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This photo of Dave Potter comes from Mary Adams’ website, potterfacts.com

I’ve always greatly enjoyed Mary Duan’s columns in the Monterey County Weekly, and I enjoyed most of her farewell column this week. With her husband’s lottery winnings tucked into a mattress, she has stepped down as editor after a productive and sometimes grueling six years.

Thursday’s column was about politics and Mary’s decision to enjoy life for a while. The part I didn’t love was the little section where she sort of lost her way  while writing about Monterey County Supervisor Dave Potter and his effort to fight off a challenge by a strong candidate, Mary Adams.

She wrote about how the Weekly had endorsed Potter, setting off some serious groaning from the left side of the political divide, which constitutes a good share of the paper’s readership. I have it on good authority that Duan argued mightily for an Adams endorsement but was outmuscled by her bosses, who got on the Potter train long ago and stayed onboard while others departed. (I’ve always suspected it has something to do with Potter being a good source, especially when he needs to divert the attention of journalists looking too closely at his affairs.) The result of the internal debate at the Weekly was an endorsement editorial that made note of Potter’s “integrity” issues. You won’t find that part quoted in Potter’s campaign mailers.

Here’s the portion of Duan column that I found, well, exasperating.

“There’s a heated level of vitriol being thrown our way because of the Potter endorsement – progressives, it turns out, can be a hostile bunch,” Duan wrote. “I don’t think we’ve been called stupid, but we have been called inept and corrupt.

“Potter gets called corrupt a lot, by the way. He’s done some dumb stuff, but in terms of outright corruption, I haven’t been able to prove it (and boy have I tried) and neither has anyone else. My message to the angry progressives is this: Prove it. Prove what you think you know.”

I would be surprised if I didn’t enter Duan’s thoughts at least fleetingly while she wrote that last paragraph. And here’s why. While I don’t have a file of documents that a prosecutor could take to a grand jury and get Potter thrown in jail, I have been involved in covering Potter for 16 years now and I believe it has been proved several times now that if not outright, damnably corrupt, he is ethically challenged to the point that he should not be in office. Corrupt is a pretty big word. One of the Merriam-Webster definitions is a good one, “Doing things that are dishonest or illegal in order to make money or to gain or keep power.” Ms. Duan, I think it has been proved that the definition applies to the fellow your former employer endorsed. (It should be noted that my former employer, the Herald, has endorsed him as well.)

The publisher of another weekly paper in the area, the Carmel Pine Cone, has accused me over the years of being out to get Potter, though he has never explained why. The truth is that, like most people who know Potter, I like the guy. He can be a real charmer and he knows more than anyone else about two of my favorite topics, local politics and governance. Even when he has been beyond irritated at something I had written about him, he and I have managed to have pleasant and even constructive conversations. For instance, he was the one who explained to me why former Supervisor Lou Calcagno is endorsing Supervisor Jane Parker instead of her challenger, Dennis Donohue. It’s because Donohue has signed onto a plan to let the city of Salinas spill over onto some of the wonderful farmland south and west of town.

So, back to the point. What has been proven about Potter, his method of operations and his integrity? I can only tell you what I know, which is a fair amount.

Two examples make my point about Potter’s integrity, and I’ll go into some detail about those. For now, let’s not worry about the house he bought from the land-use lawyer’s family, the building and coastal permits his construction company forgot to obtain before starting projects, the time he was using campaign money to pay his construction company rent, the time he bought a car from a dealer who was seeking a coastal permit while Potter was on the Coastal Commission or the time he tried to arrange free property at Fort Ord so his company could build a hockey rink there. The list of troubling but not indictable acts goes on.

Let’s focus instead on the Nader Agha campaign contribution and the forgery allegation.

Agha, of course, is the local developer and antique dealer who has been pursuing a desalination plant in competition with Cal Am’s. He is well known for his generosity, both to charities and to politicians.

You can read a Monterey Herald article about the issue here and get the details but I’ll summarize the key points.

In January 2004, Potter asked Agha for a $10,000 campaign contribution. But rather than have him make the check out to his campaign fund as legally required, he asked Agha to make the check out to a business associate, Russ Carter, one of a group of San Jose investors who have repeatedly lent money to Potter over the years.

Much later, then-county Supervisor Lou Calcagno told Agha that the money had gone toward a vacation rather than campaign expenses. To make a long story short, Agha then sued Potter for return of the money and – and this is key here – included a copy of the canceled check to Carter along with the legal filing.

Potter denied everything and insisted that he had been exonerated through an investigation by the Fair Political Practices Commission. It’s true that the FPPC didn’t take any action. It seldom does. But Potter was never able to explain why Agha had written a $10,000 check out to a close Potter associate with whom he had no connection of his own.

Agha at one point said he would pursue the lawsuit vigorously to prove that Potter was lying. Unfortunately for those of us who care about facts, Potter did everything he could to keep the matter out of public scrutiny. Monterey public relations man David Armanasco went to Agha on Potter’s behalf and arranged a settlement. Rather than pursue the litigation, Agha agreed to settle out of court for an unreported amount and agreed with Potter’s request to have the settlement details sealed.

“I’m kicking myself,” Agha said later.

It is true that Agha’s assertions were never proved in court and that the FPPC didn’t charge Potter. But in the court of public opinion, the one in which Potter and Mary Duan and the Partisan reside, the canceled check to Carter is both persuasive and damning.

The forgery matter also made it into the courthouse but, like the Agha matter, was not resolved there. Still, in the court of common sense, Potter loses.

Again, there is a long Monterey Herald story that spells it all out, so we’ll only summarize here.

In 2012, Potter’s ex-wife, Patricia, said in court papers that Potter had forged her name on home loan documents after their estrangement so he could take out another mortgage on their Monterey home.

(The home, by the way, was one Potter had bought from the mother of land-use lawyer Tony Lombardo, with partial financing from the mother, but that’s another tale.)

Anyway, in court papers, Patricia Potter alleged that her former husband surreptitiously signed her name to the paperwork so he could obtain a second mortgage of $193,000. She said that $168,000 of that went to pay off loans that Potter had received from three San Jose investors, including Russ Carter (the fellow who had earlier cashed the $10,000 check from Agha.)

The paperwork was processed in San Jose, at a meeting Patricia Potter did not attend, and the signatures were notarized by a Silicon Valley real estate agent who is a business partner of the investors who received the $168,000.  Patricia Potter alleged that her ex-husband then recorded the documents without her knowledge, something that her ex-husband’s lawyer actually verified in court papers.

The allegations went away without landing Potter in any real trouble. That’s because Herald reporter Jim Johnson, who wrote the story on the allegations, called Dave and Patricia Potter for comment and they got their heads together before returning his calls.  By then, before the story came out, they had come to terms about disputed spousal support and agreed to say that the forgery allegation was the result of a simple misunderstanding.

The headline on the resulting Herald article said Patricia Potter had retracted the allegation. The last time I checked the court record, she had not done so in court papers.

To my way of thinking, Potter could have been prosecuted but the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office concluded that there was no case since Patricia Potter had changed her story. Some tough questioning of the real estate agent who notarized the signature might have produced a different result, but who knows.

Does this prove Potter is corrupt? His supporters won’t think so but many of those supporting Mary Adams will argue that the case has been made. That’s how it goes in politics. Those folks over at the other local weekly, the Pine Cone, are so blind to Potter’s failings that they may try to hold Adams accountable for the words on these pages. The ferocity of the Pine Cone’s repeated attacks on Adams, combined with its historic unwillingness to examine Potter’s record, suggests another form of misfeasance.

As I wrote above, Potter is an exceedingly knowledgeable politician. His understanding of the ins and outs of local governance is without parallel. He has done some good things and I do not believe that, deep down, he is an evil fellow. I believe that he has struggled financially at times, for reasons I do not understand, and that he has routinely cut corners and done worse to get by. Corrupt? You be the judge.

The Potter strategy in the current campaign is to portray Adams as inexperienced, incapable of stepping in to deal with the difficult realities of county government. My counter is that she is highly experienced in the equally complicated world of non-profit social services, that she is smart and quick, and that she carries absolutely none of the type of ethical baggage that causes even neutral observers of Dave Potter to question his sincerity in almost everything he does.

The election is June 7.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jean May 27, 2016, 6:37 pm

    I take issue with anyone’s broad brush characterization of “progressive v conservative”. They are not inherently exclusive, much less, inherently antagonistic. Context is critical.
    The greatest waste created by decision makers, particularly those whose decisions affect the public, is not the expense, it’s the cost. Cost is what you give up to have something else. And certain costs are often irreversible and indenture people long into the future.

    In any election, I always ask, “What path is this person choosing for me? Do I want to go there, be limited to that? And what am I willing to surrender to do it?”!

  • Carol L Voss May 27, 2016, 6:59 pm

    And you expect Joe six pack voter to understand these convoluted machinations ? As the great unwashed are saying very vocally about all of our current political campaigns, go f yourself. Such a sad commentary on our world today.

  • Luana May 27, 2016, 7:09 pm

    A very large number of county officials “could have been prosecuted but the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office concluded that there was no case.” That right there is the source of the ‘get-away-with-murder’ attitude of many electeds.
    And in cases regarding police shootings, actual murder.

  • Andrew Allison May 27, 2016, 7:52 pm

    Perhaps the real question should be how in heck did somebody so ethically challenged manage to get re-elected so many times. The answer, unhappily, is we the sheeple.

    • Louis MacFarland May 27, 2016, 9:23 pm

      So correct Andrew.

      The 5th district is not short on self-assured people who think they posses some special insight into all matters, including Potter, but they are largely lambs, lambs with attitude, but still lambs.

      Then again, to some degree their thinking is shaped by the local reporting (or the lack thereof, or the distortion thereof), thankfully we have The Partisan, so the news does not have to be run by the advertisers first or controlled by an intemperate man on a personal crusade.

  • bill leone May 27, 2016, 8:11 pm

    Just reading Mr. P’s campaign literature,
    which is as slimy as any political discourse can get, is enough to disqualify him from holding office. This does not include the slippery tactic of courting knuckle-dragging Republicans, while posing as an Environmentally Concerned Democrat.
    A political move which exposes him as being without a moral compass.
    And speaking of Moral Compass: if at this time you consider yourself a Conservative Republican, then you are, by definition, a supporter of The Donald….if you identify as a Progressive Democrat, then you, by definition, Have The Bern….end of discussion.
    If you care to look deeper into the rationale for my statements above, then please read Robert Reich’s article today in The Huffington Post: “Advice For Divided Democrats.”

    bill leone (one of six Progressive Candidates for Monterey County Democratic Central Commitee)

  • Alan Estrada May 27, 2016, 9:12 pm

    A royal exposé.
    The Herald is missing out.

  • david fairhurst May 27, 2016, 9:34 pm

    A very nice “tip of the iceberg” story Royal.
    As a member of the “Non-Progressive” segment of politics I can assure you that the actions of Potter (even before he became our “Urberlord of the 5th District”) sickens me (and other “right wing guys too). Potter abused (abuses) his “Public Trust” and the power that it brought him in attempts to profit himself, to destroy and silence those that would dare question him or even ask him to do his damm job for the Public good!
    Royal, please let me buy you lunch, share some other info with you and contribute to this fine forum of information and opinion.
    By the way Mr Leone a “right wing” radio talk show host sort of summed up the still current three presidential candidates. “I totally disagree with the politics of Bernie Sanders, but he is the only one out there with some integrity and is at least authentic of who he is”. I suppose that is why I like him too and detest the CORRUPT politicians like Mr. Dave Potter that are forced feed upon us.
    By the way my “Republican” was Rand Paul. So yeah at this point I’ll have to hold my nose and vote lesser Satin Trump over Hitlery unless, if only you Commies would believe in God then we could all pray for “Bernie” and hope he can pull off Heavenly some magic at that ‘Convention’. (I know a lot of other “Conservatives” that fell the same way as I do too about this)

  • Janet Collins May 28, 2016, 9:20 am

    Why do you suppose the County spent millions (your taxpayer dollars, folks) in the prosecution of the Collins’ case to EVER keep him from testifying in court or being able to call his accusers into court as witnesses…There were several that would have been proved with perjury so fast(which puts Potter at the head of the line and especially Calcagno),and they knew it…It was an absolute must to keep him,(Collins), out of court with the mountain of evidence he had against them..the truth, if you will…And so you remember the FPPC who called for a criminal investigation of several within the county by the DA??? I heard that Spitz was assigned to that…Hah…Never heard another word on the subject…Surprised ??? So, Mary Duan..The truth was out there, you just didn’t dig hard enough…And because the County has this huge wealth, your taxpayer dollars, folks to use to bring against you and COMPLETE control (I know you don’t believe me when I say that, but it’s true in Monterey County unfortunately)…I don’t much wonder the papers are shy about exposing themselves to the horror of the evil of McKeeism…And the jolly bunch that take orders from him…

  • john m. moore May 28, 2016, 12:34 pm

    I see the Trump phenomena differently. Public companies control production and centralize wealth: in the 60’s almost every business was a local family owned business, a pharmacy, home developers, clothing stores, -everything that is now supplied by Wal-mart, Costco, fast food etc.. Importantly, the profit stayed local within local families.

    In Nebraska where I was raised, all farms were family farms, but now they are owned by public companies and the locals are poorly paid workers.

    In the 90″, the country had solid growth, but NAFTA forced US workers to compete with cheap labor causing a further lid on wages. The federal government spent the three trillion dollars social security surplus(particularly Clinton and the next Bush)

    911 was endured without a reasonable response. We spent billions to remove one religious dictator and installed its enemy as the new dictator, leading to ISIS.

    The citizens who saved for a rainy day are paying for the government and financial institutions that caused the greatest financial crash since the great depression. The villains have enriched themselves by using the savings at no cost. A retired couple that made about $25,000 per year in interest, must now spend principal, thereby depleting savings every year. It’s been eight years with no relief in sight.

    Ca. has gone from best to last in every “quality of life” indicia, infrastructure, education, medical costs, rents etc.

    Meanwhile, govt. unions have acquired mathematically unachievable salaries and pensions and control every political body and political executive in Ca.

    News services are now controlled by public companies, that like the Herald preach growth at any cost.

    In summary, I believe the Trump novelty is this: Those who support Trump, hate the existing system and they hate CNN, Fox,ABC,CBS,NBC, the NY Times, the Post, Wall Street, public unions etc. They despise the Sunday talk show hosts and news editors whom they see as defenders of a rotten system, with no way out. Everything has been taken from the middle class, especially a free education, with no hope from traditional politicians(those who destroyed a great society). Trump clearly does not have any solutions, but he says that he does. And his supporters feel they have nothing to lose. From my point of view, the whole country is in the middle of a bad ending and no one is analyzing all of the factors that have led to this sad state of affairs.

    Concerning the candidates, all incumbents contributed to the fall of our once rich society, Mary Adams did not, Potter certainly did.

  • bill leone May 28, 2016, 5:48 pm

    Just a simple comment to answer Mary’s question regarding Mr. P: Asking for proof of Mr. P’s wrongdoings, whether immoral, unethical or border-line criminal, is like asking for proof of the Earth revolving around the Sun; as Galileo said in answer to the Inquisition: “Si muove ancora!”
    Which loosely translated from the Italian means, “He’s still a scumbag!”
    In spite of our differences, I will miss Mary; she seems to’ve been the only one at the Weakly with
    “palle,” in English, Courage.

  • bill leone May 29, 2016, 12:48 pm

    If anyone who reads this blog is interested in changing the status quo, from a rigged political system to a more equitable form of democracy, please check out the list of six Progressive candidates running for the Monterey County Democratic Central Committee, as described by
    Alan Hafa, of the ATeam:
    It is really important for you collectively to turn your friends and network out to vote for the Progressive Democratic slate. You will need approximately 4,000 votes to win based on the 2012 election.
    Please do the following ASAP:
    a. email any of your friends and acquaintances who may be democratic and who may live in district 5. Explain briefly why you are running. Tell them that you are endorsed by the Progressive Democratic Club of the Monterey Bay Area and that PDA and YOU endorse the entire slate. We want our local democratic party to reflect progressive values so we need to elect as many of the people on the slate as possible.
    Briefly mention:
    Natalie Gray is a public school teacher and the local Bernie Sanders organizer as well as an animal rights’ activist
    Bill Leone is a member of the Veteran’s for Peace, and a retired small business owner and MPC counselor
    Timothy Barrett is a Monterey city councilmember and a small businessman
    Gary Karnes is a union organizer and a former school board member, and a campaign organizer for Senator Bill Monning
    Jen Rigney works for the Monterey Bay Aquarium and is active in the Progressive Democratic Club and the Bernie Sanders campaign
    Jan Black is a professor at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, a long time progressive, and a human rights activist in Latin America.
    (If anyone wants to briefly modify what I wrote as your summary, do so. But you all want to get the word out ASAP because people are voting already.)
    Email something about the slate to your friends. Ask them to tell their friends or share the email.
    If you use social media, do the same thing.
    Close friends call. Explain the deal and the rest of the slate. Ask them if they would get the word out by email, phone, or social media.
    If all of you do this and get your friends to do some, you can reach a lot of people.

  • bill leone May 30, 2016, 7:02 pm

    John, in my view, every thing you wrote is correct. However, I would add to your point regarding Trumpistas. All the social science indicates: they have one characteristic in common; that is having a Type A (Authoritarian personality) -a yearning for a charismatic Leader with simplistic solutions to complex social & economic problems. It is no accident that Both members of the American Nazi Party (David Duke), as well as strong supporters of Israel (Sheldon Adelson), believe The Donald holds their interests in his heart.

    bill leone (one of six Progressive Candidates for Monterey County Democratic Central Committee.
    See comments to a previous article for a list of all these candidates.)