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Wasden leak not Jackson’s fault, memo says

POSTED June 27, 2009 4:17 p.m.
A confidential memo sent from Mayor John Lazar to City Attorney Phaedra Norton confirms that Councilwoman Mary Jackson has been investigated — and cleared — for alleged misconduct related to the leak of Roy Wasden’s candidacy for city manager.
The Journal requested and obtained a copy of the memo from City Clerk Rhonda Greenlee on Tuesday morning. Knowledge of the memo arose as a result of the council’s June 9 agenda item concerning the confidentiality of matters discussed in closed session meetings, which referenced Jackson’s alleged wrongdoings without using specifics or the councilwoman’s name.
“Based upon two meetings with Council Member Jackson,” wrote Lazar in the memo, “and subsequent discussions with individuals associated with the allegations, I find there to be no legitimacy to the contention that the Council Member leaked information as to the identity of the candidates for city manager.”
Lazar went on to write that, “Mr. Wasden indicated he himself had shared information with Modesto City Management staff as to his intentions to seek employment outside Modesto.”
The Turlock City Council convened in a closed session meeting on April 22 with contracted recruiter Bob Murray & Associates to narrow the list of potential candidates for city manager from around 15 to a final three. According to a Turlock Journal source, news that Wasden had made the short list of city manager candidates spread to the City of Modesto offices by the morning of April 23 — within 12 hours of the decision — and phones at the City of Turlock were inundated with calls.
The same source stated that Wasden first notified Modesto City Manager Greg Nyhoff that he could be seeking a new job shortly before the final candidate interviews occurred, more than a week after his candidacy had been leaked.
According to the memo, Lazar conducted his investigation pursuant to the City of Turlock Code of Conduct for Elected Officials. However, Vice Mayor Ted Howze has raised questions as to the legality of Lazar’s inquiry, dating back to the June 9 council discussion.
The Code of Conduct provides that the mayor should initiate any formal actions, should he or she determine an alleged breach of conduct warrants sanctions. In the event that a supposed violation is not expressly observed by the mayor or councilmember — such as in the current situation — the Code of Conduct calls for the mayor to ask the city manager and/or city attorney to investigate the allegation and report findings back to the mayor.
“I will not comment on Mayor Lazar’s investigation of Councilwoman Jackson as he has no standing to conduct investigations of fellow council members,” wrote Howze in a prepared statement to the Journal. “Because of the serious nature of the allegations concerning a potentially criminal leak of confidential information from a closed door council meeting, I have asked city staff to agendize a request for Council to authorize moving forward with a proper investigation as prescribed by the Council Code of Conduct.
“I believe a proper investigation is necessary to ensure unwarranted accusations are not levied against a Councilmember and necessary to allow this council to move forward with future city business in a professional manner,” Howze continued.
Lazar stated during the June 9 meeting that a formal investigation could open the door to further investigations of past council misconduct.
In his memo, Lazar did conduct a cursory investigation of one additional transgression, in which Jackson addressed the Turlock Irrigation District Board of Directors during a public meeting to request financial support for Turlock’s pools. According to allegations, Jackson identified herself as a councilwoman and spoke for the city without the proper permission, though both the memo and some present at the meeting dismiss this suggestion.
“Mary came before the TID Board of Directors and presented her ideas on how she thought TID could help fund the pools and she gave an example of how, in Oakdale, the Oakdale Irrigation District came in and helped,” TID District 3 Director Rob Santos said.
“For me, I didn’t feel that she had the mandate from city council to do this,” Santos continued. “She came in as a citizen and as a councilwoman, trying to see if she could solve some problems or resolve some of the financial issues related to the pool.”
Per Lazar’s memo, it was not Jackson’s intent to mislead the TID Board of Directors into believing she was at the meeting on official council business. Jackson recognizes the need to make a clear distinction between her roles as citizen and councilwoman in the future, according to the memo.
Jackson declined to comment on the investigation or Lazar’s memo, outside of a written statement in which she decried a lack of council focus on core issues.
“I believe this was a ‘confidential’ issue, which I’m not in a position to comment on in public,” wrote Jackson in a statement to the Journal. “I support what Mayor John Lazar said about the investigation.
“This is yet another attempt to silence me and stop me from doing the job Turlock voters elected me to do,” Jackson continued. “Several council members are trying to divert issues surrounding them. I believe we’re wasting valuable city resources and our tax dollars on these roadblock ‘allegations’ instead of dealing with the important issues facing our community, the budget, economic development and revitalizing our downtown!”
Mayor John Lazar could not be reached for comment on this story.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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