It looks like the Civil Grand Jury will have to investigate an issue within the City of Turlock once more because of our government’s lack of transparency and what seems to be, at the very least, shady deals with special interests at the forefront of the City Council’s agenda.
Vice Mayor Kurt Spycher and Councilman Ted Howze have asked similar questions and have yet to find out some of the same answers TurlockCityNews.com is searching for.
In short, the City of Turlock loaned $90,000 to a ghost or fake organization it seems because the City of Turlock can’t answer the questions of who guaranteed the loan and if or when the City of Turlock is getting paid back.
To lose even more faith in our City government’s lack of accountability and oversight, the City of Turlock has a lawsuit against former City Manager Tim Kerr, alleging Kerr caused the Centennial Committee (which the City won’t say who that is) not to repay a portion of the loan (which the City won’t say who guaranteed the loan).
What follows is TurlockCityNews.com’s attempt to find the public tax payer’s $90,000. The City of Turlock’s unwillingness to provide public documents, answers, and sometimes contradictory answers has made this quite a story to tell. The Turlock Chamber of Commerce’s lack of transparency doesn’t help clarify what their role in the Turlock Centennial Committee was and if they are the ones that accepted the loan and ultimately are the ones to pay it back to the City.
The City of Turlock alleges in the cross complaint court document that former Turlock City Manager Tim Kerr did not ensure that a $90,000 loan made to the Turlock Centennial Committee was repaid to the City as required and directed but rather authorized the Committee to divert community donations to be used for purposes other than repayment of the City’s loan. Also, the document says that Kerr’s actions caused the Turlock Centennial Committee not to re-pay a portion of the loan to the City.
The issue of the Turlock Centennial loan being repaid has been brought to question since the City of Turlock’s cross complaint in the Kerr case being handled by outside legal counsel.
An email asking Turlock City Manager Roy Wasden and Turlock Chamber of Commerce CEO Sharon Silva was sent requesting information on who is the “Turlock Centennial Committee,” information about the committee, how the committee functioned, financial transactions, and the status of repayment by whoever this Turlock Centennial Committee is. The information requested specifically is listed below:
– I would like to request a copy of the minutes from the Centennial Committee Meetings and a list of the Centennial Committee Members.
– I would like a copy of the Centennial Committee’s budget, revenues and expenditures.
– Were the expenses voted on and reviewed at each meeting by the entire Centennial Committee? If not, who approved each expenditure and reviewed the Centennial Committee budget as the year-long celebration took place?
– Who was the loan made to (what account was the money from the city deposited in) and who was responsible for signing checks or paying out any expenses?
– Has the Council forgiven the loan or is it still open awaiting repayment?
– I would like a copy of the resolution and any documents of the agreement between the City of Turlock and whatever organization or person accepted the actual funds into what bank account.
The City of Turlock and its committee have been less than forthcoming. What follows is the information that has been made available.
The Turlock City Council adopted Resolution No. 2007-303 on December 11, 2007 in which it states that “the City Council of the City of Turlock intends to fund centennial activities through appropriations and a loan to the Centennial Committee.”
The resolution explains that the City would appropriate $90,000 to 156/490-6-10 “Centennial Committee Loan” from Fund 156 “Tourism City Share” reserve balance, to be paid back to the City by the Centennial Committee from community donations. This funding would provide $50,000 for the Turlock DVD and $40,000 toward the John Mitchell statue. Then another $30,000 to 152/471-7-4 “Public Arts Projects” from Fund 152 “Downtown Improvement Project” reserve balance to fund the remaining cost of $30,000 for the statue. Lastly the City appropriated $43,500 to 156/490-6-11 “Centennial Activities” from Fund 156 “Tourism City Share” reserve balance for the remaining Centennial budget.
On June 24, 2008, Resolution 2008-141 states that the City Council appointed Rob Santos, DVM of the Turlock Historical Society and Sharon Silva, CEO of the Turlock Chamber of Commerce as the Co-Chairs of the Turlock Centennial Committee.
Mayor John Lazar was the Turlock Centennial Committee Chair.
With this information, it appears the Turlock Centennial Committee was a function of the City of Turlock with fund transfers appropriated for specific Centennial expenses, led by Mayor John Lazar. There’s not an official “Turlock Centennial” entity that this information points to.
TurlockCityNews.com asked City Manager Roy Wasden follow up questions asking “Who was the loan made to (what account was the money from the city deposited in) and who was responsible for signing checks or paying out any expenses?”
City Manager Roy Wasden responded with “We have supplied all of the documents that we believe are responsive to your request.”
So this is the City Manager basically saying this is all the City of Turlock has and all the answers are included in the documents provided.
Turlock Chamber of Commerce Involvement
Now City Manager Roy Wasden’s information did not really clarify who the Turlock Centennial Committee was, but it is well known the Turlock Chamber of Commerce was heavily involved and that the CEO was a Co-Chair who ran most of the Centennial Committee Meetings.
The Chamber of Commerce did not respond in a timely manner to the request made by TurlockCityNews.com and after requesting information again, CEO Sharon Silva responded via email that was Cc to City Attorney Phaedra Norton, stating “Sorry, DJ I cannot respond to any questions from you or any media, this is in litigation until that is over I have no comments on anything; Besides what the City gave you is what they got from me and our account. Also, you could check with the co-chair Rob Santos, he signed everything I did.”
Dr. Rob Santos, DVM declined to comment or respond to Sharon Silva’s statement.
TurlockCityNews.com followed up with questions asking for confirmation as to if the Turlock Centennial Committee was involved in litigation. TurlockCityNews.com also asked for clarification in regards to Silva mentioning Co-Chair Rob Santos and City Attorney Phaedra Norton. A request was made in the email asking that the Turlock Chamber of Commerce CEO “Please forward this to the Turlock Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors as I’m inquiring if the Turlock Chamber of Commerce Board approved accepting Centennial Committee loan checks and ultimately accepted the responsibility of overseeing Turlock Centennial Committee expenditures & revenues.”
Chamber CEO Sharon Silva responded with “DJ I will not respond to you anymore, you take everything I say and turn it around to something negative. In fact the chamber had nothing more to do with the Centennial than Robs company, we were both Co-chairs. You can do as you always do when it comes to me and print what you like. Everyone gets it DJ, how you feel about me and anything I do you try to discredit. I do not treat you that way, but from now do not contact me about anything. As far a s minutes, you were on the committee, did you not keep them if they were taken? I don’t remember any minutes being taken it was not an a fiscal committee that I knew about.”
Dr. Rob Santos, DVM declined to comment or respond to Sharon Silva’s statement again.
This continues to beg the question, who is responsible for the Turlock Centennial Committee?
Fortunately TurlockCityNews.com already has the Turlock Centennial Committee minutes that were recorded by Turlock Chamber of Commerce employee Sharon Berry or Turlock Convention & Visitors Bureau employee Desa Basulto. This email obviously doesn’t say much and that the public should not expect much from the organization that oversaw most of the public Turlock Centennial Committee’s functions funded by a public loan that has yet to be repaid
There was one thing revealed through the first email response though, Turlock Chamber CEO Sharon Silva stated “Besides what the City gave you is what they got from me and our account.
A City memo from Finance Director Sheila Cumberland on November 24, 2008 explains that the City of Turlock loaned the Centennial Committee $90,000 and how the $90,000 loan was divided by appropriating $40,000 for the cost of the commemorative statue and $50,000 to produce the documentary DVD. The Chamber of Commerce will repay the loan with the proceeds from the sale, licensing and /or showing of the centennial documentary DVD. It is in the best interest of the City, that the Turlock Chamber of Commerce provides the Turlock Historical Society with some of the DVD’s to sell in the museum. In order to properly account for the DVD’s the Chamber will notify the City of the dollar value of the DVD’s provided to the Historical Society and the City will record that amount as a reduction of the Chamber loan balance and add the amount to the Historical Society loan. The Historical Society will pay the City directly from their proceeds.
This explains how the Chamber and Historical Society could make payments toward the loan with sales of the DVD but does not address who the “Centennial Committee” is while the other organizations are specifically named paying toward the Centennial Committee loan.
This led TurlockCityNews.com to make a Public Records Request for documentation showing an actual receipt or copy of the actual check showing who the loan was made out to.
A demand form dated 12/20/2007 was presented to the Ctiy of Turlock for the items indicated below for payment and shows “TO THE ORDER OF: Turlock Centennial, 115 S. Golden State Blvd., Turlock, CA 95380” with a total of $141,570 (Centennial Committee Loan $90,000, Centennial Commemorative Statue $30,000, Centennial Activities/50% of budgeted amount $21,750).
115 S. Golden State Blvd. is the address for the Turlock Chamber of Commerce.
Who Was The $90,000 Loan Made To, Who Guaranteed the Loan?
After further questioning, City Manager Roy Wasden stated in an email, “The Centennial Committee may have been enacted as a committee that was a part of the City and that this is similar to one city department working with another.”
Turlock Chamber of Commerce CEO Sharon Silva stated in an email that the City got their information from her and the Chamber account.
“Besides what the City gave you is what they got from me and our account,” said Chamber CEO Sharon Silva.
Even more complicated is that City Manager Roy Wasden’s statement suggesting an inner-city function seems to contradict the City of Turlock’s own pending court case alleging that former Turlock City Manager Tim Kerr did not ensure that a $90,000 loan made to the Turlock Centennial Committee was repaid to the City as required and directed but rather authorized the Committee to divert community donations to be used for purposes other than repayment of the City’s loan. Also, the document says that Kerr’s actions caused the Turlock Centennial Committee not to re-pay a portion of the loan to the City.
Public Request for Answers at Council Meeting
TurlockCityNews.com owner David (DJ) Fransen addressed these concerns of fact finding, transparency, and accountability during the Public Comment portion of the Turlock City Council Meeting Agenda on June 8, 2010.
Fransen asked the Turlock City Council if they could please look into a loan for $90,000, look toward a repayment, if they could get him the answer of who the Turlock Centennial Committee, and for a follow up.
During the Council Items for Future Consideration portion of the agenda, Councilman Howze asked that the Council agendize a discussion of the Centennial Committee, the outstanding loans, and make a decision if Council was going to forgive it or just let it hang in limbo forever; he thought there was some valid concerns raised and that Council should come up with a public answer.
Mayor John Lazar asked City Attorney Phaedra Norton if issues are subject of a lawsuit, is that appropriate.
City Attorney Norton said that it would be problematic due to the fact that the City is in pending litigation but that there could be some information that would not jeopardize the City’s litigation. Norton went on to clarify that the law suit includes alleging the former City Manager Tim Kerr failed to ensure the repayment of the $90,000 loan.
Councilwoman Mary Jackson asked that City Council and Staff be conservative and cautious when discussing this lawsuit.
The City Attorney and City Manager will meet and discuss accepting Councilman Ted Howze’s request to publically clarify the loan and concerns.
The points must be reiterated here that the City of Turlock included a reference to the Turlock Centennial Committee loan in a lawsuit but doesn’t know much about the loan in general, let alone the details, and City Manager Roy Wasden has already commented plenty on the loan details he admits he is still researching. City Attorney Phaedra Norton had been emailed copies of all communication by City Manager Roy Wasden as he continued to respond.