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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Mr. Holly

I wish that Paul Harvey was still around so that he could tell us the rest of the story because there is much more to tell.


I’ve followed this story and many others surrounding development for the last 10 years. I thought I knew the name of every player in town. I have never heard of Paul Harvey, who is he?


Look up “So God Made A Farmer” on youtube; then you’ll remember.


Maybe there was a “Fonzi” scheme afoot.


I see nothing wrong with saying the emperor has no clothes on, which is what Mr. Brennler did.

It is easy to just go along to get along, it is harder to stand by ones self and say it is wrong.

I am so sick and tired of people saying ‘we can’t” or “it won’t change anything” those are cop outs. Get involved and if you see something is wrong say it, sometimes it takes awhile for the truth to come out.

Today no body wants to get involved,’ its is someone else’s problem” until it happens to them. Just think if the police had actually looked into this and done their job, how many people might not have lost all their money.

I personally think more heads should be rolling on this incident,it took more than Gearhart to screw these people over, and they need to be charged with wrong doing also.


If I could give you a +100 I would!


There are no issues with the fact that he voiced his concerns in 2007 or after. He appears to have also taken a strong personal interest in following this through the trial. He should be commended for that as well. The issue is the ” look at what I did” article. Seems pretty self serving to me.


As the saying goes: It isn’t bragging if its true!


Mike took a beating from the City management and Council for calling this out. He should be very proud of his moral compass, and yes, he deserves a BIG pat on the back for standing tall to his convictions regarding this. Gearhardt was robbing the people of this City of fees and rules others were held too and he did this with the assistance of O’Malley, Clay, Fonzi, McKinney, etc. Thank you, Mike for continuing this campaign. PLEASE, run again!


I always find Mr. Brennler very interesting when he’s on Dave Congalton’s show.

I appreciate the fact that there are those like Mr. Brennler, and Karen Velie and her staff, who won’t take no for an answer when they know they’re on to something. While this is one of the most significant stories other ‘news’ sources have chosen to downplay or even ignore, it wasn’t the first and certainly will not be the last.

If it were left up to the Trib we would still be in the dark about many things which have impacted our communities significantly. I don’t trust them, as my news source. Their blatant, slanted, biased reporting is shameful.


Who really needs to apologize is the Tribune. A paper so wholly worthless that it has been worse than nothing time and time again.


Agreed. The Tribune actually facilitated Gearhart’s ability to swindle folks.


I won’t be holding my breath that any of the current council members that are still in their positions will be apologizing. I’m guessing they will all develop amnesia. Gearhart’s deeds were widely known to just us common folk in town. People do talk – even people who work in local title companies. This is something though to remember come election time all voting citizens of Atascadero! It’s time for some new blood in town. No more members of the good ol’ boys club please!


Maybe some of them will be indicted. I sure that Gearhart spilled his guts in order to get a lighter sentence.


He must be getting ready to run for office again. Why else the “told ya” and “I’m smarter and more honest than they are” piece. This wasn’t an “opinion piece” but a self promoting piece.


And if he is? The residents of Atascadero would benefit from someone who tells it like it is, and wants to do the right thing for the citizens they represent.

Something tells me Mr Brennler and AG’s Mayor Hill have a lot of good things in common.


Such as? I cannot recall one thing your mayor has done to distinguish himself over his predecessor, except lay low and never speak the media without being spoonfed his positions. Just sayin’.


If you are talking about AG, one thing the new mayor is doing different is he is not taking kickbacks from Wallace and then allowing Wallace to steal money from the ratepayers.


Tim Carmel is gone.

The budget was discussed and debated in broad daylight, bringing to light AG’s $17+ million in unfunded pension liabilities.

Mike Seitz is no longer counsel for the San Dist.

The public now knows more about the litigation the San Dist is involved in, and Hill is leading the charge for settling, a 180* turn around from Ferrara’s waste of ratepayer $$.

He’s the only one who votes against OCSD billing the San Dist $22,000 for something AG charges $12,000 for.

Even some of Tony’s staunchest supporters are admitting Hill is doing a great job, and when it comes down to it that’s what really matters…just saying’.


This is not the forum for it. If he is running he should declare and pay for his “political ads.” Again, this was not an “opinion piece,” but a self promotion bit of propaganda. I happen to agree with his position about the Gearhart mess, just not his self promotion.


It’s obvious that you have a bone to pick with Mr Brennler, why don’t you do a opinion piece? You can set the “record” straight.

Kevin Rice

This is ABSOLUTELY the forum for it. A forum of community voices and debate. In fact, it’s a far more honest and rightful forum than paid ads.


Ad hominem attacks occur when a person trying to make a point attempts to do so by attacking their opponent. This is the hallmark of a logical fallacy.

Attacking a person’s character in an attempt to refute or disprove what they said by attacking their character makes the point you were trying to make invalid.


Man A: My wife is the best governor this state has ever had.

Man B: Your wife is ugly.


Censorship at it’s finest. Insure that unpopular words are not visible.


enough down votes and your comment disappears, democratic censoring , if someone wants to read and respond ^ (click here to view)


LOL @ mbbizpro, the people voted 10/56 and your comment is hidden.

If you were being censored we would not know, because your comments would not be seen at all.

Kevin Rice



Being the ACLU groupie that I am, I have to agree with you.


As I’ve posted here before, I’ve never met Mr. Brennler but years ago, I really didn’t care for him as mayor. I thought “Who does this new guy think he is? Why can’t he just go along with the old-timers when things have (seemingly) been going pretty well? What’s Brennler trying to do in A-town?”

Then I gradually realized that Mr. Brennler–as a newcomer to city politics–was far more objective and ethical than O’Malley, Fonzi or Clay. Mr. Brennler wasn’t part of the “good ol’ boys club” that’s so pervasive in Atascadero and Paso Robles politics. Mr. Brennler was pulling back the curtain on so many issues and the established council members, city manager, and city staffers didn’t like it one bit.

So, my hat’s off to you Mr. Brennler. You spoke the truth years ago and never wavered. And shame, shame on O’Malley and the others who tried so hard to defend their beloved and now disgraced Citizen of the Year, Kelly “I’m-a-felon-now” Gearhart. Only now are the “good ol’ boys” of A-town spouting off about what a jerk Gearhart is/was.

Too little, too late. Brennler was speaking up for years; O’Malley and the others just refused to listen.


I didn’t think you could go this small, Mike, I see that I was wrong.


If going “small” means telling the truth, then yes–you were wrong.


Most people can’t handle the truth. That is why we are in the current state of affairs.


You were expecting the people that criticized him to speak up and admit they were wrong all along? Let the man have his soap box and put names to the critics that publicly called him out on this.

This way, we’re all reminded of what losers the Trib, A-town good-ol-boys, etc. are.