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Locals urge investigation into city finances

Concerned by recent decisions reportedly made by Mayor Andy Medellin and passed with little public or council discussion, some residents, including a major developer, are calling for an independent investigation into city funds and salaries, and also a review of Medellin’s recent decision to appoint former Chief of Police Steve Frazier as interim city administrator, after the abrupt departure in mid-December of David Tooley, who held the administrator post for some 25 years.

Some also say senior city salaries are too high, compared to similar salaries paid by other San Joaquin Valley cities.

Mayor Andy Medellin said he believes the City Council has been open and fair in the way it has handled changes beginning with the departure of Tooley.

“With the recent retirement of our city administrator,” Medellin said, “we felt it was necessary to fill the position on an interim basis quickly to ensure direction and stability to our residents and employees. Providing a stellar service delivery to our residents is our most important goal.

“I felt Chief Frazier had worked closely with management and completely understood the positive economic and financial direction in which we were going.

“Chief Frazier maintained a fundamentally sound relationship with the City Council and completely understood our objectives and at the same time, he was not afraid to interject new ideas for Madera.”

Medellin said that recent events in the city were unprecedented, and that he and the council were aware of the controversy and the questions from the public and were looking into residents’ concerns, but taking it a step at a time and after much consideration.

Lifetime resident, developer and home builder Mike Pistoresi, who first raised the salary comparison issue in a letter to the editor of The Madera Tribune, said that after what he called excessive salaries had recently come to light the public trust has been seriously damaged and the setting of salaries smelled of cronyism, incompetence and possibly cover-up.

He urged concerned citizens to attend the next scheduled council meeting on Jan. 17.

“We need somebody independent to look into all of it — the salaries, the water rates and enterprise funds, and the Measure K money,” he said. “And if we are paying for an interim city manager, we need someone qualified in place that can do those reviews and will make those changes, clean house, if you will,” he said. “We also need the public to pay attention and participate.”

Medellin denied there were any problems with the city’s enterprise funds, which are set up to manage and operate city services such as water, sewer and garbage.

“These funds are audited annually and made available to the public with full transparency,” he said. “As a matter of fact, we will be having a public discussion and workshop regarding our City’s water rates and conservation efforts on our Jan. 17 agenda. I am hoping to have a number of residents attend and provide input regarding Madera’s future when it comes to our most precious commodity.

“It is also the direction of the City Council to have public information updates from our finance department in regards to every dollar spent from Measure K funds. Myself and the Council have made it very clear that these funds will only be spent on public safety in the City of Madera.”

Still, at the Jan. 3 council meeting, at which Frazier was named interim city administrator, resident Vickie Sloan, a frequent council critic, voiced her disappointment as she spoke aloud and publicly to the Mayor and city council during public comment. Sloan expressed her frustration, that nothing had been placed on the agenda for public discussion on the issues of city salaries, or the selection of an interim city manager, and that the consideration of several better qualified and more experienced candidates, including a local retired city manager, and a local retired county chief administrator, had apparently been ignored.

In a letter submitted to the council, Sloan said, she thought the fix was in early on, when she said, “And the Mayor wonders why all the inferences to cronyism? It was a done deal! Then the mayor nominated himself, Mr. Rigby and Mr. Oliver ... They are now the ad hoc selection committee? The audience sat shaking their heads. Really? What just happened? No one asked if any other council member would be interested. Do you (Mayor Medellin) believe they aren’t capable, or would it disrupt your plans if your choices weren’t put into place?

“You stated that you make yourself available to everyone that wishes to speak with you. We tried. You didn’t return the call.”

What Frazier will earn as interim city administrator remains up in the air.

Medellin said choosing the interim administrator was completely up to the council.

“The item was placed on the agenda to be discussed in open session. I provided my statement, and prior to making a motion, I made it very clear that the floor would be open for discussion. After I received a second to my motion, the discussion was made available to all council members, where additional praise was spoken of Mr. Frazier. The vote was unanimous, 7-0. The ad hoc committee will be finalizing a new employee agreement and presenting to council soon.”

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