to the Supervisor positions making over $80,000 per year. The net effect is the office has one supervisor or manager for every 5 employees of the office. The people spearheading the re-org all got promotions (big surprise). We now have a much higher budget and fewer workers because management personnel attend meetings most of the week.


On Dave Congalton, Tom said they replaced 5 management positions with 5 new positions. That’s a lie. Tom also said this was a budget neutral re-org. Tom manipulated the numbers to appear cost neutral but the truth is obvious.


On another note; most of the complaints against Tom come from current employees that work hard and hate having an irresponsible boss. Tom is rarely in the office. He lied about that on Dave’s show. Beware of someone that says everything is a lie!


Bluebird

I think its time for the Board of Supervisors take a look at how Bordonaro is using his position to do favors for his buddies that results in reduced tax assessments. Property taxes are a main source of revenue in this county especially for schools. But who will do it? County council is defending his actions and I have a big problem with that. Its time for an independent investigation as was done with the Edge/Wilcox issue.

Members of the Board of Equalization which is the oversight agency for county assessors are politically connected with him so no matter which direction you turn no one will touch him.

The toothless Grand Jury ignored a prior complaint.

The only good news is that I hear Bordonaro is showing up for work and whining about how he is being picked on.


Cindy

Someone can touch him and that would be “us”, the people who voted him into a position of power in the first place. We have 6 months to run him out of office and hopefully out of town.


utube

Vote Achadjian out!


BeenThereDoneThat

I didn’t think he was seeking reelection, so how can you vote him out?


He is running for state office but he isn’t in that office so you can’t vote him out. Maybe not vote for him??


bobfromsanluis

Tom Bordonaro is the only candidate on the ballot for the Assessor’s office on the upcoming election cycle, which means he is “running” for reelection, but is currently unopposed. I have made contact with someone who could possibly run a decent write-in campaign; I hope that this person will consider very seriously the idea of running against Mr. Bordonaro on the platform of cleaning up the abuse of office that is currently happening, and the continued politicking that takes place on County property and on County time, regardless of the protestations to the contrary by Mr. Bordonaro in the past.


Cindy

Bob, I sure hope this candidate steps up and files to run as a write in soon. Since he will be a write in Candidate he will need a lot of media coverage. The fact that there will only be one name on the ballot will give Bordonaro an unfair advantage from the get go, but I also believe that the circumstances prompt massive media attention. I will join his Campaign Committee and I hope many others will hop on board, this is “doable” if we will all just take a stand and vow to send a message.

Too bad we can’t do the same thing with Jerry Shae right now.


TacomaRose

This entire group of cockroaches need to be voted out. Way to go CalCoast News! I hope you keep the heat on these corrupt officials. Sooner or later the voters will wake up


bobfromsanluis

The article states: “His contributors include Monsanto, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Patrick Hedges, Wal-Mart promoter Maury Frauman, county supervisor Khatcho Achadjian, county District Attorney Gerald T. Shea, …” well, that explains a lack of action from our County District Attorney, Mr. Shea, and also might explain why there has been no action on the part of the Board of Supervisors (Mr. Achadjian). Perhaps our California Attorney General should get involved here, if we cannot seem to have anyone who is not a friend or associate of Mr. Bordonaro (County D.A., Board of Supervisors, Sheriff’s Department); how about the County Grand Jury? I really appreciate the series of articles that were done here, Karen; I just hope that someone who reads these knows who to contact, what questions to ask to start the ball rolling on an investigation of Mr. Bordonaro, and will share with us here so that we may also ask the correct person(s) or County or State office to have this looked into. I also hope that Dave Congalton will have you on Karen to talk about these articles so that Mr. Bordonaro’s alleged wrong doings can be discussed so that more people will find out about this and ask questions as well.


R.Hodin

The local Grand Jury has no power. Why would the politicos or the DA’s office want the unwashed empowered to actually effect the winky-wink way things have always been done around here? The incumbent [name public office here] has 4 years to weak havoc, enrich their friends, or even to (heavens!) impartially fulfill the duties of the office.


In Bordonaro’s case, it is clear that he uses an ethical sliding scale, is under the impression that public office is an opportunity for self-enrichment, and that he feels his actions are above suspicion or reproach.