Our View: Mayor serves up nothing burger in Modesto State of the City

Mayor Ted Brandvold: Was that so hard?

You managed to dodge your responsibility for delivering a state of the city speech for three years by simply refusing to schedule one. Under pressure from The Modesto Bee, you finally agreed to stand before your people on Wednesday and tell them how Modesto is doing, for the first time since your election in 2016.

And you mostly did that. We say mostly, because what you delivered came out more like a campaign speech than a state of the city address.

The speech was comprehensive, we’ll give you that; you took a ballroom packed with a few hundred Modesto Chamber of Commerce members (each paying $40 a plate) on a plodding virtual tour of the city. We’re not sure how helpful it was for you to point out the obvious, such as locations of Vintage Faire Mall or the Gallo Center for the Arts. But it was nice to hear a precious few things we might look forward to, like apartment projects coming to Modesto’s northwest end, and future stores on the northeast edge of town.

And you have every reason to be proud that Modesto’s reserves have grown from only $3 million, a scary amount for a city of more than 200,000, to $18 million in just two years.

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Mayor, you did an adequate job reminding us of the stars Modesto has produced, from George Lucas of Star Wars fame to the Gallo winery, as well as Save Mart’s Bob Piccinini and entrepreneur Dan Costa. That part could have been lifted from any conversation with Chris Murphy, the city’s most accomplished cheerleader, except he does it with a lot more pizazz. A lot.

It’s odd that you seem uncomfortable before a crowd. Politicians usually aren’t like that. You seemed to do fine Wednesday, Mayor, as long as you were reading the long text of the speech. Afterward, you tried to answer a few questions from the crowd, but your demeanor seemed to change and you quickly turned to staff members, the chamber’s Cecil Russell and other City Council members for many answers. You got laughs with a cheap quip about annexing Riverbank, when someone asked about Modesto’s intent to redo its General Plan — but you completely sidestepped the question.

Is it too much to expect an accurate picture of the city’s current state in a state of the city speech?

You said nothing, Mayor, about the dispute that rocked your City Council meeting the night before which has bitterly divided your council, regarding the auditor who was dismissed only eight months after she was hired, or the $225,000 in severance you were forced to pay when she left.

You said nothing about the $8.3 million owed to health providers because your city management fell for an unrealistic, pie-in-the-sky health insurance pitch by a company now going under.

You said nothing about City Hall’s resolve to beef up safety training for employees, in the wake of the terrifying and heartbreaking electrocution of a worker who only hours before began learning how to install street light poles.

You said almost nothing, Mayor, about the city facing the prospect of giving $2 million in housing money back to the feds because of City Hall’s poor performance; we’re glad that’s been reduced to losing only $385,135. Your opaque reference was rather pathetic, admitting — with zero detail — to having “uncovered many issues requiring quite a bit of correction, including some that have made it into the newspaper.”

With that kind of baggage, maybe it’s not surprising that you dragged your heels on giving a state of the city address, Mayor Brandvold, for three years, with lame excuses and no good reason. Maybe it’s not surprising that when it finally happened, it was heavy on rah-rah and light in substance.

Sort of like a campaign speech.