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Grand Jury Chastises Former Councilman
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The Stanislaus County Grand Jury issued a report critical of former Oakdale City Council Member Jason Howard’s actions when serving on the council during his shortened term.

The recently released report disapproves 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, 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 is 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.

It took Howard only one day as a council member to come under fault by the Grand Jury. In an act described as “poor judgment,” the Grand Jury found that Howard violated Oakdale procedures on ethical behavior during an incident on Dec. 7, 2010, the day after being sworn in as a council member. On that day Howard requested a 2009 confidential public works personnel investigation report. Howard met with then-City Manager Steve Hallam and was allowed to review the report alone in an office and instructed that the report could not leave the premises.

When Hallam returned, he noticed both Howard and the report gone. Hallam contacted Howard by cell phone and learned Howard had taken the document home with him. During the call Howard stated he would return it shortly after review but did not understand why it needed to be returned immediately. It took a second telephone call from Hallam, even though Howard had been advised that legal counsel considered the document sensitive and personal, for Howard to return the report later in the day.

In March 2011, Howard had a meeting with another council member and a public works employee regarding a personnel issue without the knowledge of Hallam or the personnel department. Only after the meeting had been going on, did Hallam get advised and asked to attend. A few days later, Howard met with the city employee and continued to discuss the city personnel issues without knowledge of the city manager, personnel department or legal department, which would have been the proper authorities for the concern.

The Grand Jury reported that Howard had interfered in the personnel issue by interjecting himself and ignored the violations of established Oakdale rules and procedures.

Howard, a past critic of both Hallam and former Public Works Director Joe Leach, was very public about his friendships and associations with public works employees to the point of making reorganization recommendations in a June 20, 2011 council meeting that created visible dissention on the council dais and was done without the knowledge of Interim City Manager Mike Botto.

The report also reprimands Howard and Mayor Pat Paul for a July 18, 2011 council meeting where they abstained from voting on a resolution because they had a conflict of interest, however remained in the chambers and participated in the matter’s discussion.

The Grand Jury cited California Government Code violations instructing that they were to have left the room during all discussion on the issue.

Finally, the Grand Jury reported that during their investigation they learned that Howard had moved from Oakdale “at the start of 2012” but was still participating in city council meetings despite no longer being a resident of Oakdale.

The report states, “…no council member is allowed to serve on Councils/Boards when they do not live within the establish (sic) limits of the jurisdiction they are representing.” The Grand Jury recommended that Howard should have immediately removed himself or been removed from his position as soon as he moved from the city limits.

Several calls and messages left for Howard by The Leader had not been returned by press time. Howard’s on-line blog “Mostly Empirical” about Oakdale has been removed from his website.

By law, the Oakdale City Council must respond to the findings and recommendations made in the report within 90 days of its issuance.