Who has egg on their face now?

July 13, 2015


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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  1. dmarks says:

    Mike, I agree with you 100%. I truly admire your passion for and commitment to Atascadero. I was proud to have worked with you. You were an outstanding mayor and council member and I wish you could have continued on to clean up what would ultimately be a disgraceful shambles of a city council. Sadly, Atascadero will continue to be left in the dust by more progressive local cities. When I first moved to Atascadero, Paso was a second-rate dump of a town with a population half that of Atascadero. However, as Paso became more progressive and politically moderate it surpassed Atascadero economically, socially and in population.

    All the best to you and your family and I raise my glass in your honour.

    (5) 5 Total Votes - 5 up - 0 down
  2. SuperDave says:

    The Tribune covered for the crook because he was buying ads. The scum bags know to be a “loyal” supporter of the local paper of record, and you’ll get very valuable protection form the Editor on down. Keep that in mind when “Too good to be true” ads pop up in the Tribune.

    (16) 16 Total Votes - 16 up - 0 down
  3. Ugluk says:

    Good on you, Mike!
    Glad Gearhart’s “Fonzi” scheme has been exposed and shut down.
    As for the Tribune…ah, who really cares about them anyway.

    (25) 25 Total Votes - 25 up - 0 down
  4. bsdetective007 says:

    Hooray #MikeBrennler, the only man with guts to stand up to #good’OleBoysClub. Let’s shove it under the carpet till election is over. Heard that time and time again. Atascadero city council are another #BellCalifornia. Tom O’Mally and his Martini lunches. To have change you have to make change, let’s do it! New city council.

    (22) 22 Total Votes - 22 up - 0 down
    • SLOBIRD says:

      I was at the Saturday Concert in the Park and listened to a group sitting next to me about Tom O’Malley and his selection of Heather Moreno and that the decision has been made who to support. Based on the conversation I was listening to, this group “assists” with decisions being made in the City about who to “appoint”, “elect” and “anoint” as our leaders. It was quite an interested very public conversation as the gentleman in the wheelchair was very vocal about staying the course. I say “anoint” because all your have to do is look at Tom O’Malley’s Council picture and he looks like the “king”. I have heard so many negative comments about this man but everyone always say but he loves Atascadero so we look the other way, REALLY! At least he won’t be mayor after this term.

      (11) 11 Total Votes - 11 up - 0 down
  5. ratherbefishing says:

    Good on you Mike. Too bad there aren’t more like you in office

    (29) 33 Total Votes - 31 up - 2 down
  6. Cindy says:

    Thank You Mike,

    I would love to see you run again. I think your experience would be different this time around. I recall all the disrespect (including some of the fabrications launched at your character) while you were on the council and then Mayor. You always took the high road.

    Thank You for stepping up when you did. Those were difficult times, I hope you’ll give us all another try and run again,

    (28) 40 Total Votes - 34 up - 6 down
  7. fishing village says:

    The Central Coast has had a stomach full of ‘good ole boy’ developers. They don’t have to pay developer fees, or parking in lieu fees! They don’t have to follow the planning commission instructions. It is time for cleaning up this corruption all over the County!

    (41) 45 Total Votes - 43 up - 2 down

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