The distrust of Stockton instututions

Sam Fant in court.

I wrote a column on it here. It underlies Stockton politics.

Now District 6 Council candidate Sam Fant, charged with voter fraud, says maybe the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office should relinquish prosecution of his case.

“Fant said he has “profound respect” for District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar but cited a number of reasons it would be best if the case were transferred from her stewardship,” the story says.

The reasons: D.A. Tori Verber-Salazar has the same campaign consultant at Fant’s rival for office; he and Verber-Salazar served on the fair board together and she may have come to dislike his politics; the charges seem suspiciously timed to hurt his campaign.

Of the three, the first has the most weight, but that’s not much. Political consultants work for their clients, not the other way around. In Fant’s view, the D.A. works for her political consultant, bringing charges against Fant just to help the consultant’s effort to advance one of his other clients.

At best that is unlikely. At worst it is the kooky paranoia that’s so prevalent in this town, the distrust of institutions borne not merely of healthy skepticism (which Stockton institutions deserve, but) of poverty and civic illiteracy. Likely it is somewhere in between, as Fant seems smart enough to exploit that distrust in the court of public opinion.

Of the other two reasons, well, shucks. Fant alleges the D.A. is prosecuting him because she doesn’t like his politics and she timed the charges for political and not legal reasons. But he has “profound respect” for her! Sure!

If a candidate is crooked, I want to know it before the election.

Fant deserves his day in court. He’s innocent until proved otherwise. But I’ll make a general observation: in this town, the shady characters and the hustlers always put the system on trial. These ethicists hold officials to the highest conduct, while they ignore the rules.


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‘Modesto’s loss was Stockton’s gain’

That’s the summation of Modesto Bee’s Marijke Rowland, who covered the X-Fest for years in Modesto, and covered its first go in Stockton earlier this month.

The band Rooted performs at the X-Fest in Stockton.

Rowlands has an interesting critique of the move. By leaving downtown Modesto for the fairgrounds in Stockton, she writes, the X-Fest sacrificed its hip urban vibe.

“X-Fest, love it or hate it, was different because it was in the heart of Modesto,” she writes. “The novelty of drinking and dancing in the streets while the city’s buildings loomed above was part of what made it so popular.” Moving it to a fairgrounds, “made it a much more conventional event … you almost expect to see a Ferris wheel rising in the background.”

There were acoustic problems with the fairgrounds, she writes.

“The smaller fair space also made for some cramped quarters for the local bands who fill the peripheral stages. Most of the smaller stages were within throwing distance of each other. And without buildings acting as buffers, sound bleed was evident at most locations. It was even evident on the event’s largest stage, the KWIN hip-hop stage. the rock stage, which was located at the end of the meadow in front of it, could be heard clearly between songs.”

But that can be addressed.

Subtracting the urban surroundings could transform the event, she writes. “People could begin going not based on its reputation as a big, citywide party but solely the strength of its headliners. Then big names would be the draw, not the casual discover of regional gems.”

Possibly. But at $20 a ticket the event’s affordability may make dominant headliners unnecessary.

Attendance at the Stockton festival was strong. There was virtually no trouble. So the Stockton X-Fest must be reckoned a success, Rowlands writes. She used the same line I did when I wrote about it: “Modesto’s loss was Stockton’s gain.”


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Court ruling: salvation from the pension monster?


In Stockton's bankruptcy trial, Judge Christoper Klein ruled that pensions cold be "impaired," or cut, despite the contention to the contrary by CalPERS' attorneys. But Stockton chose not to cut pensions.

At long last, relief from the crushing cost of public employee pensions may be at hand.

A three-judge panel in San Francisco ruled last week that the “California Rule” — a claim that state pensions enjoy “sovereign immunity” from being cut in federal bankruptcy court — is not absolute. Pensions can be cut.

The word (if the state Supreme Court upholds the ruling) is Hallelujah.

The ever-ballooning cost of pensions likely could bankrupt Stockton again in the next decade; failing a Chapter 18, the cost could eat away at cops, firefighters, library hours, street maintenance, you name it, thrusting the city deeper into “service insolvency.” We’d pay taxes, but we’d get bupkis. The bulk of tax money would go to pensions.

As reported by Dan Walters in the Sacramento Bee, “the court concluded the vested right to a pension ‘is only to a reasonable pension – not the immutable entitlement to to most optimal formula of calculating the pension.’”

The case apparently involved Marin public employees who actually fought to undo the modest reforms of the 2013 Public Employee Pension Reform Act. That wholly inadequate reform merely trimmed the worst excesses such as pension spiking — an obscene perk which apparently the Marin greedheads wanted to keep.

If pensions can be reasonable adjusted, then Stockton need fear neither a second bankruptcy nor the collapse of city services. Cities up and down the state can return to relative fiscal health. Public employees will appeal the ruling, though. Count on that.

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Police consultant: Why cops want Silva to resign

Lee Neves, the political consultant to the Stockton Police Officers Association, explains why the police called for Mayor Anthony Silva’s resignation early on.

“I think it has a direct effect on morale … a serious reputation problem … obviously, the stolen gun issue …”

He gets to the mayor’s supporters. “If I were the mayor I would tell my supporters to keep quiet … They are doing the mayor a disservice … Let’s face it. They come off a little unhinged.”

Neves also mentions tin foil hats.

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The end of the universe

A Delta College planetarium show.

What a cool thing it was; the universe, presented in theater in the round.

When the lights went down and the stars came out on the dome, students and visitors learned astronomy, celestial navigation, Einstein’s theories, even to a humbling extent our place in the inconceivable vastness of the universe.

A contraption calibrated to the marvelous clockwork of the stars. What a shame to lose it.

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Iwo Jima and the famous photo

Gene Beley writes:

Gene Beley's autographed photo of Joe Rosenthal.

“I really enjoyed your article on Bill White, and reflections on the Raising of the Flag photo.

One of the most enjoyable interviews in my entire journalism career was Joe Rosenthal, Jan. 14, 1968 (the photographer who took the historic photo).

…Joe told us how, when he was trudging up the hill, all the other photographers were coming down the hill, yelling at him things like, “Joe, you missed the greatest photo of your life!”

“So what was I supposed to do?” Joe asked. “Call my editor and tell him I missed the greatest photo of my life?”  He said his job was to keep going to see if he could turn sh** into a rose.  And when he got to the top of the hill, that’s when they were just erecting the larger flag you wrote about, and he shot a couple of grab shots from the hip with his big Graphlex camera, then proceeded to arrange the soldiers around the flag to take photos for hometown newspapers.

“A couple weeks later, Joe was on another island and people started telling him, “Joe, that was a great photo on the cover of LIFE magazine!” He assumed it was just one of the photos of the hometown boys and had no idea what he shot that was getting all the attention back home.

“Anyhow, I learned a valuable, lifetime lesson from Joe that day, when you think you’ve failed, just keep on trudging up the hill and try to turn sh** into a rose.”

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The sideshow

Reader Wilson Haughton called:

“I just got back from a class reunion at Colorado Springs (class of ’76, 40th yer reunion). The first thing that greeted me there was in the Gazette-Telegraph on page three was a 3-by-5 picture of our beloved mayor coming out of the Amador county lockup.”


Haughton is fed up with Silva. “In my book that’s one strike, two strikes, three strikes … four strikes.”

Stocktonians already know that the mayor’s arrest made international headlines. Just google Silva on Google News and see what comes up and from where — and none of it has anything to do with constructive initiatives in Stockton. It’s all sideshow. After a brief intermission the sideshow resumes tomorrow when Silva is arraigned in an Amador court.

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Suddenly a stickler for the rules

Attorneys have opined council members did not violate the Brown Act by appearing at a recent press conference. But the DA says she will investigate.


It would be a lot easier to take seriously Mayor Anthony Silva’s allegation that a council majority violated the Brown Act had Silva not displayed a contempt for the rules throughout his tenure.

For instance, this paper reported in May that Silva failed to file his legally required campaign finance disclosure forms by the deadline — for the third time in a row.

Out of all mayoral candidates, Silva was the only one to blow off the deadline.

Then there was the time Silva closed off a street for a party without a permit.

The time he claimed he illegally recorded a conversation with the city manager.

The time he pinned unlawful police badges on his private security force.

The time he, well, violated the Brown Act by leaking the name of the leading candidate for City Manager. The Grand jury blasted him for that one, in part because Mr. Play-by-the-Rules did not cooperate with the Grand Jury.

The list is actually much longer. But you get the idea.

Two more items should be mentioned.

First, Silva has never accepted the statutory limits on the mayor’s authority. He routinely exceeds his authority, going to department heads with issues, for instance, when that is the city manager’s job. Every time he does, he violates the City Charter.

Second — you might have heard this — Silva is charged with a felony and several misdemeanors.

I’m not saying that allegations of Brown act violations should not be taken seriously. I’m saying it is hard to take Mayor Anthony Silva seriously when he suddenly becomes a pious stickler for the rules he has so long disregarded. His actions come off more as an attempt at political payback at council members who have called for his resignation.


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The mayor’s birthday present

The Mayor compared me to "Waldorff" the heckler.

It’s my birthday.

And as a nifty present, Mayor Anthony Silva has posted a screed saying I’m a terrible human being.

OK, that part’s true. After hours I hunt humans for sport. In my defense, I confine my hunts to Banta. You don’t know anybody in Banta, right?

But the mayor also alludes to a blog post (below) in which I wrote, “Protesters — including mentally ill protesters — have a First Amendment right to express themselves in public.”

Writes the mayor, “Any one who is stupid enough to tell us that we are stupid and mentally ill; then expect us to buy the paper is just an idiot.”

Silva encourages his supporters to call for my ouster and cancel their subscription.

He’s twisting what I meant — though it’s my fault. It never occurred to me that people would think I was talking about them when I mentioned the mentally ill. But I posted a picture of protesters, so I left the door open for misinterpretation.

I was thinking of To Can Nguyen.

The well-known homeless woman To Can Nguyen has been diagnosed with a “fixed delusional system” — she imagines things that aren’t there, but always the same things. In her case she imagines there’s a “criminal animal conspiracy” to numb her mind with drugs. And Nguyen attends local government meetings religiously, always lining up to speak.

Years ago Nguyen’s sometimes grating rants led the Stockton City Council to consider some policy that would bar rambling speakers. They wanted to censor her. I defended Nguyen’s right to speak. I wrote that the Council was not qualified to determine a commenter’s fitness. I wrote that such a policy would be ripe for abuse by leaders who could exclude a noxious commenter essentially because they didn’t want the criticism.

The Council relented, more or less.

So what I meant is that I support everybody’s right to protest and to exercise their First Amendment rights to speak before the Council or any other public forum.

That means I support the right to speak of some whom others have called mentally  ill — sometimes a catch-all label slapped on unruly speakers who have poor decorum but perfectly valid views. That includes the mayor, who seems intent on tarnishing every straight-arrow institution in his political death throes. That includes readers who criticize me. I’m fair game, and I’d be a much poorer columnist if I didn’t constantly hear from you.

When we can find my column about Nguyen, I’ll add it to this post.

If you want to know how I really feel about Silva’s supporters, by the way, look no further than today’s column. I went the extra mile to listen to them, did my best to understand them and treated their views with respect — and I learned from them. That speaks for itself, I think.

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Sleazygate makes New York Times

Representing Stockton in the New York Times.

When nothing’s ever your fault, everything is someone else’s fault.

Mayor Anthony Silva’s lawyer took that mentality to extremes in yesterday’s New York Times — and yes, the city of Stockton is getting bad press in the New York Times, thanks to Silva, whose booking photo the Times published, too.

Silva’s attorney Mark Reichel actually told the Times that San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber-Salazar and the feds have coerced the Silver Lake camp counselors with whom Silva played strip poker.

Here’s a graf from the Times story.

“They forced these kids to say this stuff,” Mr. Reichel said, accusing local and federal investigators of pressuring minors into saying they were naked and drinking as Mr. Silva recorded. “They are drunk with power.”

Authorities forced kids to say they were naked? The transcripts clearly reveal they were naked. If there was anything coercive, it is the asymmetrical relationship of a powerful mayor figure in a roomful of teenagers.

But then, a guy who can say to a reporter, “You have tried to ruin my life since I took office,” isn’t responsible for his legal and political problems. He’s beset by a vast conspiracy. He’s a victim.

Do you see where that leads?

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    Michael Fitzgerald

    Mike Fitzgerald is The Record’s award-winning metro columnist. His column runs in the paper three times a week. Born in San Francisco, he was raised in Stockton. His column covers diverse beats including, sometimes, the offbeat. Read Full
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