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imageThe Monterey County Republican Party provided a little history lesson this week, courtesy of former Alaska Gov. and former Fox News political commentator Sarah Palin.

The simplistic message adhered to a theme much favored by conservatives these days as the GOP continues to fail to make any inroads into the hearts and voting preferences of African-Americans. The pitch is: “Hey, we had your backs when slavery was outlawed, and Democrats were KKK members, passing Jim Crow laws and terrorizing your people.”

Here’s a little graphic passed along by Palin and the local GOP, with an added bonus showing how today’s Democrats voted for the Affordable Care Act while Republicans wouldn’t touch the servitude inherent in a law meant to improve health care for millions of people.

For the record, the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution — known as the Civil War amendments — were approved in 1865, 1867 and 1870. Republicans citing them as evidence of why blacks today should vote Republican are being about as intellectually honest as those who would cite Hannibal’s use of elephants to cross the Alps in a discussion of modern military transport.

It’s true that for 100 years after the Civil War — the war pressed by first Republican President Abraham Lincoln to preserve the union — white Southerners, longing for antebellum days of plantations and racial superiority, were diehard Democrats.

They were the ‘Dixiecrats,” fierce segregationists, who rallied behind South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond in 1948 as States Rights Democrats. They opposed the civil rights platform of President Harry Truman, who won 77 percent of the black vote that year. For the first time, a majority of blacks identified as Democrats.

Thurmond left the Democratic Party for good in 1964 and became a Republican because of passage of 1964 Civil Rights Acts. Four years later, he was a key ally in shoring up southern support for Richard Nixon, who successfully employed the modern Republican’s Party strategy to flip white voters in the South to the GOP side.

GOP nominee Barry Goldwater had worked the same game  — opposition to civil rights laws — in 1964, when Democrat Lyndon Johnson won a whopping 94 percent of the black vote. The next year, Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, but Nixon won the White House three years later buoyed by voter anger over civil rights and antiwar protests.

That’s the starting point for the current history of the Republican Party and black voters. It hasn’t been an upbeat saga — from voter suppression and welfare queens to Willie Horton ads and rancid attacks on the first black president. It hasn’t been pretty at the polls, either. The last two Republican presidential candidates, Mitt Romney and John McCain, received single-digit percentages of the black vote.

That’s not to say Republicans have no ideas to offer. As Jamelle Bouie noted in Slate in May 2014, Sen. Rand Paul has talked of criminal justice reform, softening drug laws and using tax breaks to help economically distressed areas.

One thing’s certain. The party and its pundits should stop with the Democrats-were-the-true racists-not-us history lessons. They’re ancient history, outdated as frock coats and celluloid collars, and irrelevant to anyone with passing knowledge of the past 60 years of American politics.

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It should not come as a surprise if some folks from the U.S. Department of Justice tell their bosses later this week that law enforcement issues really aren’t that big of a deal in Salinas. As evidence, they’ll be able to point to mediocre turnout at a “community forum” on the subject scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 30, at Sherwood Hall.

Why the mediocre turnout? Other big events going on that evening? Aerosmith coming soon? Actually it’s much simpler than that.

We certainly could have missed something, but the only publicity we have seen so far was an announcement posted shortly after 4 p.m. Monday in the Salinas Californian.

The blurb says the DOJ’s Community Oriented Policing Services Office and an independent assessment team of law enforcement community relations professionals are conducting the assessment with the Salinas Police Department. A key part of this long-term process, it says, is “listening to the community’s perspective on their law enforcement agency.” Representatives from the COPS Office and its technical assistance provider will be present to discuss and answer questions related to the Collaborative Reform Initiative for Technical Assistance process.

The Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services developed the Collaborative Reform Initiative for Technical Assistance in 2011 as an independent and objective way to transform a law enforcement agency through an analysis of policies, practices, training, tactics and accountability methods around key issues facing law enforcement today.

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Useful wharf info here

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Here are some links to information about wharf leases and related matters on the city of Monterey web site, thanks to an alert and helpful city staffer.

Direct links to the documents are:

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Solid wharf explainer in today’s Monterey Herald

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161ccd73a48f7d274937e3f79228a2a6I recommend that Partisan readers check out today’s Herald story about the controversy over the leases at Fisherman’s Wharf. It is not the end-all, be-all story but it does do a nice job of framing several of the issues and comparing the situation here to other communities with wharves.

I would have liked to have seen more numbers about what the leaseholders are paying and how much they are receiving from subleasors, but some of that is legitimately confidential.

If you haven’t seen it, scroll down and you’ll find several earlier Partisan stories about the wharf issue and much back and forth between those who believe the powerful business interests were handed the keys to the city treasury when they were gifted with wharf leases decades ago, those who think that analysis is flawed and those who don’t have a clue either way but who have been asked to weigh in by relatives and business associates.

I would like to see the city staff, perhaps working with a commercial realtor or property manager, provide a public primer and FAQ sheet on the leases and the lease issues but apparently not even a City Council majority has been able to get the staff to provide such a thing. My suspicion is that the folks doing most of the profiting off outdated lease policies believe that clarity is not their friend. Are the leaseholders more powerful than a council majority? Yes, it seems that way.

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By now, you know Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was very unhappy that five of his colleagues have extended the right of civil marriage to same-sex couples in all 50 states.

I presume Friday’s historic ruling also applies to U. S. territories — I like to call them those little reminders of the nation’s first imperial phase — but all the stories kept referencing only the 50 states. So, if it’s any consolation, there’s a chance Scalia could go to American Samoa and find a South Sea paradise were marriage still means a man, a woman and two empty votes for a powerless delegate to Congress.

But Scalia, in a biting dissent on the marriage decision with plenty of gems about fortune cookies and seeking information from “the nearest hippie,” also cranked up the propeller on his cap with some geography. And that is what really has me steamed, as a proud, second-generation son of California.

Paesaggi degli stati uniti in california

Scalia bemoaned the homogenous geographic composition of the nine justices deciding what’s to be the law of all the land. ( Dummy alert: look up the word before assuming he’s saying the court majority insisted on putting the wrong states cuddled against each other in odd positions on the map)

He pointed out all attended Harvard or Yale, eight grew up on the East or West coasts and only one hails from “the vast in between.” I have to believe Scalia was ironically speaking about the vast spaces between his pendulous ears, as he went on in this vein indicating that he sees equal protection before the law as a matter akin to differences in regional cuisine.

What really griped me was this sentence from Scalia-land: “Not a single Southwesterner or even, to tell the truth, a genuine Westerner (California does not count).”

This severe slight on California didn’t stir much reaction in our home state, perhaps because all the hippies asked to opine on it sagely replied, “Whatever, man.”

But imagine the outrage from conservative public figures and right-wing commentators already vowing to defy, deny or crucify the marriage decision if Scalia had parenthetically dismissed some other state. What if a Supreme Court justice said Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana or Wisconsin do not count?

Ted Cruz and Rick Perry would reach new heights of pro-Texas outage. Mike Huckabee would choke on his grits and gravy. Bobby Jindal would vow to exorcise the demon justice amid the flaming ruins of the Supreme Court, and Scott Walker would await instructions from those two Badgerites, the Koch Brothers.

But Scalia, a New Jersey native, really hit the big nerve in my corpus californicus with his sneering put-down of he Golden State.

For starters, he has a lot of damn gall biting the very hand that fed his judicial career.

He was first appointed to the Department of Justice by President Richard Nixon, a native son of Orange County, the crucible of the modern reactionary, self-pitying, enemies-listing Republican Party. California made you, Antonin.

Then, of course, Scalia was appointed to the federal bench and, subsequently, to the Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan, the greatest modern Republican and two-term governor of California.

There was no more genuine westerner in all the West (despite hailing from Tampico, Illinois, Reagan made the journey as a young man like so many Midwesterners to Southern California) than our 40th president. Reagan starred in cowboy movies, played on “Death Valley Days,” and fought a ceaseless war against brush in western duds on his ranch in the Santa Ynez Mountains. He also won the Cold War, his hagiographers agree, by running the commies out of Dodge City, just like a Gary Cooper movie.

California doesn’t count? Scalia is teetering on blasphemy by running down the state that gave the world St. Ronnie.

I confess I do not know much about New Jersey politics, other than its long history for graft, corruption, mob infestation and shouted insults courtesy of current Gov. Chris Christie. But I will put California against Scalia’s home state any day in an area that I, as well as any nearby hippie, know a thing or two about — popular music.

Sure, Bruce Springsteen sprang from the Jersey Shore scene, but it seems many of his songs are about stifled lives back home or getting in a fast car and driving as fast as hell to leave the Garden State. I’ll grant that Sinatra came from Hoboken, but, man, he didn’t stay there.

California gave the world the Beach Boys, the Byrds, Grateful Dead, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Dave Alvin, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Guns and Roses, a bunch of West Coast rappers and, I believe, the super-masculine Tiny Tim, to name a few storied musical acts.

California doesn’t count? Hey Antonin, no one recorded a hit, heterosexual surf-lust song called “New Jersey Girls.”

I really don’t understand what Scalia means about genuine Westerner, unless he’s thinking of former Vice President Dick Cheney, a man with a cowboy hat stapled to his head, who shoots first, doesn’t ask a question, and then shoots again.

But even Cheney, the power behind the throne of the last Republican presidency, supports gay marriage as does his gay daughter, Mary, an outspoken critic of Republicans who think like Scalia on the issue.

Maybe Scalia should ask a hippie — a few still survive, most likely thanks to Obamacare and no thanks to Scalia — for directions to the 21st century.

Just keep him out of California. He’s burned that bridge to future. Or let him no further than Barstow.

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Some months ago I alerted Monterey County types to the return of Reg Henry, the former Monterey Herald editor who recently “retired” from a second career at the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. That’s Pittsburgh as in Pennsylvania, not Pittsburg as in Sicilians and fishing boats. He was on the editorial page but, more importantly for our purposes here, he also wrote, and continues to write, a column, and a very good one it is. He’s Australian or something like that, so he’s funny, especially when he’s writing about the vagaries of American politics.

Anyway, it seems that Reg and his lovely wife, whatever her name might be, had always known they belonged here, so here they are. I didn’t know Reg but I took him to lunch and tried to persuade him to write an occasional piece for the Partisan. He said he would though he continued to have weekly obligations to his former employer. He said he would, though what he meant was he might but probably not. Well, he hasn’t. So that’s where you come in.

Here’s one of his recent columns and I’m putting it here for you to check out because it’s sort of local, set along Highway 68. When you have a minute, take a look and then check out some of his other stuff. I’m sure you’ll agree it beats the heck out of anything Charles Krauthammer ever wrote. And here is a link to a place where you can order his book, “The Wry World of Reg Henry.”

My hope is that someone will notice that his columns are getting a little extra attention, that some locals will buy the book and that every one of y0u  will click on  his email address, which happens to be rhenry@post-gazette.com, so you can send him a note saying, “C’mon, Reg. You’re the best. You should be writing for the Partisan.”

Watch this space for either an enthusiastic acceptance or a brief account of whatever Australians do when they want to be left alone.

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Happy BirthdayWhen we started the Monterey Bay Partisan on June 26 a year ago, we were expecting something all together different.

I figured one of two things would happen. The first, of course, was that it would be a fizzle, a publication that would generate a few chuckles, make a few politicians nervous for a bit, allow a couple of wrinkled newspaper guys one last hurrah or harrumph and then it would be over in time for basketball season.

The second prediction, make that hope, was that something grander would come about, much bigger and better than what you’re looking today. I was hoping the Partisan would quickly become a digital trading house where news stories would be written by us and many others, that there would be essays and manifestos and screeds from the many talented and otherwise remarkable people of this community. Being a naive optimist, as well as a cynical realist, I thought there would be a “staff” of who knows how many, some of them paid, and that when your alarm went off in the morning you’d be hearing the newsreaders at the various stations awaken you with “The Monterey Bay Partisan reported this morning that…..”

I was hoping the Partisan would be “of the community” and not just “about the community.”

As it has turned out, we celebrate our first birthday from some point between those two visions, much closer to No. 1 than to No. 2.

Even so, I think it’s been worthwhile and I believe a goodly number of people in the community agree. I don’t want to give out too many numbers but let’s just say that if things keep going the way they are, we’ll be ahead of the Salinas Californian circulation-wise one of these days. On a good day, as many as 2,000 readers find their way here.

We’ve popped off some decent stories, only a few real scoops but on many occasions we’ve had the first meaningful reports about events that seemed to have lived and died briefly on the pages of other publications before limping off never to be seen again.  The best example came on March 11, our piece about how the Public Utilities Commission plans to fine Cal Am Water more than $800,000 for charging customers on the Peninsula for water projects or improvements that don’t exist. The Herald had done a piece but the focus was on how Cal Am thought the fine was bogus. There was virtually nothing about the details of Cal Am’s little scheme. Monterey County Weekly? Nada. KSBW? Sorry, there’s been an accident on Boronda. We’ll get back to you. Carmel Pine Cone? If it had done anything, it might have opined that the state was picking on private enterprise.

birthday cupcakeAnother strong example was our piece from last weekend about the Monterey County grand jury report on the meltdown at Carmel City Hall. Once again, the Herald wrote about it but barely. Now don’t get me wrong. I love the reporting staff at the Herald but when the ownership is working on exit strategies and shopping for thinner newsprint, expectations sink even lower than resources. The Weekly, meanwhile, proved its resourcefulness and served the community by picking up our piece. Truly looking forward to what the Pine Cone will do with the story tomorrow since, after all, the grand jury said much of the blame for what ails Carmel governance these days rests right at the PC’s feet. (BTW, Paul, still waiting for payment for the photo you purloined from us, the one that showed the water pump you said didn’t exist.)

The MBP has done fairly well with most things involving land use and pretty well with the current debate over leases at Fisherman’s Wharf. Amazingly, perhaps tragically, the pages of the Partisan have become THE leading source of information and debate over this hugely important issue. What we’ve got there, of course, is a case of hardball politics. Some of the players on the wharf are big players in other aspects of the community, big advertisers, big everything, so let’s just guess that a lot of big thinking goes into everything the advertising-dependent media do on this issue.  Or don’t do. That’s part of what sets us apart. Our only advertising is those annoying little blurbs at the top and side of this page about things that have nothing to do with Monterey County.

Perhaps the most important thing we’ve done so far is to create a place where people in the community, including quite a few people who actually know what they are talking about, can correct the Partisan’s misimpressions, add information and context to the debate and then debate among themselves. Since our inauguration we have had just over 300 posts — news stories mostly, some editorials, quite a few commentaries — and they have generated more than 3,400 responses. In many if not most cases, it has been people responding to other responses.

birthday cupcakeIf there is anywhere else in this community where you can regularly find intelligent discussion of important issues, if there is anywhere else where you can weigh in yourself almost instantly, please let me know because I’d probably want to A. buy them a drink and B. partner with them.

Not bad what we’ve done, but it falls well short of what it could be. We have several strong regular contributors, starting with reporter/columnist/bon vivant Larry Parsons, one of the smartest and best informed people I have ever known. The description applies, too, to our technical guru, Paul Skolnick. We also have been blessed by regular contributions from Bill Hood, Susan Meister, George Riley and a few others. But more are needed. Many more. We know, you’re busy, but are you really that busy?

Our intent was not to try to replace any of the news outlets but to supplement their dwindling reports, potentially stirring them to do more. To our way of thinking, a community functions better when people know what’s going on. When the flow of information dries up, the people on the inside, the people calling the shots and making the deals, they have an easier time skimming off the best parts and leaving the rest of us with the leftovers and no understanding of why.

We’d love to see a lot more news and commentary out of the Salinas Valley, where the Californian looks to be on its last breath. Even though our core audience so far is on the Peninsula and most Peninsula people don’t think about Salinas unless they have to, we’re eager to get some Salinas voices into the Partisan. Let me say it again. We’re eager to get some Salinas voices into the Partisan.

The upcoming county elections actually could serve to force Peninsula residents to look across the Lettuce Curtain. Former Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue is going to try to gather enough development and ag money to knock Seaside-based Jane Parker off the Board of Supervisors, and feisty Tony Barrera of the Salinas City Council is going to try to pick up enough Peninsula support to knock off Supervisor Fernando “I’ll Vote for Any Construction Project” Armenta. If some Peninsula-Salinas Valley coalitions don’t develop, paradise indeed will be paved.

If you read the news at all, you may know that the Herald is likely to go through another ownership change in the near future. It was nearly a done deal at one point.  A hedge fund was going to sell the Herald and rest of the Digital First Media chain to a venture fund, or vice versa, but that fell through. Now, the hedgers are talking to potential buyers everywhere from Tampa to Tonopah. It is our great hope here that the Herald ends up in the hands of people who believe in community journalism, who aren’t profit driven and who want a paper willing to let the light shine on this wonderful region and its inner workings. I do know some people who share that thinking. If you’re interested in learning more about them, shoot me a message at calkinsroyal@gmail.com.

On the bright side are those hardworking and conscientious souls toiling at the Herald, and their equally hardworking and conscientious souls at the Weekly, the TV stations and, yes, even at the Pine Cone. But even combining all of those souls, we’re left with an overall Peninsula news staff of well less than half of what we had a decade ago. So, though, the Partisan finds itself much closer to the failure it feared than the success it dreamed of, we’ll continue plugging along for now.

And, yes, though it makes us stammer and blush and stare at our raggedy shoes, we’re not above accepting birthday presents except from those who want something in return. There’s that Pay Pal button in the top right corner of this page and checks have been known to reach 84 Harper Canyon, Salinas, 93908. If our bank balance ever makes it to four figures, we’ll let you know.

But enough of that. Let’s keep this birthday bash rolling by sending birthday greetings as well to the subscribers and commentors, contributors and critics who have pushed us to be whatever we are.  For your contributions financial or otherwise, your support, your constructive criticism and even your reasonable doubts, thanks so much to Tony Dann, Morley Brown, John Dalessio, Julie Engell, John O’Brien, Ron Darling, Robert Powell, Ron Chesshire, Bill Leone, Jeff Haferman, Carolyn Hardy, Scott Miller, Bill Wiegle, Phil Butler, Beverly Bean,  Janet Brennan, Willard McCrone, Libby  Downey, Dan Turner, Jeanne Turner, Robert Montgomery, Larry Parrish, Alan Haffa, Jane Parker, Linda Anderson, Gordon Smith, Dennis Renault.

birthday cupcakeThanks to Steve Collins, Pam Dozier, Jeff Dunn, Marc del Piero, Joe Livernois, Tony Peet, Tisa Roland, Glenn Robinson, Susan Ragsdale-Cronin, Celeste Akkad, Bill Rawson, Bob Lippi, Greg Furey, Dixie Dixon, Nader Agha, Michael Stamp, Dan Laidman, Ann Hill, Brian Baughn, Tom Moore, Marcos Cabrera, Jan Shriner, Karl Pallastrini, Luana Conley, Jane Haines, Nancy Peden, Julia Reynolds. And many others. You know who you are.

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One of the bigger stories of the year in Carmel broke on a Friday, too late to make it in that week’s Carmel Pine Cone. Fortunately, we have the Monterey Bay Partisan, which let the community know about the Monterey County grand jury report that blamed the weekly newspaper for causing problems at City Hall rather than simply reporting on those problems.

Now, the fine folks at the Monterey County Weekly have helped spread the word by reprinting the Partisan’s unflinching account. If nothing else, it will give PC Publisher Paul Miller something tangible to crumple up while he works on his own report due out in the morning.

Our prediction: Miller will announce that he has seen the error of his ways, admit that he was hellbent on stirring up trouble rather than informing the public and that he welcomes the attention and suggestions from an obviously public-spirited grand jury.

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LARRY PARSONS: Symbols change and so should we

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Confederate Rebel Historic flagThe events of recent days on the national front have been breathtaking. First, the horrifying slaughter of nine souls by a ninth-grade dropout who learned his putrid lessons from the belchings of racists on the Internet.

That the clearinghouse for Dylann Root’s corrosive self-learning — the Council of Conservative Citizens — is a tax-free, nonprofit operated ostensibly for the public good is one of several lamentable footnotes to the Charleston church massacre.

The chances of rooting out these pernicious tax scofflaws is next to nil because the last time the IRS took a look at a bunch of nascent right-wing and left-wing nonprofits engaged in pure partisan hackery it was, of course, Obama tyranny and a page ripped right out of Hitler’s playbook.

There followed this week a rapid wave of actions — mostly talk, actually, about upcoming actions — in South Carolina and other southern states to remove the Confederate flag from public places, license plates and other parts of the public commons because all defenses have finally been hollowed out for this symbol of freedom through slavery.

Big retailers — Wal-Mart, Amazon, eBay — said they would no longer traffic in Confederate kitsch. One company’s most popular stars-and-bars flag, of course, was made in Taiwan. Even a guy in Texas went to a tattoo parlor to have a rendition of the flag erased from his flesh because he’d noticed how it unsettled a black woman who saw it embossed on him.

The hometown newspaper in Charleston, The Post and Courier, drew deserved praise for its energy in covering the tragedy in news stories, editorials and a stunning three pages dedicated to photos of the victims, words about their good lives and an elegiac poem by South Carolina’s poet laureate.

How wonderful it was to see, in this new age of digital media logorrhea, a strong local newspaper — whose deaths have been greatly exaggerated — fulfilling its community trust with distinction.

The debate again has raged over social media, talk-show tables and news columns about the the meaning of the Confederate flag — the heritage-vs-hate fight. But many journalists and historians have pointed to the founding documents of the Confederacy, which should have settled this score 150 years ago.

The rebel states wanted to keep their slaves and viewed blacks as inferior to whites. The fact that soldiers on both sides of the war fought with courage doesn’t erase the fact that Southern troops were pressed into the carnage by leaders with indefensible principles.

I recalled how growing up in the late 1950s on the south side of Bakersfield, I saw football games in the then-new stadium of South High with pre-game pageantry replete with hundreds of swirling Confederate flags. They were waved by majorettes, dancers and the school’s mascot, a kid dressed in a rebel uniform, who rode down the track on a big horse. Then someone fired a cannon.

Bakersfield was known as one of the most racist cities outside of the South.

The KKK kept a tight fist over the community in the 1920s and 1930s. A sign outside the roughneck suburb of Oildale warned blacks — the N-word was used — not to be caught there after sundown. In 1975, groups of whites attacked black athletes in the nearby Kern County town of Taft.

But at South High, according to Wikipedia, the Confederate flag was dropped as the school’s battle flag in 1968 at the insistence of the school principal. That must have been a local battle in courage.

Slowly, very slowly, the nation’s racial divide has been closing, since Gen. Lee surrendered at Appomattox in 1865.  It’s alway been a frustrating case of two-steps forward, one-step back, and the racial wounds, handed down by generations, are far from healed.

When asked during President Nixon’s 1972 visit to China about his thoughts on the French Revolution two centuries earlier, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai reportedly said it’s “too early to tell.”  Historians have since cast doubt on the exchange reputedly emblematic of the Chinese “long view of history” due to a possible translation error.

But as the fractious debate over our own Civil War continues  — 150 years unabated and 50 years after passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts — it’s clear Zhou’s apocryphal reluctance to draw conclusions about the French Revolution ring true about our War Between the States.

But one thing is certain. There will be plenty of small-time operators moving into the Confederate flag market as big companies more susceptible to public pressure flee. And they’ll be making money selling the ugly banners for — Oh, Lord, how long, how long? — years to come. Making a quick buck is as American as the nation’s stain of racism.

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The Monterey County civil grand jury has rewritten the script on the controversy that has consumed Carmel City Hall in recent years. Its recommendation, essentially, is to forget most of what you thought you knew about it, particularly the parts you read in the Carmel Pine Cone.

The old script, written largely by the weekly paper, had now-departed City Administrator Jason Stilwell bungling his job by arrogantly and even illegally dismissing solid employees before a grassroots community uprising drove him from office.

The new script, backed up by personnel records and interviews with numerous City Hall insiders past and present, portrays Stilwell as a highly competent if imperfect administrator operating at the direction of a mayor and City Council that wanted to eliminate the cronyism that had flourished under the former mayor, Sue McCloud.

In a remarkably detailed and wide-ranging report released Friday, the grand jury found that Stilwell operated professionally and legally but was cut loose for purely political reasons when the newspaper, a vigorous booster of the McCloud administration, began a series of lopsided articles taking up the cases of city employees who, for the most part, had been appropriately terminated.

3d people - man, person and directional sign.True or falseThe grand jury paints City Hall under McCloud as a monument to her power with few checks and balances. Though Carmel employs a city administrator, technically making the mayor little more than president of the City Council, the grand jury found that McCloud essentially functioned as the chief executive with often unquestioned authority. As a result, city employees and many of those on the council never learned their proper roles and felt unable to challenge McCloud, a retired CIA agent.

After young Jason Burnett succeeded McCloud as mayor in April 2011, Stilwell was assigned to modernize government functions. His task was greatly compromised by short-staffed departments, years of informal decision-making processes and a public that knew little about City Hall except what it read in a newspaper openly disdainful of the new administration, the grand jury concluded.

Rather than provide Stilwell with the support he needed to carry out the council’s wishes, “the actions of the mayor and City Council appeared to place more importance on avoiding public criticism, unfavorable media exposure and the threat of litigation than on conscientious oversight and governance,” the jurors concluded.

To a large extent, the jury continued, Stilwell’s departure last October was driven by news coverage that “heightened or escalated local concern by echoing the one-sided viewpoints of terminated employees since the city was prohibited by law from disclosing its reasons for terminations.”

One example was a long Pine Cone piece trumpeting the military and municipal experience of the city’s longtime building official who had been terminated by Stilwell. The article complained that he had been unfairly dismissed despite years of strong service, “and the city won’t even say why.” The implication was that the city was being unfair to the employee by not making the grounds public and even that the city might not have informed the employee. The fact of the matter, fully known to Pine Cone publisher and editor Paul Miller, was that the city was legally prohibited from disclosing its basis for termination.

Burnett denied Saturday that he had felt pressured by the news coverage. He argued that the administrator had brought on his own troubles by not following proper personnel procedures while claiming otherwise internally.

Specifically, Burnett said, Stilwell falsely claimed to have used “progressive discipline” before terminating employees. That refers to the practice of warning employees about substandard performance and following that with corrective action and discipline of increasing seriousness before any termination. “I was deceived,” the mayor said.

Although not legally required, progressive discipline has become standard practice in most bureaucracies. Unfortunately for someone attempting to reshape an organization quickly, as Stilwell was expected to do, it can be a slow process made more difficult when an institution has little history of documenting employee transgressions.

“We did not have the full picture,” Burnett continued. “That came to us subsequent to the resignation” of Stilwell.” The grand jury, he added, did not have access to complete information.

Burnett added that several of the recommendations from the grand jury have already been put into place.

The grand jury report says that by not following formal disciplinary and termination procedures of the type used by most government agencies, Stilwell provided the departed employees obvious grounds for litigation. The grand jury concluded the processes he followed were appropriate but that they also created drama that might have been avoided.

Stilwell, who has been hired as deputy city manager in Santa Maria, could not be reached to comment Saturday. Miller, who nominated his City Hall reporter for a Pultizer Prize, did not respond to an emailed request for a response.

Through the courts, the grand jury received highly unusual access to city personnel files, allowing it access not available to the Pine Cone or others. On several subjects, however, the jury received limited information because city officials including City Attorney Don Freeman declined to waive attorney-client confidentiality.

Despite some limitations on its access, the grand jury performed an unusually detailed, seven-month inquiry into the city’s hiring and firing practices, its contracting procedures and other areas. Its report asserts, among other things, that security procedures for the city’s computer system are horribly deficient and need to be revamped immediately.

The grand jury also reported, with little detail, that a 150-page forensic audit of the information technology operation, costing more than $383,000 and pointing out some 800 security issues, has disappeared.

The report portrays Jason Stilwell as a victim of the crony system that existed when he was hired in 2011 and a victim as well of a largely untrained and naïve administration that came into power after McCloud’s departure. Its numerous findings undoubtedly will be spun widely, and even wildly.

It seems unlikely that the Pine Cone will object to its portrayal as a civic shot-caller if not a bully, but it undoubtedly will seek to diminish the findings, positioning it as a somewhat unlikely ally of Burnett. Burnett’s political ambitions have suffered because of the turmoil surrounding Stilwell’s rise and fall and the grand jury findings could amount to an even larger blow.  Longtime City Attorney Don Freeman, who performs the same role in Seaside, is portrayed as surprisingly distant from the governance and even the legal issues of the city, so some no doubt will question why he remains in office.

The grand jury started its inquiry in late 2014 at the request of city residents alarmed by word-of-mouth complaints from City Hall veterans and what they had read in the Pine Cone. Some asserted that City Hall was in meltdown, that employees were being treated unfairly and that Stilwell’s administration was ignoring public records requests in order to mask his failings.

With tensions growing rapidly, Burnett and the council joined in the request for grand jury investigation into the adequacy of internal controls and the effectiveness of recent corrective actions.

The grand jury says it reviewed the city code, state law on municipal governance, minutes of all council meetings from January 2012 to November 2014, significant correspondence, city contracts, attorney agreements and billings, newspaper articles, investigative reports, court records, employee emails, and records obtained via subpoena

Interviews were conducted with 24 people including past and present city officials but City Attorney Freeman and private counsel told some of the subjects not to answer questions involving personnel matters.

Unavailable to the grand jury was the 150-page audit report, commissioned by the city in 2013, into the city’s information technology system, an inquiry that also touched on a criminal investigation into allegations that the city’s former information technology chief, Steve McInchak, had illegally accessed employee emails and other off-limits materials. The grand jury report says the audit report, listing more than 800 vulnerabilities within the city’s computer system, could not be found.

The grand jury report provides some new background in that area. It says Stilwell discovered that computer security was almost nonexistent and that several employees reported that their computerized files and emails had been viewed without their permission.

The lost audit report found that security updates for the computer system had lagged seriously, the city’s networks were accessible via wi-fi to passersby, and many computers were not password protected

A subsequent investigation found that some employees had gained unauthorized access to the city’s system from home. Among the information obtained were police payroll matters, personnel documents including medical records, and performance appraisals.

This week the city announced it would pay $275,000 to the widow of McInchak, who died of a heart attack while on leave from his position as informational technology director. His family had contended he was unfairly kept under lengthy suspension during the criminal investigation into computer security issues, an investigation that failed to result in any criminal charges.

The grand jury says it also was hampered by the city’s refusal to waive attorney-client confidentiality in some areas. Through a laborious courtroom process, the grand jury was, however, able to review a considerable number of personnel files that generally would be deemed off limits.

The report says, “Although the city has not fully cooperated in providing information that would conclusively corroborate certain of the findings, the (grand jury) nevertheless believes that this report is accurate and complete.”

The following summarizes the jury’s findings and should be attributed to the report issued this week:

Until as recently as 2011, the City Hall staff was collegial but city business was conducted “in a quietly unorthodox manner. Many city policies were outdated, ignored, or didn’t exist,” especially in the areas of finance, personnel and administration.

City Council members from that era lacked a clear understanding of their roles and the roles of the mayor and the city administrator.

“City Council members also consistently explained that they had had no authority regarding the actions of the city staff, despite the fact that the Carmel Municipal Code clearly cites the city council’s supervisory responsibility over the city administrator, city attorney, city engineer and city treasurer.

“None could explain why the treasurer was not involved in the tracking of contract disbursements, a chronically troublesome area.”

Former City Administrator Rich Guillen left the city in 2011 and was replaced by Stilwell, who had considerable local government experience, mostly in Santa Barbara County. A little over a year later, he hired an assistant of sorts, former colleague Susan Paul, who had 30 years experience in city government elsewhere. Though the Pine Cone repeatedly attacked Stilwell for hiring Paul, the grand jury found that she was hired through a competitive process in which he did not participate.

As instructed by the council, Stilwell and Paul dug into the way things were being done. They discovered “compliance violations, mishandling of contracts and payments, human resource issues, network security breaches, and other procedurally deficient activities.”

They “also uncovered employee behavior that they judged to be improper or dishonest, that put the city at risk, or that was a misuse of the city’s resources for personal gain. Such behavior was dealt with swiftly by Ms. Paul, sometimes resulting in terminations, or in suspensions followed by terminations.”

The jury credits Stilwell and Paul for aggressively dealing with problems but mentions a couple of trouble spots. They seldom made use of “progressive discipline,” and Stilwell, despite his technical skills, was not as adept at communicating, failing to recognize the power of the longtime culture at City Hall. And Paul, meanwhile, could be loud and blunt.

Structural defects they inherited continued to cause technical and professional difficulties as they were trying to correct problems, and the flurry of personnel actions led to time-consuming litigation and media attention.

Unfortunately for Stilwell, the mayor and City Council largely failed to provide oversight or guidance during this difficult period, the report concludes.

“And when the public pressure to remove Mr. Stilwell and Ms. Paul and to rehire previously terminated employees became overbearing, it appeared that the mayor and City Council chose public appeasement over problem solving.”

The grand jury found that, before Stilwell’s arrival, raises were granted without proper approvals and employees without experience or training were assigned to personnel functions. Missing from city records were explanations for discipline.

After Stilwell’s arrival, six employees were terminated and one was placed on indefinite leave. Two people resigned.

“Some employment terminations were preceded by a period of administrative suspensions with pay; others were done swiftly. All of the terminations occurred after extensive review by, and with advice from, outside legal counsel, hired at significant expense to the city by Mr. Stilwell.”

Managers had sought some of those terminations years earlier.

“When Ms. Paul arrived, personnel actions moved to the front burner and, with the endorsement of outside counsel, went forward.

“Although the Carmel Municipal Code has a discretionary progressive discipline process, according to witnesses this process was largely unused either before or after 2012. … The city administrator has the exclusive authority to administer employee discipline, including terminations, and the City Council has the right of inquiry into these matters before they are made final. Several witnesses reported that the mayor and City Council were made well aware of the circumstances surrounding these termination issues. However, most council members erroneously believed that an inquiry into these employee matters was not permitted until a termination was complete and litigation was threatened or filed against the city.

“Most suspensions, terminations, and resignations during this period were made public by articles in the local media (primarily the Carmel Pine Cone). As noted earlier, only the employees’ versions of the acts or omissions leading to the adverse employment actions were reported, since the city was restrained by law from reporting the employer’s side to the local media concerning any individual employment matter. This one-sided reporting was instrumental in defining the public perception that most of the involved employees were treated unfairly and that the city was losing valuable talent and ‘institutional knowledge.’”

The grand jury concluded that the employee conduct that led to terminations “violated commonly accepted employment standards and/or specific provisions of the CarmelMunicipal Code. The terminations and suspensions that followed took place with the assistance of counsel and followed an appropriate process.”

The grand jury reported serious concerns about the rehiring of some of the employees following Stilwell’s departure. Three were hired with back pay, retroactive benefits and damage payments.

“In at least one case, the salary at rehire was significantly higher than the new position would otherwise warrant.”

The misimpression created by the rehiring was that the employees had been wrongfully terminated and were victims of the “Stilwell/Paul administration.”

“That conclusion indicates (in the jury’s opinion) a desire to quell political unrest rather than address serious employment issues.”

An issue repeatedly addressed by the Pine Cone was the city’s response to public records requests.

The jury found that until late 2011, after Burnett became mayor, there was no process for logging requests or recording the information provided. There was no formal procedure for determining whether something was public information.

Stilwell established procedures but eventually was overwhelmed by requests as controversy grew over his tenure.

“As the threat of legal actions grew, requests swelled to the point where a timely response was almost impossible. Outside counsel and other advisers were brought in to assess and edit requests and relieve city staff of the additional workload.”

The grand jury made 21 findings. The first six apply to the time before Stilwell was hired and, for the most part, before Burnett was mayor.

FINDINGS

  1. City operations were undisciplined, as policies were outdated, nonexistent or ignored. Employees worked hard to keep up and paid little attention to standard municipal procedures
  2. There were serious flaws and vulnerabilities in network system security, placing the city at risk financially and legally.
  3. Contracts were mismanaged with regard to public bidding, purchase order processing, and services provided with expired contracts.
  4. The City Council was not provided with contract payment schedules or accumulated payment tracking reports.
  5. The Human Resources process was mismanaged with regard to pay grades, progressive discipline, and proper staff training, and was lacking in leadership.
  6. The Public Records Act request process was unstructured, noncompliant, and ad hoc.
  7. The mayor and City Council did not fully execute their responsibilities of inquiry and oversight.
  8. Neither the mayor nor the City Council members received any formal training or substantive orientation on the responsibilities of their positions.
  9. The mayor and the City Council members were more responsive to political pressure than to the need for effective governance.
  10. Stilwell was a well-qualified city administrator who recognized and diligently addressed widespread city management problems and tried to implement shifting City Council priorities, maintaining a professional attitude in spite of external pressure and criticism. “He may have avoided much of the upheaval surrounding his administration by having a clearer perception of the nature of small-town government and exercising a more thoughtful and measured approach to change.”
  11. Paul quickly recognized areas of mismanagement and risk and implemented solutions within what she understood to be her areas of authority with due diligence and proper municipal procedure but “her  decisive by-the-book actions and abrupt manner caused resentment among longtime employees and city residents.”
  12. There was no credible evidence to support allegations of contract splitting, cronyism or any other wrongdoing under Stilwell or Paul.
  13. The general law/weak mayor structure was often misunderstood by Carmel citizens and the City Council.
  14. The local media provided easy access for city employees to vent their side of a story when the city’s hands were tied.
  15. The governance and administration of the city is unduly influenced by the reportorial and editorial practices of the Pine Cone.
  16. The position of city treasurer is underutilized and so provides little benefit to the city.
  17. The treasurer was isolated from any meaningful role in the contract/invoice disbursements and tracking system.
  18. There was no evidence of any systematic review of contracts in excess of $25,000 by legal counsel as to form or content.
  19. A significant amount of money is spent on outside counsel as it supplements the city attorney position in numerous matters including but not limited to labor and employment concerns, public records requests, general business and facilities, joint powers agreements, municipal law, and miscellaneous lawsuits.
  20. Historical averages of amounts spent on outside legal services over the past five years would support a full-time city attorney and staff.
  21. The City Council seriously failed to exercise its power of inquiry in its decision-making process regarding rehires, by excluding the city’s outside defense counsel from the process and by negotiating hasty settlements of claims in the early or pre-litigation stages, which precluded any meaningful scrutiny of these employment issues.

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Jason Stilwell finds there is life after Carmel

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Jason Stilwell has been hired as deputy city manager for the Santa Maria. He previously worked for Santa Barbara County as assistant county executive officer.

Jason Stilwell his new gig in Santa Barbara. Photo courtesy of Noozhawk

Jason Stilwell, the former Carmel city administrator, lands a fine job in Santa Maria. Read about it.

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Today’s Monterey Herald editorial merits discussion. The city doesn’t own the wharf, it tells us without letting in on who does own the wharf, and it says the rents are fair market, chiefly because the city says so.

Let’s discuss.

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It has been a busy week here in Paradise by the Bay, with considerable news and much gnashing of teeth about things as disparate as Fisherman’s Wharf leases, Salinas police batons and how much water can disappear from a sandy aquifer before someone notices. It seems as though the politicians and pundits have been waving their arms around, competing for attention and drowning each other out. At times, public discourse hereabouts has reminded me of the bad old days of talk radio. The Partisan, alas, has not kept itself above the fray, dispensing words of great wisdom, of course, but in tones perhaps not as measured as they might have been.

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Charley, trying to get to the bottom of things

So, to lighten the mood if only for a moment, the Partisan would like to introduce its new field agent, Charley. We had labored long into the night trying to come up with a cooler name, something ironic or Biblical or at least journalistic. He almost became Leonard as in Leonard Cohen and he came closer yet to becoming McCovey, a reference to a great Giants player of yore.

We tried on several names related to those wonderful Warriors of the hardwood. The closest we came to finding a good fit was Iggy, for Andre Iguodala, the MVP of the NBA finals and the Partisan’s personal MVP for the entire season. But did you ever try to hang a name on something only to find out that it simply did work? Too cute, I guess. Or too ‘trying too hard.’

I cast a vote for Draymond Green but there was no second, nothing but silence, which, in Partisanland, amounts to a veto.

Veering away from sports, I tried mightily to make him Moon several times but the silence was broken by some fairly loud shouts of “No!”

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Charlie, inconsolable after learning of the latest revenue declines at McClatchy and Gannett

What’s wrong with Moon, I inquired.

“Everything,” said the older woman of the house.

“Too hippie,” said the younger.

“Bark Obama?” barely produced a groan.

Finally, worn down, I recognized that I had no real grounds to veto Charley, which had been suggested early in the process by The Younger. I couldn’t say the name wasn’t cool enough because who would want to admit that the goal was something cool. How uncool would that be?

I read through lists of literary characters and rock and rollers whose name might work. Nothing worked. Charley kept coming around no matter how hard I squirmed.

I couldn’t admit that I really wanted it to be a name of my suggestion and my choosing because then I would have to admit that opening the floor to nominations had been a sham, as transparent as Supervisor Phillips.

So join me in welcoming Charley to the world of newsroom mascots, if this corner of a cluttered man cave can be called a newsroom. The Weekly has Little Frankie, a suitably shopworn-looking beast of a dog. The Herald before moving out of Ryan Ranch and onto Garden Road had those cockroaches, each cuter than the next, and KSBW has Dale Julin’s cute little Yorkie, Dale Jr.

I understand the Pine Cone used to have a cat but it had to be put down after biting someone. Over at the Californian, I heard something about a Winchell or Winchells but I might have heard wrong.

Anyway, back to Charley. So far, he seems to be non-judgmental and open to debate, fairly timely in some of his habits but wary of being leashed, all good attributes for a dog affiliated with a blog. Yes, we did consider calling him Blog but, at nine weeks, he is still learning that he is a dog and we didn’t want to confuse him with soundalikes.

We thought of calling him Partisan, of course, but only for about two seconds. Better, perhaps, That Damned Partisan but that seems like too many words.

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Charley, smiling upon learning of the latest in a series of Partisan bombshells

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Charley, upset after learning of yet another Brown Act violation

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Hate on Old Typewriter's Keys on Red Background.As I begin to write, there are reports the 21-year-old man suspected of shooting to death six women and three men, including the pastor and admired state legislator, in a historic Charleston, S.C., black church has been taken into custody.

That’s a relief.

The longer the man, Dylann Roof, remained at large, the longer his heinous crime would have sowed immediate terror into the lives of many trying to grapple with the unthinkable horror of his hate crime.

By accounts, he sat for an hour with members of a Wednesday night Bible study group before killing most, and specifically sparing one woman to spread his motive for the foul deed. The massacre was almost immediately branded a hate crime, the victims targeted for their skin color.

That dovetails with pictures of a scowling Roof standing in what looks to be a Carolina swamp with a heavy, military coat. The coat was decorated with patches of the white-supremacist regimes of the former Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa.

One survivor said the killer reloaded five times — presumably the gun he got on most recent birthday — and explained why he was killing these unarmed, peaceful black citizens. He said he had to do it because, “You rape our women and you’re taking over the country. and you have to go.”

Yes, he invoked one of the most vile, racist slurs against blacks as being sexual predators. It has been used by bigots for centuries, and, sadly, still has currency among the worst swamp dwellers in the country.

But the putrid words struck me on Wednesday night, as details slowly came out about the innocents’ bloodshed, as something I’d heard just recently. The setting was far different and a different dark-skinned people were being condemned.

In his flabbergasting, 45-minute speech to announce his run as a Republican presidential candidate, real estate mogul Donald Trump offered his own hateful confluence of rape and race.

Trump said he has heard from border guards what kind of Mexican immigrants are coming into the United States. They are bringing crime and drugs, he said. “They’re rapists and some, I assume, good people.” That Trump, a heart as big as the bottom line on his real estate holdings.

Trump’s thoughts — to be charitable — are not unusual among the xenophobic, anti-immigration crowd. They always jump at the chance to make the illogical step and brand a whole group of people by the misdeeds of the isolated one.

And while Latino news outlets highlighted his blatant rape-blaming bigotry, there was so much in Trump’s narcissistic announcement speech that liberal outlets and comedians found plenty to work with, while some conservative media applauded the ugly American tycoon.

Many today are struggling in their hearts and minds to deal with the horrific crime perpetrated last night by the young white man in the South Carolina church. We offer prayers, sympathy and vows to seek justice.

We should also raise our voices to tell rancid bigots like Trump to shut the hell up. His words are no different than those the killer spoke in the Bible study room.

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People in Salinas get excited about the littlest things. Strike that. Some people in Salinas get excited about the littlest things.

This week’s buzz is about a Jose, Castaneda, who tried to visit another Jose, Velasco, in jail. The motives of Jose Castaneda, the rogue Salinas City Councilman, remain unclear because his plan was nipped in the bud by an alert jailer and an equally alert patrol officer who fortunately understand the full range of negative outcomes that are possible when unauthorized communication between Joses is allowed to floursh.

The intended recipient of the visit, Velasco, is in jail because he attacked his mother in the middle of a busy North Main Street a little over a week ago. Velasco has been in the news because Salinas police officers attempting to restrain him tased him twice and finally resorted to a series of nightstick blows in order to subdue him after he grabbed a taser away from one officer and wrestled vigorously with others.

A passing motorist managed to get video of the arrest and it has become must see TV. Much of what is going on unfortunately is obscured by the officers themselves but it is clear that Velasco was struck at least 20 times. Some who have viewed the video say it appears that one officer, the one supplying the final several blows, may have gone slightly overboard. While the other officers involved remain on full duty, he has been assigned to desk duty pending the outcome of investigations.

Police Chief Kelly McMillin, while stressing he will reserve judgment until the investigations are completed, also told the Partisan early last week that anyone who believes excessive force was used is “simply wrong.”

Anyway, it seems that Castaneda attempted to visit with Velasco in jail on Thursday, a day when inmates are only supposed to be visited by their lawyers or relatives.

His plot was foiled, a victim of his notoriety. A clerk at the jail recognized him and who wouldn’t? He is the bad boy of Salinas politics, the subject of hours of TV footage of him walking away from reporters, the subject of countless columns by Jeff Mitchell, a Salinas Californian reporter with an apparent fondness for chronicling the misadventures of people who make his job easy by not putting up a defense.

If you were the victim of a crime in Salinas and wanted the Police Department to write up a report about it, you’d likely be told that the line starts over there but not until a week from tomorrow. Yet Castaneda’s trip to the jail was the subject of one of the fastest appearing reports of all time and it was in the columnist’s hands even before the officer’s supervisor could get a chance to sign it. Mitchell would like people to believe that the report came his way because of his sleuthing skills. Not so.

The report presents an interesting account that suggests that officer Ernesto Sanchez might want to consider ghostwriting Mitchell’s column from time to time.He reports that he had gone to the jail on other business but happened to encounter Councilman Castaneda.

“Once I arrived at the lobby of the visitor’s building, I observed a man who I recognized as a councilmember for the city of Salinas, Jose Castaneda …. I saw that he looked at me as I walked into the lobby and he greeted me by looking directly at me and forming a large smile on his face. Since I knew who he was, … I returned the same greeting and nodded my head to him.

“Almost immediately after I returned the greeting to him, I saw that his face changed into what I recognized to be a ‘can you help me?’ look; his eyebrows turned slightly upwards in the middle and he continued to hold a smile much smaller than the original smile … . He did not say anything else to me and I did not say anything else to him either.”

From there, the plot thickens quickly but the prose dries up, so paraphrasing will suffice.

Sanchez reports that he went about his business but a clerk pointed out Castaneda and informed him that Castaneda had tried but failed to get inside by claiming to be a relative of Velasco. Actual relatives of Velasco were there for a visit. Might Castaneda have said he was “with the family”?

Sanchez left the clerk’s name out of the report, apparently for her protection. From whom he does not indicate.

Disaster was averted but one might conclude otherwise listening to other council members. They were all over the TV news this week tsk-tsking about irresponsibility and giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Apparently since Velasco’s family has obtained counsel and there might be a lawsuit, a councilman talking to Velasco would amount to treason.

The Californian columnist said the council is considering censure and it’s about time. Later, Mitchell gleefully reported that the Monterey County grand jury (lower case, JM, and you can look it up) just issued a report highly critical of Castaneda’s behavior and urging the City Council to find a way to force him to either pay a $5,000 fine or force him off the council.

It is true, very true, that Castaneda has been a pain in the council’s collective butt. He doesn’t play by the rules. He doesn’t file required forms, he has scuffles with people, he accomplishes just about nothing of import and he pouts a lot. His city stipend has been garnished because he can’t pay his bills. Castaneda is a troublemaker who brings little to his position except talk. He talks a pretty good game about equality and civil rights, etc., but undercuts himself through inaction. Some will recall that he was simultaneously and illegally serving on both the council and a school board at one time. People who voted for Castaneda made a mistake.

But the rest of the council, and Jimmy Olsen over there at the Californian, are making a mistake by making a big deal out of Castaneda’s attempt to talk to Velasco. Big whoops. But he lied! Maybe, but show me a politician who hasn’t told a fib this week.

If there was any doubt about Castaneda’s record as a councilman, news of the grand jury report would be a big deal, But confirmation of the obvious hardly amounts to groundbreaking stuff. Mitchell writes with disdain about Castaneda’s plan to appear Friday at a rally in support of Velasco, and to appear with the Velasco family’s lawyer. Mitchell is right when he says Castaneda has the right to do so. He’s wrong, though, when he goes on to say that it means Castaneda will be disqualified from participating in the city’s discussions over whatever lawsuit is filed on Velasco’s behalf. Jimmy Olsen seems to be getting his legal advice from someone other than a lawyer.

What is the worst that could have happened if Castaneda had talked to one of his constituents? The councilman isn’t likely to know anything about the Velasco arrest that everyone doesn’t already know. Some of Velasco’s thinking might slip out of his cell? Castaneda may say something that contradicts the official city line as though countless politicians in countless cities haven’t strayed from majority think without catastrophic result.

My chief concern here is simply this. I question the wisdom of having a police report prepared on such a minor event and I question the judgment of those who thought it should be leaked to a columnist who is obsessed with Castaneda. The police report filed by Sanchez says right at the top that no crime had been committed. Where does a report like this get stored? The political intelligence file? Does the Police Department think it makes itself look better by linking Velasco to Castaneda.

So now the council is inching closer to stepping up and issuing a censure. My dictionary describes that as a meaningless act that diverts attention from more important things.

There’s nothing the City Council can do to change Castaneda’s behavior. Most of the council members have already had plenty of TV time and the opportunity to demonstrate just how statesmanlike they are in contrast to their colleague. They would be doing the city, and Castaneda’s constituents, much more good by finding and encouraging a good candidate or two to run against him, but that’s a lot harder than going on camera and shaking one’s head.

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