Kevin Valine

Modesto News: Union steps up to fix King-Kennedy Memorial Center flagpole

Longtime west Modesto resident and Navy veteran George Russell told City Council members about two weeks ago that his requests to city officials to fix the flagpole at the King-Kennedy Memorial Center had fallen on deaf ears over the years.

Council members heard Russell and sent his request to their Great Safe Neighborhoods Committee for resolution. Someone else also was taking notice: International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 684 business manager Billy Powell.

Powell and IBEW business representative Bobby Stutzman offered the committee at its Monday meeting an offer it could not refuse: Union members and their electrical contractors would fix the flagpole at no cost to the city.

“I am a veteran and I don’t like seeing empty flagpoles,” Powell said after the meeting. “I felt it would be a good opportunity to do something good.”

Powell stepped into action after reading about Russell’s plight in The Modesto Bee and met with Councilman Mani Grewal and Mayor Ted Brandvold last week after running the idea by his local’s labor-management panel.

The Great Safe Neighborhoods Committee’s three members – council members Kristi Ah You, Jenny Kenoyer and Doug Ridenour – enthusiastically accepted the offer. City staff was recommending Modesto replace the flagpole at a cost of $8,000 to $10,000.

Russell, who was not at the meeting, thanked the IBEW local, but has not forgiven the city.

“I appreciate what they are doing,” he said. “It’s more than what the city of Modesto has done.”

Russell, who served in the Navy for 21 years, has said he asked top parks and recreation officials about a dozen times over a few years about fixing the flagpole. Those officials are no longer with the city. One of them, former Parks, Recreation and Neighborhoods Director Julie Hannon, said in an email she could not remember much about the issue. She left Modesto about 2 1/2 years ago.

Russell also asked council members at their March 1 meeting how they could approve spending $75,000 for lodging and meals for the Amgen Tour of California on May 18, even though the professional bicyclists would not be racing here, and he could not get the city to fix the flagpole or other problems at the center, such as the automatic doors that continue to stick or come off their tracks despite repairs by the city.

He raised that complaint again this week: “How can you spend money on people who don’t live in my community, and I’m paying taxes, and you cannot take care of the buildings you have in your town?”

A divided council approved the Amgen spending in February, with then-Mayor Garrad Marsh and council members Kenoyer, Ridenour and Tony Madrigal voting for it. Ah You, Mani Grewal and Bill Zoslocki voted against it.

Russell said the flagpole is missing the cable that raises and lowers the flag. He has said vandals destroyed it, and he does not want it replaced because he fears that will happen again. He has asked the city to permanently mount the flag and install a light that shines on it at night. And he wants a way to lower the flag to half-staff as needed.

The Stanislaus Multicultural Health Coalition – West Modesto/King Kennedy Neighborhood Collaborative, which operates the center on behalf of the city, wants the same solution. While the collaborative runs the center, the city maintains and cleans it.

Powell said that is what union members and the electrical contractors will do. He said it will take about two weeks to get the parts, and the work will take a day or two. He estimated the cost to retrofit the 25-foot-tall flagpole at $3,500.

Kevin Valine: 209-578-2316