Part of a journalist’s job is filtering out bullshit. When it comes to the smear campaign against Stockton City Manager Harry Black, that’s almost a full-time job.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many people doing that job in Stockton.
The (Stockton) Record is down to a skeleton crew. Stocktonia is still a relatively small operation. The TV news stations that report on Stockton are headquartered in Sacramento. They have, at best, a bureau here and, at worst, a reporter who occasionally visits.
The Facebook pages — don’t get me started.
The Record did a series of daily stories reporting that Black’s possible firing was on the City Council agenda. Black’s possible firing is always on the council agenda. A previous council fired Black’s predecessor, Kurt Wilson, without agendizing his personnel review, a blunder that violated the Brown Act and triggered a Wilson lawsuit. Anxious to avoid a repeat goof, officials now put firing not only Black, but a couple other city officials, on every agenda.
That’s ridiculous, and it’s unfair to one of the best city managers Stockton has had in years. The guy works with the sword of Damocles hanging over his head. It’s as if the city wants to discourage competent leaders.
But it suits at least two council members: Mayor Kevin Lincoln and Councilmember Michele Padilla.
I’ve written about Lincoln before. He’s an empty suit with ties to the 209 Times, a smear factory.
Both he and the Times wanted a former Stockton man and Hollywood internet celebrity, Jason Lee, to be handed $1 million to $2 million of public money for I Am Ready, Lee’s untested youth mentoring program.
Mayor Lincoln did not want Lee to go through the vetting process by which city officials ensure public money goes to responsible applicants, a huge red flag. Padilla appeared to be the only councilmember prepared to vote — irresponsibly — with him.
Lincoln is closely tied to the 209 Times.
Padilla’s husband is believed to have filmed clips for the 209 Times.
Padilla herself is in even deeper. When taking her seat on the council, she gave a speech thanking her campaign manager Sam Fant. Fant was convicted of voter fraud while a trustee in Manteca Unified School District. Stockton Councilmember Brando Villapudua alleged Fant offered him a bribe. The district attorney declined to file charges for lack of evidence, according to Lee Neves, the DA’s spokesman.
In her speech, Padilla also thanked her “management team” of Motecuzoma Sanchez and Frank Gayaldo, the twin pillars of the 209 Times.
In my opinion, she is their tool.
Padilla went on KCRA to protest that Black called a local water company employee a dirty name. The water company did write a letter objecting that “a member of the city’s leadership” “may” have called their employee a dirty name. But the letter does not name Black. It does not name anyone.
The water company issued a statement saying they consider the matter closed and they don’t want anybody taking it further.
And — come on — you don’t call people dirty names? You don’t curse? I agree it is unseemly for someone who represents Stockton to be ill-mannered. But let’s not be hypocrites here.
Padilla also alleged Black has been hostile and unprofessional to her. I reached out to Padilla. She did not respond.
Padilla sent out a document on city letterhead condemning Black and his alleged behavior. This action is a clear violation of the League of California Cities’ “bible.”
“City letterhead may be used when the Council Member is representing the City and the City’s official position. … Correspondence of Council Members representing a personal point of view on a City issue, or a dissenting point of view from an official Council position, should make it clear that the views expressed represent only the individual Council Member.”
The council will have to decide if this is actionable.
I Am Ready was channeled into the standard evaluation process, found sorely lacking, and denied funding.
It’s my belief that the recent rash of anti-Black stories arises from people furious that Lee & Co. didn’t get the money. People who see Black as an impediment to their grift. Which he is. People who pitch stories to the likes of KCRA. Some of the same people who infested Stockton Unified School District, ripped it off for millions, fired good people, and replaced them with incompetent cronies.
A majority on the Stockton council knows this. Including mayoral candidates, numerous city execs, business leaders, and observers. But most appear to prefer pearl-clutching to denouncing an ad hominem attack on a valued city leader.
Grow a pair, compadres.
The 209 Times is also flogging a story that Black “discriminated against a Hispanic business:” Stocklandia, a novel food truck court on West Lane, which shut down.
The Stocklandia story deserves a separate treatment — which it won’t get in this news desert.
Briefly, when its backers pitched the idea of a food truck court on Berkeley Avenue and West Lane, it was a new animal, and the city had no code with which to regulate it. So it issued them a temporary permit, a six-month test drive while the city worked up regulations.
“I can tell you with full honesty we wanted to see them succeed, but there were issues to the city we had to work out,” said Stephanie Ocasio, Stockton’s community development director.
Ocasio says — and the city’s code enforcers documented — that the Stocklandia people violated numerous conditions of the permit. Also problems, perhaps outside everyone’s control, worsened as Stocklandia became popular.
Neighborhood residents complained that cars were speeding down Berkeley Avenue, double-parking, and blocking driveways. Educators at two nearby schools worried students were jaywalking across busy West Lane to get lunch. Code enforcers objected that the business owners were building unpermitted structures, blocking a fire lane, holding unpermitted events, and more.
For these reasons, and because at some point, Ocasio says, the Stocklandia people became hostile, the Community Development Department declined to extend the temporary permit.
The Stocklandia people appealed to the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission extended the permit, displeasing Black, as a leaked document shows. The city appealed to the council. But before the council heard the matter, Stocklandia folded.
You can argue that city officials should have made every effort to help Stocklandia work out its issues, but you can’t argue those issues didn’t exist, or that the sole problem was discrimination.
“I never saw any evidence of any discrimination happening,” Ocasio said.
To be logical: If it was discrimination, would Black have okayed the permit in the first place?
A Latina Stocklandia founder did allege discrimination. She vowed to sue, which the 209 Times naturally blared. Most news outlets don’t report when someone threatens to sue because people threaten all sorts of things. Most wait for the suit to be filed. Then it’s a fact.
A Stocklandia executive did not return a call for comment.
Another apparent canard about Black is that he’s anti-woman. A woman would be best to speak to that, but I happened to be on the phone with Councilmember Michael Blower.
He, at least, spoke out. “Before Harry got there the management team was two-thirds male, whereas after he came it flipped; now it’s two-thirds female,” Blower said. “You’re telling me that a guy that has problems with women keeps promoting women? That just doesn’t make sense.”
Reportedly, a couple top female department heads have said Black is the best boss they ever worked for. It’d sound better coming publicly from them.
Christina Fugazi, a mayoral candidate, attacked Black on the Stockton Politics Facebook page for expanding his staff by a handful of employees when the lack of police is so dire.
This is a subgenre of bullshit, campaign bullshit.
Black did not expand city staff at the expense of the police department. The PD is funded substantially by Measure A’s ¾-cent sales tax revenue. That money, dedicated to police, is sitting in the city treasury ready to fund police hires.
The problem is — as I’ve written ad nauseum — that fewer people want to be police these days. Also, other cities pay more, so Stockton cannot hire or retain cops.
Fugazi knows this full well. But riling people — He doesn’t care about your safety! — is one way to get votes.
Finally, my favorite accusation, that Black, when city manager of Cincinnati, while on a taxpayer-funded trip to Denver with other city officials, went to a strip club.
Black declined to comment for this story, probably because nobody will believe him.
He told the Cincinnati paper that his group was walking back to their hotel when they decided to stop in the bar for a nightcap, not realizing it was a strip club; and when they had their lightbulb moment, they hastily departed, leaving unfinished beers.
This story is seductive because who doesn’t like seeing a bigwig caught being a lowlife? If only schadenfreude made things true.
Stockton’s vast potential goes unrealized in part because of its culture of tearing down leaders. Black is not just highly competent but a bulwark against the corruption creeping toward City Hall.
It’s dismaying when low-information voters don’t see this, appalling when local media fail to consider the source, weakness when leaders stay mum.
Fitzgerald’s column runs on Wednesdays. His views do not represent those of Stocktonia’s management and staff. On Twitter and Instagram as Stocktonopolis. Email: mfitzgeraldstockton@