Councilman Robert Rickman, at the Dec. 3 regular meeting of the City Council, asked the staff to review a proposal from Surland dated April 26 and report whether the staff had agreed to any of the items without the knowledge of city leaders. He said he was troubled by public accusations of criminal behavior on the part of the city and Surland.
“Were there conditions of that agreement, whatever they may be, performed by staff without going to City Council,” Rickman said during a Dec. 4 interview. “Is there information that we should have been made aware of.”
Assistant City Manager Maria Hurtado reported back during the final agenda item of the regular council meeting Tuesday, Dec. 17, with an itemized list of city responses to the 10 proposals outlined in the Surland memo.
Hurtado said the city staff development team, which meets regularly with all Tracy developers, verbally rejected the memo, and every proposal within it, during an undated meeting with Surland owner Les Serpa.
“No written response was given because the entire proposal was rejected,” Hurtado said. She concluded that there was therefore never any agreement, inappropriate or otherwise, between Surland and the city of Tracy.
Rickman asked during the meeting Tuesday about a connection between the memo and a $50,000 payment Surland made to the city on behalf of the airport fuel service provider, Turlock Air Center.
“We had a contractual agreement with Turlock Air Center,” Hurtado said. “We didn’t question where (the money) came from or what the motive was behind it, because we were focused on the contractual obligation that we had been trying to get them to pay.”
After the staff report that there was no wrongdoing on anyone’s part, Rickman explained his view on the importance of government transparency.
“We have a moral and ethical duty, when someone does bring accusations of this magnitude, that it should be vetted here in public,” Rickman said.
Councilwoman Nancy Young offered a similar assessment.
“Overall, this was a good exercise in transparency, whatever that Pandora’s box opened up, but where do we go from here?” Young said.
Councilman Charles Manne offered one possible result of the inquiry.
“I’m not sure anything got solved tonight. There might be some business processes that the city might look into doing a little better,” Manne said, adding, “But unless there is any accusations or any wrongdoing, it’s time to put this to bed.”
Mayor Pro Tem Michael Maciel felt that the questions posed by Rickman and the community had been answered honestly and openly.
“One thing I’m certain is that no one was trying to pull anything, because it was upfront,” Maciel said. “The rhetoric was at a much higher level. There was talk of criminal acts and everything else. Thankfully, that has calmed down somewhat.”
Mayor Brent Ives had the final word, saying he was satisfied that nothing inappropriate was done and thanking staff members for their work to ensure that was true.
“Thank you for indulging us in this quest for transparency,” Ives said. “I’ve heard enough. There are some lessons to learn here, I think, for all of us. There always are when you go through a process like this.”
In fact, Hurtado mentioned in her presentation one policy change that may result from the official inquiry:
“The city manager may consider establishing some administrative policy that requires us to provide written rejections when we get them in writing.”
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