Who has egg on their face now?
July 13, 2015
OPINION By MIKE BRENNLER
On June 12, 2007 the following editorial excerpt was printed in the San Luis Obispo Tribune:
“Gearhart was Unfairly Targeted. Atascadero Mayor Pro Tem Mike Brennler has a little egg on his face following his premature request to have the police chief look into what he believed to be fraudulent activity by the city’s most prolific builder, Kelly Gearhart.”
Fast forward to July 2, 2015 and the following excerpt that was printed on Cal Coast News:
“Gearhart Sentenced, Cuffed, Headed to Prison. Notorious North County developer Kelly Gearhart was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison Thursday morning by U.S. District Court Judge Otis Wright II in Los Angeles.”
For the many victims who were swindled, this has been a long, arduous process and it’s true that the wheels of justice often grind slowly.
In June and July, I attended Kelly Gearhart’s trial in Los Angeles where I listened as many victims gave their impact statements to the Honorable Judge Otis Wright II.
Many of the victims were elderly and appeared in frail health. Their stories of having been swindled and losing their families life savings were heart wrenching and it made me realize how important it was for me to have sounded the warning in 2007, during my first year on the city council.
I did what I knew to be ethical and hoped that by exposing the dishonesty that permeated from certain segments of my community, I could stop further financial damage to others.
Much of what led to my efforts was prompted by good, principled line level employees who knew of the improprieties that existed between Gearhart and certain government officials. These employees knew of wrongdoing and sought my assistance in hopes of reform.
I investigated, learning that certain development impact fees were not paid to the city, certain residential building were allowed to be occupied without having received final inspections and even more disturbing, that significant infrastructure, such as a bridge over the railway, had not received its final inspection.
My efforts to expose Gearhart were met by stiff opposition from certain council members, specifically Tom O’Malley and Jerry Clay, who went so far as to ask why I was “picking on Kelly” and the city manager (Wade McKinney).
Also among my opposition were Roberta Fonzi and her husband Al Fonzi, who helped spearhead a recall effort following my election. It is noteworthy that Roberta Fonzi was on the Atascadero Planning Commission and approved the vast majority of Gearhart’s projects.
The Fonzi’s even went so far as to suggest that I could make the recall go away if I made a public apology to Gearhart. Though it would have been easy and politically expedient to acquiesce to such a suggestion, I simply don’t ride that way and it would be contrary to the oath of office.
Personally, there is no real consolation in knowing that Gearhart is off to prison, primarily because I recognize the devastation he caused to so many, in some cases with the complicity of the local power brokers.
To those people and entities that protected and defended Gearhart, I suggest that if any apology is warranted, it would be an apology to the hundreds of victims, many of whom were elderly and lost their savings and health.
It’s never the wrong time to do the right thing!
Mike Brennler is a retired police officer and the former mayor of Atascadero.
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