Watsonville is a charter city, meaning that the governing system is defined by its own charter rather than, for example, state laws. Like in most charter cities, the citizens are supposed to be in charge. They elect council members to represent their best interest and empower them to hire a city manager to manage the city’s daily activities.
The 2011-2012 Grand Jury Report referenced in the Register Pajaronian’s June 30 article “Grand Jury again blasts Watsonville,” stated: “The repeated efforts required to get basic information and the surprising disparity between information asked for, initially provided, and ultimately discovered, painted a disturbing picture.” This statement accurately describes what I found out soon after being elected to the city council. I also found that asking questions would result in retaliation.
I have been a licensed private investigator since 1994. I was trained by insurance companies who I had worked for as a claims representative since 1978. I have 34 years of investigative experience. You can well imagine that I was “disturbed” when I asked what I deemed simple questions from members of our city staff and received evasive responses or sometimes outright lies.
During a city council meeting in 2010 I asked for a status of the fire ladder truck (1999 KME ladder truck #4471) for which the city had issued a $225,000 check back in April 2008. Fire Chief Mark Bisbee explained that the truck was waiting in line for refurbishments to be completed at a facility. Nothing was mentioned about the “complexity of the purchase” the reason now being given for the almost three-year period that passed from the time we issued the check to the time we took possession of the fire truck.
Months later when I followed up with an email to Fire Chief Bisbee and City Manager Carlos Palacios asking for the whereabouts of the fire truck, I received an email from Bisbee stating that the fire truck was at Fire Trucks Plus in Rancho Cucamonga undergoing refurbishments. I knew that was not a fact. What was a fact was that the fire truck was still owned by the city of Pasadena and was not undergoing refurbishments (it never has, according to my sources) but rather was sitting at a Pasadena Fire station gathering dust. I was told by Pasadena Fire Battalion Chief Scott Dandridge that the city of Pasadena had no obligation to sell the fire truck to the city of Watsonville, that the fire truck had not been refurbished, and that it had some mechanical problems. Did Bisbee and Palacios lie about the whereabouts of the fire truck?
According to invoices produced by the city, the city paid $85,000 for the fire truck, $117,000 for “refurbishments,” and $23,000 for training, lettering, and taxes. I have asked for, and still have not been provided, with the parts and labor costs for the $117,000 of refurbishments claimed to have been completed. Why?
The fire truck has incurred costs for repairs as it has/had extensive electrical and mechanical problems preventing it from going into service. A few months ago I began asking for the total costs of repairs completed to date. I have only received evasive answers from Chief Bisbee, but still have not been provided the total cost of repairs. Why?
The Grand Jury’s report regarding the $18,000 “petty cash” used to pay Bandas at the 2011 Strawberry Festival is the result of me catching the expenditure during a city council meeting. Expenditure Reports are a list of checks made payable from city coffers to people/businesses providing services to the city. This report is provided to each city council member for their approval to make payments. We approve from around $2 million-3 million dollars of expenditures/payments at almost every city council meeting. I was astounded, soon after being elected, when we were handed the Expenditure Report by the city clerk just a few minutes after commencement of city council meetings. It was impossible to review the report which usually consists of 25 pages, so soon after being elected I made a request, well many requests, before Palacios and City Clerk Flores finally gave in and began providing the report a few days before Tuesday’s city council meetings. But around six months ago we began receiving them late in the afternoon on Monday. Because of this, council member Nancy Bilicich and I have been voting “no” on the request for approval of the expenditures. Why the resistance providing this very important report?
When an entity, a company and/or an individual in charge of a corporation attempts to conceal information it is because they are incompetent and/or are committing a wrong doing. That is standard knowledge in the investigative industry. This is the second year in a row whereupon the Grand Jury, an investigative body, has found that our city is seriously lacking transparency.
As so quoted from The Carter Center, “Access to information is the cornerstone to good governance … Democracy depends on a knowledgeable citizenry whose access to a range of information enables them to participate more fully in public life … Inadequate access to public information allows corruption to flourish.”
Emilio Martinez is a Watsonville City Councilman.
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