Some support findings, other says city was going to take of matter itself
The Kern County Grand Jury report issued last week that sharply criticized Taft’s City Government got support from two councilmen but drew more condemnation from three others Tuesday night.
The report, dated Feb. 4 and released to the public on Feb. 9, broadly condemned both Gorson for failing to follow city codes and state law and for the council for failing in its fiduciary duty.
It also said there is a “distinct rift” between opposing factions on the council.
Some on the council disagreed with that finding, but it’s apparent the report itself has divided the council.
Councilmen attacked each other, the Grand Jury, and their own city manger during the discussions Tuesday night
Cliff Thompson used a 25-minute slide show to support position and say the Grand Jury’s report was right.
He also took the opportunity to level several accusations against City Manager Bob Gorson, who is at the center of the Grand Jury investigation
Craig Noble backed Thompson up.
He said he got involved with the contract issue on Oct. 3 when he received an email from Gorson complaining that “key staff members” were hearing about Thompson making allegations about city officials.
In the email, Noble said, Gorson advised that he “had lost all confidence in our city attorney.”
That email, according to Noble, went out 3 days after Jenkins presented his report that said Gorson had the power under city ordinances and the state government code to give staff raises without council approval.
“I knew right then it spelled problems for Taft,” Noble said. “I saw this as an attack on our city attorney… the first step in getting rid of our city attorney for unjust reasons.”
After he saw more emails with what he called “inaccurate information, Noble said he was prompted to contact the Grand Jury himself with “a lot of information.”
But Mayor Dave Noerr and councilmen Paul Linder and Randy Miller criticized not just the report but Thompson for bringing the Grand Jury into what they say is a matter that should have been – and was about to be – handled by the city.
Noerr and Linder both criticized the findings and condemnation of the council and Gorson by the Grand Jury.
Noerr called it both “narrow minded” and “a broad-based overstatement” that focused on
only one issue without looking at how the council has been running the city.
He said the Grand Jury totally missed the reasoning and thought process behind the decision to seek a second opinion from Michael Jenkins on a controversial business arrangement between Thompson and Gorson and the contract controversy.
The city was not seeking an opinion it wanted after a majority of the council disagreed with the findings of the city attorney, Gibson & Gibson.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Noerr said. “Everything we did in that thought process was in the best interest of the City of Taft.”
Noerr said he contacted Kathy Gibson and she whole-heartedly supported the idea.
Linder apologized for the negative attention that has been brought down on the city.
The mayor said Thompson should never have gone to the grand jury.
“This did not have to happen,” he said. “It was retaliatory and vindictive in nature.”
“The Grand Jury investigation and media coverage has been embarrassing and counterproductive to what we should and hope to achieve for Taft,” Linder said.
In a thinly-veiled reference to Thompson, Linder said “ When personal agendas, dishonesty and release of privileged information occurs in an attempt to move the attention away from poor decisions or dishonesty, it becomes a sad time in hour history.
They also took Thompson to task for going to the Grand Jury with a controversy over pay raises given by Bob Gorson and questioned his motives for doing so
Miller went a step further.
He wasn’t at the meeting (he is ill), but, in a long statement read by Linder, called for the censure of Thompson
He stated several reasons:
•“Stepping down from the dais during a council meeting to confront a member of the press in a threatening manner.
“Asking the City Manager and his wife to invest in his business venture, while not a legal conflict of interest, it certainly had the appearance of a conflict because disclosure was not made at the time.”
•“Sitting in on City Manager evaluations when he knew he had a conflict of interest
“Not attending KernCOG and LAFCO meetings and not informing the alternate of his absences.”
•“Having the City incur costs and expenses for not canceling reservations or reimbursing in a timely manner for meetings, gatherings, and conference he was scheduled to attend or attended.”
•“Leaving numerous closed session meetings in a huff when further action and discussions were to be considered.”
•“Handing over privileged documents to the Bakersfield Californian when he gave the Grand Jury the same documents.”
Thompson denied releasing any documents to the Grand Jury or media that could not legally be made public.
The arguments and charges all took place in a meeting that lasted more than two hours and was dominated by the discussion and debate over what the Grand Jury said.
Thompson said he feels vindicated by the Grand Jury’s findings and compared it to the Gretchen Belli controversy from a decade ago, which resulted in his recall from the city council before another Grand Jury ruled that Belli had defrauded the city.
“ I knew when I went to the Grand Jury I would be criticized for the joint venture with Gorson, but I also knew a majority of the council would hide the contract issue unless I brought it to light,” Thompson said. Just as a I did in 2000 I put the City of Taft ahead of myself.”
Thompson said he will ask Miller and Linder to either prove he acted wrongly on providing the information or apologize to him.