Coalinga City Council under Investigation

January 23, 2009 7:31:50 PM PST
The Fresno County Grand Jury released a report claiming the Coalinga City Council has violated the city's trust.The 19-member panel of Fresno County citizens investigated the council after people living in Coalinga made complaints.

In the seven page report, the Grand Jury concludes that the Coalinga City Council has among other things, been rude to Coalinga citizens at council meetings and have even tried to force public officials out of office.

Coalinga's city leaders who manage a town of less than 20,000 people are being scrutinized for what the Fresno County Grand Jury says are years of financial negligence, conflicts of interest, improper interference with city staff, and Brown Act violations.

According to the Brown Act, no more than three city council members can get together without the public's presence.

Doing so provides a lack of transparency as it relates to government affairs. Ron Lander, Coalinga's mayor says, "you wanna do change, you wanna make things happen and you get a little aggressive and um, then you learn, well I can't do that."

He admits the council hasn't always played by the rules. "Being on the council for 14 years, do you feel as though council members overused their power? In some instances, yes."

In a case that dates back to 2007, the grand jury claims the council asked Coalinga's city manager to fire the chief of police. After refusing, the city manager was let go and the chief of police resigned.

A wrongful termination suit followed, costing the city $225,000 dollars. Now, there's a new city manager and a new police chief, who both have a new impression of Coalinga's City Council.

Police Chief, Cal Minor says, "That's been my experience, and they've told me, they respect my experience, my philosophy and they have been in agreement publicly in what we're trying to accomplish."

Coalinga's mayor says what they're all trying to accomplish is a renewal of trust. "All the issues have been left behind. Those doors have been closed and we're moving forward to try and make Coalinga a better place."

The Grand Jury's report is not binding. It does list recommendations for the council. Meanwhile, Coalinga's mayor says all city council members will meet individually with the city attorney and figure out how to conduct business from here on out.

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