Democracy in Atascadero should amount to more

October 22, 2012

Mike Brennler


While studying my absentee ballot, I was reminded of the joke suggesting that democracy should amount to more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.

This is particularly true as related to the incumbents running for office in Atascadero.

Although I know that it is a citizen’s patriotic duty to vote, when considering these choices I can’t simply hold my nose and fill in the bubble. Common sense will not allow me to do this, not when I have seen firsthand, the instances of unethical behavior and mismanagement condoned by incumbents Tom O’Malley, Roberta Fonzi and Bob Kelly.

All three are mired in the Atascadero controversies involving Kelly Gearhart, FEMA fraud, questionable votes on Redevelopment Agency projects, large cash settlements to former employees and their stubborn refusal to address the vacation accrual problem wherein the city was allowing an unfunded liability of a quarter million dollars in direct violation of their own personnel rules.

Let’s break these issues of mismanagement down, one by one:

Kelly Gearhart

In 2007, Gearhart’s financial empire began to unravel, in part because of illegal and unethical business practices. Hundreds of North County investors fell victim, with many losing their life savings.

Currently, Gearhart awaits trial on 16 counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering.

When I was on the council, I raised several warning flags, including the fact that Gearhart hadn’t paid the city certain development impact fees, that he allowed certain properties to be occupied before final inspection and that he failed to assure final inspection for certain vital infrastructure.

O’Malley, Fonzi, Kelly and Jerry Clay all chastised me for taking on Atascadero’s man of the year and suggested that I make a public apology to Gearhart.

I refused to apologize. From my perspective, it was all about accountability in office and respect for the victims.

FEMA Fraud

As many citizens may know, the Department of Homeland Security has issued a report detailing that “Atascadero city officials did not expend or account for over $8 million according to federal regulations and FEMA guidelines.”

Some of the issues involved the Rotunda Building, wherein city officials falsely attributed foundation damage to the 2003 San Simeon Earthquake. In reality, this damage preceded the earthquake and was actually documented in news articles six months before the earthquake. The city’s claim for foundation damage exceeded $7 million.

Also embroiled in the FEMA controversy were grant funds attributed to the Printery building. Even though the Printery had been sold to Kelly Gearhart prior to the earthquake, city officials secured over $3 million in FEMA funds arguing that the Printery building was an active youth center. In reality this assertion was false as the building was seismically unsafe and declared so by the city.

Questionable expenditures by the Atascadero Redevelopment Agency

The city council expended RDA funds in direct conflict with RDA law. When it was brought to their attention, they blindly went forward claiming the city manager and attorney had assured them that their actions were proper.

Since then, the California Department of Finance has reeled in these inappropriate expenditures to the tune of $3.9 million.

Perhaps the most egregious issue involving RDA funds is Tom O’Malley’s votes concerning the proposed $3 million pedestrian bridge project.

O’Malley owned property within 25 feet of the proposed bridge but transferred it to a member of his immediate family who now stands to benefit greatly from any proposed improvements.

When confronted publicly of the appropriateness of his action and votes, O’Malley obfuscated. Thus far,. O’Malley has participated in and voted on the expenditure of over $1 million which is on face value, unethical and dishonest.

Cash settlements to former employees

The council has approved over a half million dollars in settlements to employees who have filed grievances or lawsuits. Unfortunately, the citizens who have posed questions as to the basis and propriety for these settlements are offered no specifics. Instead, the council has hidden behind the explanation that these matters are “personnel issues that can’t be discussed.”

Vacation Accrual

In March 2011, the council was alerted to the fact that certain Atascadero management employees, including the city manager, were accruing vacation leave in direct violation of the personnel rules. These illegal accruals created an unfunded liability of over a half million dollars with the city manager standing to benefit from over one thousand hours of illegally accrued time valued over $90,000.

In March 2012, the San Luis Obispo County Grand Jury released a report on Atascadero’s vacation accrual matter, wherein one of their findings was that “The City of Atascadero has admittedly and blatantly violated its own policies on vacation time for more than 20 years”


In summary, I represent that I cannot, in good conscience, vote for Atascadero incumbents who have a track record of engaging in and condoning unethical behavior and fiscal mismanagement.

Rather than holding my nose and checking the ballot, I will simply withhold my vote and I encourage others to follow your conscience. To do otherwise is to condone a continuance of failed governance in Atascadero.

Mike Brennler is a retired police officer, a licensed private investigator and a former mayor of Atascadero.


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Copy of letter written to Mike Brennler from Robert Grigger Jones: Jones has never spent more than 5 minutes in my company up to this point and immediately calls me an “Unbalanced individual”? Recommending that Brennler homestead his residence? Wake up Atascadero!

Subj: Re: Letter to Editor Atascadero News 2.15.08

Date: 2/14/2008 5:21:51 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time



Sent from the Internet (Details)


Thank you for your quick response. You mention the Meek case. I am mindful of the internet ranting of that unbalanced individual. There is no judicial privilege there. But thank you for bringing it up. I should remind you that I am a private citizen and you are a public official. No privilege attaches. If you intend to do something with this, I suggest that you get your residence homesteaded at your earliest convenience.

Good Luck


If the other Atascadero Chamber of Commerce man of the year Attorney Grigger Jones is any indication, partner with Kelly Gearhart, out and out lied about our father’s relationship to myself and my brother to strengthen our stepmother’s case as NEW trustee after Jones by our stepmother’s own admission forged our father’s signatures on the new 1st Amendment to the trust removing myself as the Trustee. WAKE UP PEOPLE! If this guy is still allowed to walk around town, maintaining his LOAVES and FISHES persona, laugh at the local restaurants with his other council and Atascadero mayor buddies then you guys have a serious good ole boy problem.

I watched in dissappointed as Grigger Jones LIED on the stand saying our Dad wrote us out of the will because a year after putting me as the Trustee he had an epiphany and wanted to give everything to his non citizen wife who barely speaks english. JONES LIED. Wake up people

Wow, you people are fools or too liberal to know a jerk when you see one.

I’ve been to many city council meetings and this guy is a jerk in how he addresses our city officials. He has attacked and name called when it was not called for. If you don’t respect your government officials, then at least show the respect for them by taking it out in a civil way. Atascadero has mostly registered Republicans, they are pro-growth, rural back ground, and old school. I don’t see that changing for some time. Not sure how you can blame Kelly Gearheart and other bad developers on the city government. Brennler and Ellen Beraud have done A-town a disservice in backhanding and slowing the Wal-Mart project. A-town gets closer to a financial crisis while these enviro-nuts cry poo poo. The city voted against the Shield Initiative and voted for the council to keep creeps like Brennler, Comar, and Berraud from their diabolical plans coming true.

Regarding Paso, it’s growth is slowed down to that’s no longer the fastest growing community in the county and it’s growth is far from reaching any water problems. Poverty and crime have risen in Paso, and more working class and lower class people have moved in. Paso got hit by a down economy and an anti-growth city council. The most growth this decade will be between Nipomo, Paso, and SLO, but not nearly as much as in past growth decades.

NorthCountyDude- The only diabolical plans are the ones going on under your nose but you are unable to see that, probably because you are part of the good ol boy crowd that supports corrupt politicians. Who knows maybe you are one yourself ….. just saying?

Corrupt or not I want to see Atascadero become a nicer town.

The masses aren’t always right.

“Corrupt or not I want to see Atascadero become a nicer town”

That is about the dumbest thing I have ever seen blogged on this site.

“The masses aren’t always right”. Pickup a history book you idiot. Your a fool!

Am I one of the few posters who has the nerve to post using my real name? I notice many of the negative posters use made up names to hide who they really are. Hiding behind a screen name goes right to the posters credibility. Just sayin’

Thanks Mike. Uplifting to see someone come forward and tell the truth. Now we have to wait and see what happens on monday during the sentencing for Jay Miller from Hurst Financial who had so many of the Atascadero people allow his developments to pass through Keep up the good work friend.

Thanks Mike, my wife and I have decided to not vote for the people mentioned. Even before you mentioned who not to vote for…….same ones you wrote about ….these people are gone.

God Bless all who care.

My wife and I decided months ago not to vote for these guys.

Atascadero had a city attorney (Grigger Jones) yearsago who when he had an opportunity lied, forged my father’s signature, slandered myself and my brother, sold property belonging to the estate without consulting the beneficiaries, basically stole our father’s estate from underneath us, Grigger Jones is a coward who thinks nothing of stealing from a dead guy (my father) and he was part of your civic government.

We filed a complaint with Atascadero PD three years ago against Grigger for his forging (our own stepmother admitted such) our father’s signatirue. He was caught in a lie, he purjered himself in court in Hawaii. How many more corrupt people does Atascadero need.?

Scary stuff.

Same old cast of charactors year after year gonna give you the same results. Ignoramuses in A town cant wake up. Kelly O Malley, Fonzi , Field Marshall, General, President for Life, Mayor City Council.DaDa etc. Like Appointment to Supreme Court, for life. Residents of Atascadero are getting what they deserve. Give up Brennler