A Grand Jury investigation on Councilwoman Mary Jackson is being conducted because of an allegation that Jackson is guilty of Common Law Conflict of Interest as her City Attorney Phaedra Norton advised her on.
The Turlock City Council voted unanimously to waive their attorney-client privilege so the county Grand Jury could question City Attorney Phaedra Norton on the matter concerning Councilwoman Jackson’s possible conflict of interest while voting on Vintage Lounge issues. The City Council also approved to release two confidential memos as public record as to cooperate with a Grand Jury investigation.
The account of what happened is posted below so people may be provided with a background if they had not read about this situation before.
TurlockCityNews.com has received some comments suggesting that Turlock City Attorney Phaedra Norton was hiding something because one of the memos released revealed just two pages out of a four page memo. For clarification, we have included the resolution that Council made that only asked for those specific pages of the memo as a direct submission to a request. All such comments will now not be approved and removed from previous articles.
The memos referenced in the Council’s resolution have been attached, along with findings from the California FPPC (Fair Political Practices Commission) and the Law Offices of Olson, Hagel & Fishburn LLP.
Councilwoman Jackson Investigated, City Attorney’s Honesty Questioned – Confidential Memos Released
Wednesday, 04 February 2009
A request has been received by an investigative body to produce confidential memos dated December 3, 2008 and January 8, 2009 in regards to a possible conflict of interest involving Councilwoman Mary Jackson.
The Special Turlock City Council Meeting was called with 24 hour notice because City Attorney Phaedra Norton had an appointment with the investigative body this week and needed Council’s decision to provide confidential information.
City Attorney Phaedra Norton had the intent of asserting the attorney-client privilege unless the Turlock City Council approved to waive their attorney-client privilege and consent to the disclosure of the documents.
The Turlock City Council voted unanimously consenting to disclosure and waiving the Attorney Client-Privilege/Confidentiality and Public Records Act Exemption regarding memoranda from the City Attorney dated December 3, 2008 and January 8, 2009.
Once the Turlock City Council voted, discussion revealing some of the content and the announcement an investigation concerning the memos took place.
The memos will be officially released on Wednesday but it was stated the memos included the City Attorney’s advice and conclusion of a preliminary investigation on a possible conflict of interest involving Councilwoman Mary Jackson and Axel Gomez who legally represented the Vintage Lounge piano bar owner that had an approval and appeal come before the Turlock City Council.
It has been argued without proof that Axel Gomez was Mary Jackson’s campaign manager, and even though he recused himself from the agenda items involving the Vintage Lounge, Councilwoman Mary Jackson should have stepped down due to possible common law conflict of interest.
None of the Council Members or the City Attorney officially stated who the investigative body was but it has been reported that it is the county’s civil grand jury.
Despite the quick vote to cooperate and assist with the investigation being performed, the meeting lasted about 27 minutes as the City Attorney and Council Members were getting drilled with questions from each other and the public about how this confidential content was leaked to the Turlock Journal more than two weeks ago.
Councilwoman Jackson started off questioning City Attorney Phaedra Norton to prove that there were contradictory recollections of conversations. The he said, she said highlight was when Norton said that Jackson referred to Axel Gomez as her campaign manager. Councilwoman Jackson has publicly denied this accusation and has stated that she didn’t have a campaign manager. No written documents or other forms of proof have backed up Norton’s accusation.
A timeline of events concerning who got the confidential memo and when was established.
Councilwoman Mary Jackson proved that she received a confidential memo dated December 3, 2008. Jackson asked that the memo be sent to the rest of the City Council and that it was on December 9, 2008 at 9:23am. The City Manager also received a copy of the memo.
Jackson questioned how a private citizen wrote a letter to the editor to the Turlock Journal regarding the memo less than 24 hours later on December 10, 2008.
Residents of Turlock did show up and speak out about this situation. Most of the dialogue involved inquiring how the information got leaked, the necessity of calling a Special Meeting, and the investigation process.
“I am very, very uncomfortable with what I’ve seen transpire,” said Turlock Planning Commissioner Soraya Fregosi. “I think the thing that concerns me the most, frankly, is the apparent lack of ability of people to really work together and come to some agreement as to how things will be conducted.”
Though the Special Meeting included great dialogue, Councilman Ted Howze did try to focus on what was on the agenda. Howze stated that the Council is not an investigative body and that they are not going to try a Councilmate nor are they going to try the City Attorney, that’s not their job. “We’ve been asked as a Council if we are going to participate or provide documentation to an investigative body,” said Howze.
Michael Weston asked Council Members, though they are not obligated, if they would state whether or not they leaked the information the Turlock Journal published.
All of the Council Members stated that they did not leak the information.
Councilwoman Mary Jackson stated her concerns with the Turlock City Council’s perception about doing public business in public while questioning how the public would’ve known about the Special Meeting besides the notice posted on the outside wall of City Hall.
Jackson said “We have a lot of serious issues in this community to discuss; the budget, bringing in new jobs to the economy… These are the issues I think we need to deal with, not this dirty laundry or a witch hunt.”
Councilwoman Jackson made a final statement requesting that Council vote to approve recordings of closed session meetings (a request Councilman Howze made in late 2007/early 2008) and a process requiring an emergency to call a Special Meeting.