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Veteran asks Modesto to fix flagpole

Can We Fix A Flagpole?

King-Kennedy Center board member George Russell in Modesto wants the City of Modesto to fix the center's flagpole. Why spend so much money the Amgen Tour of California cycling race when he's asked for much less to get a fix for the pole?
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King-Kennedy Center board member George Russell in Modesto wants the City of Modesto to fix the center's flagpole. Why spend so much money the Amgen Tour of California cycling race when he's asked for much less to get a fix for the pole?

A longtime west Modesto resident had a simple question for the City Council this week that it struggled to answer: How can the council spend $75,000 to provide a night’s lodging and meals for the Amgen Tour of California – even though the professional bicyclists will not be racing here – but after asking for several years, he could not get the city to spend a few thousand dollars to fix the flagpole at the King-Kennedy Memorial Center?

“I don’t understand how my city can spend my tax dollars (on Amgen) and I can’t even get a flagpole for the flag that I fought for for 21 years in the United States Navy,” George Russell told council members at their Tuesday meeting. “So I have a problem with you spending my tax dollars that way and not maintaining the buildings that you have under your jurisdiction. So, I’d like to get some answers, and I’d like to get a flagpole. Thank you.”

Russell is a King-Kennedy Memorial Center board member; fellow board member Sebastian Jones also spoke. The two talked about how Russell has asked parks and recreation officials for 2 1/2 years to fix the flagpole and for eight years about the need to fix the center’s automatic doors. The city has repaired them several times, but they continue to jam or come off their tracks.

Modesto owns the center but contracts with a community group to operate it, though the city maintains and cleans the facility.

The council voted 7-0 to refer the matter to its Great Safe Neighborhoods Committee. The matter will be discussed March 14. The committee will talk about the flagpole, the doors and a request to put in an electronic sign at the center.

Council members Tony Madrigal and Kristi Ah You wanted to bypass the committee and bring the matter back to the council as soon as possible for resolution, but did not have support from the other council members, who cited the need for the city to follow procedures.

No council member explained the reasoning behind the council’s Feb. 2 decision to spend $75,000 from the general fund to provide hotel rooms and meals for the annual bicycle road race. Some 350 riders and team members will spend the night in Modesto before the Tour’s Stage 5 starts May 19 in Lodi. Modesto officials are trying to raise money to recoup the city’s cost.

Councilman Bill Zoslocki came closest when he said the council was divided over Amgen. The vote was 4-3, with Zoslocki, Ah You and Councilman Mani Grewal voting against it. Mayor Ted Brandvold was not on the council then. Former Mayor Garrad Marsh was among the four “yes” votes.

City Manager Jim Holgersson said Modesto faces a backlog of deferred maintenance, especially for its parks and recreation facilities, but said the city has not forgotten the King-Kennedy Memorial Center. The council last month approved spending $300,000 in federal funds for a 3,600-square-foot modular building that will allow the Boys & Girls Clubs of Stanislaus County to expand its programs at the center.

The flagpole is missing the cable used to raise and lower the flag. Russell said vandals destroyed it and he does not want it replaced because he fears that it will happen again. He wants the city to permanently mount the flag and install a light that shines on the flag at night. The city is researching that option as well as others, including modifying the flagpole so the cable is inside it and out of reach of vandals.

Russell said he is a patient man and will give the council time. But he vowed to address the council again if there is not a resolution.

“That’s standard procedure for me,” he said. “I’m retired. I’ve got nothing better to do, and I like to see where my tax dollars go.”

Kevin Valine: 209-578-2316

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