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City Response Agrees With Grand Jury Finding

POSTED September 4, 2012 3:51 p.m.

In a very brief and to-the-point response drafted by City Attorney Tom Hallinan, the City of Oakdale will notify the Stanislaus County Grand Jury that it agrees with the four findings and all four recommendations from a report that criticized the actions of former councilman Jason Howard.

The city had 90 days to respond to the July 2012 report that disapproved of Howard’s Dec. 7, 2010 actions where he removed a confidential personnel file from city hall even after being told not to do so, alleged that he interfered with a city personnel issue in March 2011, and failed to abstain from a July 2011 council resolution where there was a clear conflict of interest by remaining and participating in discussions. The report was also extremely stern in criticizing Howard for choosing to remain on the council after moving out of the area in violation of residency requirements in the California Government Code.

Howard resigned his council seat in April 2012 due to moving to take a job in the Grass Valley area.

The city did note that it agreed only in part to the finding regarding the conflict of interest that had pertained to lighting districts, stating that the council item was “confusing” since it was a combined item with other lighting districts. The city states that since it is expected to be a yearly issue, they have corrected the matter by splitting it into a separate agenda item.

The city’s response and position greatly differs from a personal response posted by Howard in July after the report was revealed.

In July, Howard posted on his website, and a copy was also provided to The Leader by his mother, that he believed his actions were reasonable and did not violate any laws or provisions.

Despite the Grand Jury’s finding of impropriety in removing the city documents, Howard wrote, “It is my assertion that the removal of this document was well within my discretion as a duly elected member of the City Council. I maintained full control of the document for the short time it was outside the city offices.”

Howard went on to say, “Further, I found it quite disturbing to be chastised by fellow council members who had not, to my knowledge, even read the document.”

Howard also maintained that he was proper in how he handled the question of residency, regardless of the Grand Jury finding and city agreement.

Howard stated that even though he was “staying” with his sister in Grass Valley during the week, he still maintained his residence in Oakdale where he would come for the weekends.

In closing, Howard criticized his fellow city leaders, “By the end of my time on the council, I had become quite disillusioned by the nature of the position. Too often, I encountered occasions where council or staff’s baseless, uninformed opinions were weighed as equal to those that were well based in fact. There existed very little discussion or debate between council members, which I found to be very unhealthy. Further, it became quite apparent that the council had little time or interest in studying the material that was given to them.”

When contacted by The Leader, Howard responded via email that he was not aware of the city’s response.

“Good for them,” Howard wrote. “I’m sure the typical amount of effort was put into it’s (sic) creation.”

In its response, the city agreed with the Grand Jury’s recommendations that council members review the Rules and Procedures Handbook, not become involved in personnel issues or become employee advocates, and abide by Section 36502 of the Government Code regarding residency.

Howard’s vacant seat is being pursued by three individuals in the November election.

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