music in the park san jose

The district attorney is investigating the San Juan Bautista
City Council for possible Brown Act violations after one council
member alleged that his two of his peers and a city employee took a
taxpayer-financed trip to Seattle without council
authorization.
Hollister – The district attorney is investigating the San Juan Bautista City Council for possible Brown Act violations after one council member alleged that his two of his peers and a city employee took a taxpayer-financed trip to Seattle without council authorization.

District Attorney John Sarsfield said a tip from San Juan Bautista City Councilman Chuck Geiger piqued his interest in the matter and that “it appeared to be a credible report.”

Geiger went to Sarsfield after hearing from “someone connected with the city” that two city council members and San Juan Bautista consultant Mark Davis used unauthorized public funds to go to Seattle to meet with officials Economic Development Agency last month to discuss a suspended $3.8 million grant to overhaul the city’s water system. Geiger believes two council members accompanied Davis on the trip. Mayor Dan Reed could not be reached for comment and Councilmembers Arturo Medina and Priscilla Hill did not return calls on Tuesday.

Sarsfield could not discuss the specifics of the investigation or what part of the Brown Act might have been violated. The Brown Act, signed into law in 1953, requires California government agencies to conduct business in public. Exceptions to the act include discussions of outstanding lawsuits, contractual negotiations and personnel actions.

“We take Brown Act violations very seriously – we’re hoping there haven’t been any violations,” Sarsfield said. “But the goal here is to encourage them to get back into compliance on their own.”

Sarsfield said he hopes to finish his investigation in the next few weeks.

Geiger believes the trip was made in order to get a firm answer on what is going to happen with the water grant, but was frustrated because he said council members chose to keep the trip a secret.

“I think they wanted to go up there and go one-on-one with the EDA,” Geiger said. “If they went up to Seattle, that means they made a decision without my knowledge and now they aren’t telling the public.”

Geiger said that if the council wanted to go to Seattle, they should have made it public, put it on the agenda and voted on it.

Geiger doesn’t think the trip to Seattle was part of any kind of backroom deal, but is concerned that the council was making decisions to spend money without telling the public – as required by the Brown Act.

He asked Davis and other council members if the trip had taken place, but all refused to answer, Geiger said.

On Tuesday, Davis refused to comment on whether or not he went to Seattle.

“I make it a policy not to talk to newspapers,” he said.

San Juan and the water district are co-grantees of a $3.8 million federal grant intended to repair the city’s dilapidated water system. However, tension between the city and the San Benito County Water District has been high over the past several months after water board President John Tobias sent the federal government a letter stating San Juan was not abiding by the terms of the grant.

San Juan city leaders spent months negotiating a contract to administer the grant with water district board members in the hopes of securing another $3.1 million in loans and grants from the district to help pay for the project, but never reached an agreement.

The negotiations fell apart in July when the water district sent the city a letter asking for more control over the project because of the city’s shaky financial situation and what district officials say is a history of mismanagement.

In October, the lines of communication were opened between city and water board officials, and both agencies said they were trying to work together toward a resolution. However, San Juan officials have said they’re still looking at moving forward on the infrastructure project without the water district’s financial backing.

Geiger refused to identify his source on the trip to Seattle, but said he would do so if ever asked by a grand jury. Sarsfield said he would not take the matter to a grand jury. If Sarsfield can prove the city violated the Brown Act, the council would have to undo the damage by making all records of their activity in the matter public, Sarsfield said.

City Manager Jennifer Coile, who announced her resignation last week after only six months on the job, did not return phone calls on Tuesday but she did respond to an e-mail and referred all questions to the city’s attorney, who is out of town.

Brett Rowland covers education for the Free Lance. He can be reached at 831-637-5566 ext. 330 or [email protected].

Previous articleBack with the ‘Balers
Next articleSan Benito Out-Grapples Salinas
A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here