Grand Jury blows lid off failures in city government
DJ Becker/The Madera Tribune
Kay Rhoads, left, and others, picketed last year to recall Mayor Andrew J. Medellin, who survived the effort to recall him.
The recently released 2018-2019 Madera County Grand Jury report has found “the public had reasons to be alarmed,” by the behavior and practices of the previous and interim city administrators and some staff, and also some current elected city officials. The Madera County Grand Jury is a nonpartisan group of city and county residents selected to voluntarily serve as the county’s impartial watchdog agency.
The report concluded the city staff had committed malfeasance and that the evidence the Grand Jury compiled established “that laws may have also been broken” during the time periods outlined. Evidence of multiple incidents of lack of transparency, code of ethics violations, lack of ethical practices, lack of access to information, and violations of confidentiality, along with the failure to provide requested information to the Madera County Grand Jury during their year long process of investigation were also outlined in detail.
Public information requests for city financial records by the public and the Grand Jury were deflected, selectively produced or outright impeded.
Long time business owner Kay Rhoads, an early proponent of change in the city, said she wasn’t surprised by the findings of the Grand Jury but instead was very relieved someone with authority was actually looking into the situation. Rhoads reportedly lost significant city business at her family owned print shop in retaliation for speaking up, but said she would not change a thing.
“Wow. The Grand Jury report pretty much concludes and substantiates what we were saying all along. Everything we suspected was going on was happening. It’s appalling. Nobody was watching the store. But I will only feel vindicated when they do something about it. It was a lack of oversight. The raises, the excessive salaries, (the mayor) doing business with the city, the water rate increases, etc. All these (former) employees benefited from it. The former city manager and the interim city manager ... and then they failed to turn over (requested) information to the Grand Jury? I also find that appalling. There should be some kind of legal implications ... some consequences for ignoring the law. Now it’s up to the public and the powers that be, our district attorney’s office, to do something about it.” Rhoads said. “And the public needs to pay attention and stay involved.”
Some residents are calling for the resignation of Mayor Andy Medellin. Resident and frequent council critic Ronnie Montoya said Madera was having it’s own version of fireworks this year with all the explosive revelations contained in the report, which documented all the events that had happened on the Mayor’s watch and how Medellin had benefited from doing business with the city. “It’s time for Andy Medellin to resign.”
The previous, longtime city manager, David Tooley, retired under pressure in December of 2016, after residents discovered his salary, benefits and pension package had reached approximately $325,000 a year. Former Chief of Police Steve Frazier was appointed interim city manager by Mayor Andy Medellin, Frazier then retired in December of 2018, and was followed by the appointment of present City Manager Arnoldo Rodriguez. Other resignations and or departures followed, including the city attorney, and four other senior city staff after continued public pressure applied by Rhoads and other community members, who demanded salary reductions, transparency and other changes.
Sitting city council members William Oliver and Charles Rigby lost their seats in 2018 to challengers Santos Garcia, and Steve Montes, both of whom ran on platforms of change.