Kevin Valine

Modesto tangled in web of words

It should have been a routine matter for the Modesto City Council to accept the recommendations of Mayor Ted Brandvold’s budget review committee. But there was nothing routine Tuesday night when council members took up this matter.

The discussion was too long, often confusing, at times acrimonious, and ended with a 4-3 vote to accept the recommendations. The mayor and City Manager Jim Holgersson will come back to the council within 90 days with a plan on how the city could review the recommendations, including how they could be implemented.

Council members Doug Ridenour, Bill Zoslocki and Jenny Kenoyer voted “no.”

The three praised the committee and the importance of its work but had concerns about such things as the process Modesto would use to move forward on the recommendations. Before getting to how this blew up in the council’s face, some background on the committee and its work:

Brandvold – who took office in late February – asked the council to form the 100-day budget review committee in late March. Committee members were tasked with finding money in the budget so the city could hire more police officers and make recommendations that would help the city’s long-term financial sustainability.

The committee found the money, and the city’s new budget has funding to hire 22 officers. The committee’s long-term recommendations include taking a more conservative approach to Modesto’s financial forecasts, consolidating services where it makes sense with Stanislaus County and reducing or eliminating the subsidy to city operations and facilities that operate at a loss, such as Modesto Centre Plaza.

The committee also recommends the city consider having nonprofits take over the McHenry Museum and McHenry Mansion, which require city subsidies. The nonprofits would have to maintain the facilities’ mission of showcasing Modesto’s past. The meeting drew large numbers of supporters of the museum and mansion.

Holgersson has said that with the council’s approval, he and the mayor would report back to the council within 90 days with a process the council could use to review the recommendations. It would include public meetings so community members could participate. Implementing any of the major recommendations, such as turning the museum and mansion over to nonprofits, would require council votes, which would take place after the council had vetted the recommendations.

Holgersson reiterated that message Tuesday night, but it might not have been clear to everyone. Part of the reason might have been the wording of the resolution the council passed on the 4-3 vote: “To receive the 100 Days Committee Recommendations and adopt the Recommendations, and direct the City Manager and Mayor to prepare a plan to implement the Recommendations for consideration by the City Council within 90 days.”

Ridenour said Wednesday that he took the resolution to mean the council would be asked to implement the recommendations without the opportunity to vet them. That tied in to his concern that the entire council had not been given the opportunity to participate in the committee’s work.

Brandvold and council members Kristi Ah You and Mani Grewal served on the 13-member committee. Committee meetings were open to the public, and all council members were encouraged to attend. But Kenoyer said she arrived a little late to the last meeting and committee chairman Chuck Bryant cut her off when she tried to speak, saying public comment had ended. Bryant later relented and allowed questions from the public.

Kenoyer and Zoslocki took exception to the use of the word “adopt” in the resolution. The word is too strong and could be viewed to mean the council was moving forward on the recommendations without reviewing them. Kenoyer suggested the use of the word “receive.”

Ah You said “receive” was not strong enough to reflect the great work of the committee. Brandvold said this about that word choice: “It’s ridiculous that any council member would want to dilute the work of the 100-day committee. ... It’s ridiculous that anyone would want to dilute those efforts.” He added that the council was being asked to adopt the recommendations for consideration.

When asked after the meeting why he did not concede to Kenoyer and Zoslocki on that point and get a 6-1 or 7-0 vote, Brandvold said using the word “receive” would have demeaned the committee’s work.

Kevin Valine: 209-578-2316