Faithful followers of my columns (all three of you) might recall my March 29 piece questioning whether City Manager Palacios or other members of staff assisted in writing columns for their supportive city council members defending actions of the local government, or rebutting its critics. In hopes of dispelling such suspicions, the column closed with a request that Palacios issue a statement swearing that no such behind-the-scenes assistance has ever been provided.
Now, several weeks later, I'd like to share the response I've received from the city manager. I'd also like to share the fortune I won in the last Mega Millions drawing, but I got squat with that enterprise, too. Hmmm ... maybe it's just taking a long time to write because he has members of the council majority helping him to get the statement's punctuation just right.
I've had no better luck getting a response from City Attorney Alan Smith to my April 11 email requesting a legal opinion regarding comments by Councilman Daniel Dodge during oral communications at the April 10 council meeting. The email described the councilman's actions as:
"In the council portion of that item, Councilman Dodge said: 'I would also like to encourage the young people in our audience — those who will be 18 by November: You can sign up to register to vote early. You do not have to wait till you're 18. You can sign up early so you'll be able to participate in helping California reelect Barack Obama.' Councilman Dodge then said: 'Oh, wait — that's a political plug, so I shouldn't be doing that kind of stuff.' Unfortunately, all that proves is that Councilman Dodge knew what he was doing was wrong, and did it anyway."
Since it's not allowed to place campaign signs or participate in other partisan activities on public property like the Plaza or school grounds, I thought Dodge's campaign plug on Community TV in the council chamber deserved a rebuke of some sort. After all, councilman and city hall critic Emilio Martinez was reprimanded last year under the short-lived Council Code of Ethics based on undocumented allegations from a political foe, and Dodge's actions are on tape. But after the code was used to blast Martinez, it was tossed aside like an emptied gun.
Though I disagree with Dodge's act of using council time for a partisan political plug, I continue to support his current efforts towards annexing the Sakata-Kett property between West Beach Street and Riverside Drive for potential job and revenue development. That's because unlike the Manabe-Ow property around Watsonville Slough, Sakata-Kett wouldn't require millions of dollars for a bridge over the slough and other needed infrastructure improvements to make it attractive to developers. However, I'm puzzled why the city manager still appears fully committed to Manabe-Ow.
That commitment was demonstrated by the inclusion of an "Our Town" city newsletter carrying a "Manabe-Ow Business Park Progress Report" in my April city utility bill. It listed plans being drawn for the slough bridge, Loma Vista Road extension, and other improvements needed to make the site marketable. That left me with two questions:
First: Isn't it about time Dodge and Palacios sat down and decided which project should receive the focus of city planning and public revenues? It seems if Sakata-Kett is acquired, the less easily developable Manabe-Ow would be pushed beyond the back burner and dropped behind the stove, leaving us with a bridge to nowhere and other remnants of fiscal waste. Plus, by the newsletter's own estimates, Manabe-Ow benefits could be 25 to 30 years away, while Sakata-Kett has the potential for fast-track returns.
Second: With the loss of RDA funding, what would be the source for the millions of dollars needed for Manabe-Ow improvements? Then I noticed the second enclosure in my utility bill ... a notice for a June 12 hearing to consider hikes for city utility services. The proposed residential utility rate increases for water, trash and sewer over the next five years appear to range roughly from 33 to 40 percent. Ouch!
Passage of those increases only require city council approval, and the city manager's friendly relationship with the council majority lends that possibility a certain in-the-bag quality. So does that mean local residents might be shelling out millions of dollars to improve the property of a developer with close ties to the local government?
Darn ... it seems like there's never a Code of Ethics around when you need one.
Steve Bankhead is a Watsonville resident and small-business owner. He is a longtime contributor to the Register-Pajaronian. The opinions of columnists are not necessarily those of the Register-Pajaronian.
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