As the Nov. 4 election quickly approaches, Turlock voters will be deciding whether or not to approve two measures that will greatly affect the City of Turlock.
Voters will vote on Measure A, a move toward district based elections to elect City Councilmembers, and Measure B, a half-cent sales tax with revenues going toward Turlock roads.
In June, the Turlock City Council unanimously voted to place Measure A on the November ballot. Turlock voters currently elect their councilmembers at-large; councilmembers can live in any part of the city, and Turlockers vote in each councilmember. However, due to a threatened lawsuit, Turlock will be divided into four equally-sized districts from which councilmembers would be elected if the measure is passed.
At the same meeting, the Turlock City Council voted, on a 4-1 majority, to place the road tax on the November ballot. If approved, Measure B would implement a citywide half-cent sales tax with 100 percent of revenues going toward Turlock roads. The measure is estimated to raise $5.6 million each year, or approximately $39.6 million over the seven-year life of the tax.
Some Turlockers may have noticed inserts with information on Measure A and B in their September utility bills. However, while these both supply factual information about each measure, the two are not alike.
The insert with information on Measure B supplies information that is nearly, if not exactly, word for word from FixTurlockRoads.com — the website for the “Citizens for Yes on Measure B,” a committee supporting the road tax.
FixTurlockRoads.com is the only website provided on the insert, although the website is a website in support of Measure B.
“[Local governments] are not allowed to send out any communication that unambiguously urges a particular result in an election,” said Brian Hildreth, Attorney at Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk, LLP.
Hildreth added that any communication can appear to be in support of a measure, but that is different from unambiguously urging a result.
The insert is also labeled with a large logo that is very similar to the logo used by FixTurlockRoads.com and Citzens for Yes on Measure B; the only small change to the logo is “Yes On” is replaced with “Measure” on the insert.
According to Turlock City Manager Roy Wasden, the Measure B inserts were not prepared by City of Turlock, but instead by the Citizens for Yes on Measure B.
“The measure B insert was not prepared by City Staff,” said Wasden. “The permission to use the utility insert was given by me with the understanding that the insert could only educate….My understanding is the Citizens Committee for Yes on Measure B prepared the Measure B insert.”
Jim Theis, head of the Steering Committee for Citizens for Yes on Measure B, confirmed that the committee prepared the insert.
Although being prepared by a group supporting the road tax, Wasden said both the inserts only give factual information on both measures.
“Both items were educational and detailed what each of the proposed measures do,” said Wasden.
While, as Wasden claims, both are educational, the insert with information about Measure A appears to be much more detailed than the insert for Measure B. The Measure A insert details the importance of the measure and what happens if voters vote yes or no on the measure; the Measure B insert only lists four points, which are all from FixTurlockRoads.com.
The Measure A insert also clearly cites the City of Turlock and California Institute for Local Government, which is a part of the League of California Cities, as the sources for the information, while the Measure B insert only cites FixTurlockRoads.com. The Institute for Local Government prepared the Measure A insert with City staff, according to Wasden.
Wasden said that the City of Turlock did not prepare the Measure B insert, but was approved by him prior to being inserted.
“The public official that approved the communication can be held personally liable to reimburse the government for the expense of the communication,” said Hildreth.
Councilmember Steven Nascimento, who is also on the Steering Committee for Citizens for Yes on Measure B, said that he did not directly communicate with Wasden regarding the inserts.
Nascimento is joined on the committee by fellow Councilmember Forrest White and Mayor John Lazar, who are both on the Advising Committee for Citizens for Yes on Measure B.
Typically, inserts contain City material and are paid for by the City of Turlock, such as public meeting announcements. However, Wasden said the Measure A and B inserts were not paid for by the City.
“Up to three utility bill inserts can be placed in the monthly utility bills at no cost to the City,” said Wasden. “There were two utility bill inserts placed in the September utility bills related to Measure A, District Elections and Measure B, 1/2 cent sales tax for road repair.”
According to the Fair Political Practices Commission, the mass mailing can be a violation if “any of the costs of distribution are paid for with public moneys, or if public funds are not used for the actual distribution, in excess of $50 in public moneys is used to design, produce, or print the item and the design, production, or printing is done with the intent of sending the item other than as permitted by Regulation 18901.”
Theis also said that the Measure B insert was purely informational, which is why “Paid for by” was not included on the insert, although it was prepared by the Citizens for Yes on Measure B and it directed people to the vote yes website.
“The ‘paid for by’ language was not included because the piece was strictly informational and part of a larger mailing,” said Theis.
However, public money does not only mean that it is directly funded by the City, but that there is also a “fair market value” to the mailers, said Hildreth.
“There’s still a fair market value to that communication,” said Hildreth. “What would it cost the opponent of Measure B to send out a mailer opposing it?”
TurlockCityNews.com is Turlock’s number one news source and the leader in providing election coverage. We will have more candidate information and campaign coverage leading up to the Nov. 4 election.
TAKE THE TURLOCK MAYOR, COUNCIL AND MEASURE B POLL