Mayor John Lazar expressed publicly at the most recent City Council meeting that the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) would not be pursuing any investigation regarding the recent inserts resemblant of campaign literature put in City utility bills when he countered Councilmember Amy Bublak’s motion for an outside investigation of recent issues that have defied public trust.
However, the FPPC has told TurlockCityNews.com that the case is currently under review.
“I don’t think there’s a need for an investigation,” said Lazar at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. “Investigation speaks to whether someone’s done something deliberate and illegal and I don’t see anything deliberate and illegal with an insert.”
The fliers lay out the Yes Committee’s argument in favor of the seven-year half-cent road tax with the web address to the Committee’s website; which is funded by the Citizens for Yes on Measure B.
City Manager Roy Wasden, approved the inserts that were sent in City utility bills, which were prepared by the Citizens for Yes on Measure B committee, minus FPPC required disclosure on campaign literature of, “Paid for by Citizens for Yes on Measure B.”
Of note, the impartial analysis in the Stanislaus County Voter Guide has been provided by City Attorney Phaedra Norton — who works alongside Wasden.
“We have a communication with the FPPC saying that there was nothing there, they weren't going to recommend any type of action with respect to any type of insert, it was informational,” said Lazar.
Because of the nature of the matter and the impending election where absentee voters are already casting their decisions, TurlockCityNews.com did a public records request to City Clerk Kellie Weaver for emails between the City and the Fair Political Practices Commission.
Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014, Weaver sent an email to Adrianne Korchmaros, of the Enforcement Division of the FPPC.
Roy Wasden asked that, per your request, I forward you the inserts that were provided on Measure A and Measure B. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or need to speak to the City Manager. I can be reached directly at (209) 668-5542, Ext. 1110.
City Clerk/Exec. Asst. to City Manager”
Korchmaros responded Oct. 1, 2014.
“Thanks, Kellie, for emailing the fliers. We won’t be pursuing the matter.
Both Lazar and at least one regional media company have reported that no action is being taken, however this has been found to be untrue.
For the sake of pubic interest, TurlockCityNews.com inquired with the FPPC to confirm that, in fact, no action would be taken by the FPPC on the matter.
In an emailed response to TurlockCityNews.com dated Oct. 14, 2014, Jay Wierenga, FPPC Communications Director, said the case is under review, but the FPPC is unable to make comment specifically about the case.
“The FPPC Enforcement division is reviewing this matter. As it’s under review, we can’t comment on ongoing cases. But it is under review,” wrote Wierenga.
City Council candidates, who are both for and against the road tax, chimed in regarding the matter.
"Additionally, in regards to City Manager Wasden, I’m troubled by his quote to Fox40: ‘I would have liked to have given it greater scrutiny. There were some time tables that didn’t allow for that. That’s where we’re at,’” said Council candidate Sergio Alvarado. “Exactly how much time did he have to review this before the literature was sent out? It couldn’t possibly have been just a few days before the bills were sent out, especially considering the flier’s contents were literally taken verbatim from the pro-Measure B website, which was in fact the website listed on the flier.”
“I am just as curious as any Turlocker would be concerning the legality of utility bill insertions that can be interpreted as supporting a specific political cause,” Matthew Jacob said regarding the matter.
Both candidates, however believe there should be some sort of accountability for those responsible for the inserts.
“As for how the City Manager and City Attorney should be held accountable, this should be referred to the FPPC and/or the court system who should determine the appropriate action, and they should be personally held liable if the City has a judgment against them," said Alvarado.
“From what I’ve heard, the FPPC has begun investigating already,” said Jacob. “There is a fundamental issue of accountability that seems to be overlooked. With just weeks before November 4th such decisions should be tabled to our new Mayor and Council.”
Bublak seeked this accountability at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, asking that Council delay their vote to approve the contracts of Wasden and Norton until an investigation had been completed. Bublak’s request was denied and Council approved the contracts on a 4-1 vote.
Mayoral Candidate Gary Soiseth expressed his surprise as he opened his recent City utility bill to find the insert, adding that he hopes the leaders in City Hall have followed the FPPC regulations.
“As I currently don't lead City Hall, I don’t have all the facts as to why management placed this in our bills, but I hope our leaders followed all FPPC campaign rules regarding political information,” said Soiseth.
Donald Babadalir, candidate for Council and Mike Brem, candidate for Mayor did not respond to TurlockCityNews.com’s request for comment.
As public trust and transparency continues to be an issue for community residents, there is no guarantee that the FPPC will conclude its review of the matter prior to the election.