Journalism

Friends of Denny

Submitted: Feb 11, 2006

Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, has recently inaugurated a weekly email newsletter to keep his constituents "in the loop." The Shrimp Slayer's loop, however, would not be large enough to rope a heavily drugged alley cat. So, we thought we'd somewhat extend the loop to include the Shrimp Slayer's wider circle of friends.

No one among today's elected officials, for example, has a better claim to the title "Mr. UC Merced-- Political Class" than Denny. So we thought we'd read up on how UC is doing these days, because the Shrimp Slayer is working ceaselessly working for UC in Congress. That brought us to remember the academic chair in public policy at UC Merced, endowed by Shrimp Slayer predecessor Rep. Tony “Honest Graft” Coelho. It is always important to set good leadership examples for the young.

In a recent “town hall meeting” stacked with senior citizens who harkened in vain for the “prescription drug” word, Denny introduced another good friend, UC Merced Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, whose elemental grasp of Valley history begins and ends with the theme: When UC got here! The Shrimp Slayer said he’d spent more time with the Chancellor recently than he had with his wife. Good taste and family values are hallmarks of Denny’s tenure in office.

Then there is Denny's real good friend in Tracy, Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer, with whom Denny teams up from time to time to gut the Endangered Species Act on behalf of their common developer friends and UC, Merced's anchor-tenant developer. So, we thought we'd read up on how Ol' RichPAC's campaign was going against former Rep. Pete "The Elder" McCloskey, Real Republican-Lodi. All this led us to recall The Shrimp Slayer's friends in the Federal Republic of Micronesia.

Returning to the theme of history beginning when UC Merced got here, the campus seems to be operating as a kind of memory wash. Former UC Provost M.R.C. Greenwood, whose compensation package is at the center of the present controversy raging in the state Legislature, was apparently able to stash her son on the UC Merced payroll. And then there’s former UC president David Gardner, a member of the UC Merced Foundation board of trustees, whose golden parachute 13 years ago occasioned the last outbreak of public outrage against UC administrators bilking the public.

Bill Hatch
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Pombo charges taxpayers for vacation
Nick Juliano
Tracy Press
Feb. 9, 2006

http://www.tracypress.com/local/2006-02-09-Pombo.php
In summer 2003, just after he was named chairman of the House Resources Committee, Rep. Richard Pombo loaded the family in an RV for “two weeks on vacation” traveling around the West.

Documents obtained by the Tracy Press show taxpayers covered most of his expenses.

“This August, my family and I rented an RV and set out to explore the West,” Pombo, R-Tracy, wrote in a 2003 article posted on the Resources Committee’s Web site.

“We spent two weeks on vacation, stopping along the way to enjoy the splendor of many of our national parks.”

Pombo was reimbursed $4,935.87 to rent the RV and spent $1,500.51 on a government credit card for “travel subsistence” during a two-week span from July 27 to Aug. 11, 2003, according to a Resources Committee spending ledger obtained by the Press.

A spokesman for the committee, Brian Kennedy, said the RV rental was the only vacation expense covered by taxpayers. The credit card bill referenced in the Statement of Disbursements for the House was for expenses incurred during previous field hearings, he said. House rules dictate “official travel may not be for personal … purposes,” but allows for members of Congress to bring family members along on official trips.

Kennedy defended Pombo’s expenses. He said Pombo spent those two weeks visiting and meeting with officials at 10 national parks, over which his committee has jurisdiction.

“You bet his family was with him, of course,” Kennedy said. “What better way to see and judge the visitor experience of a national park?”

Larry Noble, a former general counsel to the Federal Election Commission, said the trip gives the impression “that members of Congress are out of touch and feel entitled to things the average person doesn’t get,” even though he may have been doing some official business.

“I understand what he’s saying … but it does look like a family vacation, and the taxpayer has a right to ask, ‘Is this the best way to do this?’” said Noble, who is now the executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan government watchdog group.

Kennedy said Pombo and his family traveled through California, Arizona, Wyoming, South Dakota and Montana, meeting with officials and touring the parks. In an article published on the Resources Committee’s Web site, Pombo said he also visited Colorado.

It is unclear exactly how much of Pombo’s time during the two-week span was spent on official business, but it was “probably a substantial amount,” Kennedy said.

“Frankly, I think it should be refreshing for people to know that Chairman Pombo is the kind of guy who will jump behind the wheel of an RV and drive 5,000 miles to see … and learn about the national parks that taxpayers pay him to oversee,” he said.

No Resources Committee staff members or fellow members of Congress accompanied Pombo on the trip, and Kennedy said he did not know how Pombo’s family occupied themselves while he was in meetings.

By renting an RV and toting along his family, Kennedy said, Pombo likely saved money on hotels and airfare that he would have incurred if he’d traveled alone.

“If the chairman could have loaded the family into a helicopter to go to all of these
meetings and all of these parks for $5,000, he would have,” Kennedy said.

House travel rules require that members reimburse travel expenses for family members

accompanying them on chartered airplanes paid for with government money, but no similar rule exists for RV travel.

The rules also require that personal travel in officially rented vehicles be kept to a minimum and must “not otherwise constitute a significant activity or event.”

Kennedy said Pombo’s travel did not violate these rules.

“The House rules are relatively lax about these types of things,” Noble said. “It’s supposed to be official business, and a number of them (members of Congress) are reluctant to call things official business. This, to me, is really in that questionable area.”

Congressional Democrats have previously accused Pombo of misusing taxpayer funds to pay his top aide to travel between Stockton and Washington, D.C.

Bay Area Reps. George Miller and Ellen Tauscher on Tuesday publicly requested an investigation into the arrangement in which Steve Ding, Pombo’s and the House Resources Committee’s chief of staff, has billed taxpayers more than $87,000 during the last several years for his nearly weekly flights and hotel stays in Washington. The deal also has allowed Ding to collect tens of thousands of dollars in political consulting fees from clients in California.

Pombo has defended that relationship, saying it fosters an outside-the-beltway perspective among his committee staff.
------------------------------

McCloskey for Congress
February 6, 2006
For Immediate Release

"FOLLOW THE MONEY"

In a speech to the Lodi Rotary Club today, former Congressman Pete McCloskey responded to press reports that incumbent Congressman Richard Pombo had raised $1.2 million in campaign funds by year end 2005, as against McCloskey's zero.

"I intend to make Pombo's campaign funding sources and Mr. Pombo's actions in response to those sources a major issue in this campaign," McCloskey said.

He challenged Pombo to respond to the following facts:

1. Indian gaming lobbyist Jack Abramoff has recently pled guilty to felonious efforts to
bribe Members of Congress.

2. Mr. Pombo and his PAC, "RICHPAC," have received more money from Abramoff, his wife and clients ($54,500) than any other California congressperson.

3. Mr. Pombo has also received more money (over $500,000) from Indian tribes than any other Member of the House.

4. One of Mr. Abramoff's most lucrative clients was the infamous clothing manufacturing industry in the Marianas Islands, a U.S. trust territory under the jurisdiction of Chairman Pombo's Committee on Resources. The industry, led by one Willie Tan, paid Abramoff millions to fend off legislation which would reform applicable immigration and labor standards to the thousands of young women brought to the Marianas to work in the sweatshops there.

5. Working conditions had become so notoriously bad by 2000 that conservative Senator Frank Murkowski, (R. Alaska) was able to obtain unanimous Senate passage of a Marianas reform bill. The bill upon passage was referred to Pombo's Committee on Resources, then chaired by James Hansen (R-Utah) where it died.

6. Over a two year period Abramoff records reflect he met on at least two dozen occasions with Majority leader Tom Delay (R-Texas) seeking to prevent Marianas reform legislation and on other topics.

7. During an 8-month period in 2000, Mr. Pombo's press secretary and legislative assistant received at least a dozen tickets to Abramoff's private "skybox," on five separate occasions, the tickets being valued at $1,000 each for inside-the-Beltway fundraising purposes.

8. On September 16, 2003, Abramoff's associate Kevin Ring, a former staff person for Congressman John Doolittle, gave Pombo's RICHPAC $1,000. Mr. Ring also gave Mr. Pombo an additional $3,000 between September 13, 2002, and February 18, 2005. In the fall of 2005, Mr. Ring took the 5th Amendment when questioned by Senator John McCain's Committee on Indian Affairs.

9. In January 2004, Mr. Pombo traveled to the Marianas, and on May 18, 2004, received nine campaign contributions from the following residents of the Marianas connected with the garment industry or the government of the Marianas.

Jerry Tan $500
Eloy Inos $500
Juan Baubata $500
Paul Zak $500
Hsia-Ling Lin $2,000
Richard Pierce $1,500
Clarence Tenorio $1,000
Pedro Atalig $1,000
Diego Benevente $500
Total = $7,750

10. In January 2005, Mr. Pombo and the House Republican leadership changed the House Ethics Rules to prevent any further investigation of Tom Delay who had been three times admonished on the House Ethics Committee.

11. As of February 2006, Chairman Pombo has neither considered a bill to implement the Murkowski bill, nor has he responded to repeated requests to investigate the Abramoff influence on either the Marianas reform bill or the Indian casino industry.

"At the very least, Mr. Pombo should explain to his constituents why he has taken so much money from Mr. Abramoff, his clients, and the Indian tribes interested in casino gambling,"

McCloskey said.

For more information contact:
Robert Caughlan
650 575 9448
www.PeteMcCloskey.com
---------------------------

US delegation leaves Pohnpei with "first-hand island experience"
www.fsmgov.org/press/pr011704.htm

PALIKIR, Pohnpei (FSM Information Service): January 17, 2004 - Congressman Richard Pombo of the United States House of Representative and his Congressional Delegation (CODEL) along with Secretary Gale A. Norton of the US Department of Interior left Pohnpei State with an experience of the island life, "first-hand" during their visit to the seat of the nation.

The welcome for the high-level CODEL was punctuated by the famous heavy rain showers of Pohnpei upon arrival. Mwaramwars and a chorus of songs from the local Head Start - as they waived mini FSM/US flags, continued the display of island-welcome when officials from both State and National Governments greeted the CODEL at the Pohnpei International Airport.

Continued rainfall accompanied their drive to the nation's capitol in Palikir where they met with President Joseph J. Urusemal and Speaker Peter M. Christian of the Congress of the Federated States of Micronesia.

President Urusemal welcomed the delegation to Palikir and explained that rain-shower in local folklores, is a good omen.

The President expressed FSM's appreciation for U.S.'s passage of the amended Compact and thanked, especially, the US Congress for its "swift action" on the amended Compact legislation.He also noted the recent establishment of DOI's Honolulu Office to monitor financial assistance under the Compact and expressed FSM's willingness and commitment to making the amended Compact work to the benefit of both nations.

Along the same line, Secretary Norton said the signed Compact signals tremendous opportunities for both nations to "further strengthen our relationship" and that she is "looking forward to working with the FSM, to go forward with the Compact of Free Association, to go forward with the future." …

During the evening's dinner reception at the Cliff Rainbow Hotel, Chairman Pombo echoed Secretary Norton's remarks when he also referenced Specialist Bermanis's sacrifice. He thanked the FSM for their sons and daughters that are serving alongside U.S's own. Chairman Pombo said their visit to Pohnpei afforded the opportunity for members of his delegation to see and experience first-hand the issues which they have been working on from afar.

Secretary Norton said, "it provided a tremendous opportunity to experience the FSM first-hand." … Pombo chairs the House Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. The chairman headed a CODEL that included: Rep. Eni Faleomavaega from American Samoa, Rep. Frank Lucas from Oklahoma, Rep. Jeff Flake from Arizona, Rep. Dennis Rehberg from Montana, Rep. Dennis Cardoza from California, Rep. Madeleine Bordallo of Guam and a several Congressional staff.

Representing the 11th District of California, Chairman Pombo is serving his sixth term in the House. His personal leadership has been noted as "very instrumental and effective" in the passage of the amended Compact legislation …
-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Pombo introduces rewrite of Endangered Species Act

Sep 26, 2005 9:17 AM
By Forrest Laws, Farm Press Editorial Staff
http://westernfarmpress.com/news/9-26-05-Pombo-Endangered-Species-Act/

Rep. Richard W. Pombo, R-Calif., introduced his long-awaited rewrite of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, saying it was “time to do better” by the plants and animals the law was designed to protect.

Pombo, chairman of the House Resources Committee, was joined by fellow West Coast Congressmen Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif.; Greg Walden, R-Ore.; and George Radanovich, R-Calif., at a press conference announcing the new legislation in Stockton, Calif., Sept. 19.

After the announcement, critics complained the new legislation would cripple the current Endangered Species Act and “punch loopholes in the law on behalf of greedy developers, oil companies and other special interests.” Pombo said the 1973 law simply has not done what it was intended to do...
------------------------------------

http://www.ucinthevalley.org/articles/2002/jan25art1.htm

Former U.S. Congressman Tony Coelho Commits Endowment for UC Merced

Merced, CA - Tony Coelho, a former U.S. Congressman who represented California's Central Valley for more than a decade and pioneering advocate for a University of California campus in the region, has committed an endowed chair to the University of California, Merced. A special ceremony will be held this afternoon (Friday, January 25) in Merced to announce the Tony Coelho Endowed Chair in Public Policy and to recognize his longtime commitment to the 10th UC campus.

"For our campus to have a faculty chair bearing the name of Tony Coelho is indeed a privilege," said UC Merced Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey. "He is a visionary leader whose work to promote education, disability awareness, agriculture and many other important issues has improved the lives of millions of Americans. Tony Coelho's dedication to public service will live on in the faculty research and education of future leaders made possible through this endowment." …

===================================================

SENATORS DEMAND ANSWERS ON UC PAY
Unreported compensation raises ire at panel's hearing
- Tanya Schevitz, Todd Wallack, Chronicle Staff Writers
Thursday, February 9, 2006
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2006/02/09/MNG8JH5HBO1.DTL&type=printable

Sacramento -- Members of the state Senate Education Committee expressed annoyance Wednesday and demanded to know why the University of California has failed to fully disclose its pay practices and follow its own policies.

At a contentious hearing, UC President Robert Dynes faced one difficult question after another and offered a personal apology for the university system's failure to meet its obligations to account for the money it gives employees.

"It is with real regret that I have come to acknowledge that we have not always met the standards others hold us to in matters of compensation and compensation disclosure,'' Dynes said. "My ethics are upset by this."

The hearing was one of a series called in response to reports in The Chronicle that the 10-campus system has paid some employees much more than was reported to the public. Dynes is scheduled to testify again before the Senate committee on Feb. 22. An Assembly committee plans to hold its own hearings in late spring.

At Wednesday's session, senators peppered Dynes with questions about golden parachutes offered to former Provost M.R.C. Greenwood and former UC Davis Vice Chancellor Celeste Rose as well as about hidden pay and perks offered to other executives.

In one of the harshest exchanges, Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, demanded to know whether any UC executives had resigned or been fired in the wake of the payment revelations.

Dynes noted that Greenwood had resigned, eliciting snickers from the audience.

"We heard about what happened to her," Romero replied, referring to a $301,840, 15-month leave she was given after her resignation as well as her cushion of a $163,800 faculty job at UC Davis. Greenwood resigned in November after UC opened an investigation into the hiring of her business partner and son after questions were raised by The Chronicle.

Romero also asked whether anyone at UC was examining whether any of the mistakes "border on criminality."

"Yes, there are internal investigations,'' Dynes said. UC has previously announced an array of internal audits, though this was the first mention of the possibility that any laws were violated.

In general, Dynes admitted that he had sometimes let the university go astray in its secretive approach to compensation.

"It is perhaps true that at times I have been so committed to competitiveness and excellence that I have not been as mindful of the other responsibilities that come with being steward of this public institution," he said.

Half of the senators on the 12-member committee were outspoken in their criticism, some saying Dynes' apologies and promises of improvements ring hollow considering that UC was in the same situation in 1992.

Sen. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, ticked off a series of reforms recommended to the UC Board of Regents back then by retired Legislative Analyst A. Alan Post.

Dynes conceded that UC has continued to provide several executive perks that Post had urged be eliminated. Those include an executive severance pay plan that UC now says is deferred compensation (and is converting to a retirement plan), an executive auto allowance and a special life insurance policy.

"That was something that was asked of you, and you didn't comply," Speier said.
Dynes said a reporting and monitoring system will be put in place to make sure the reforms "stick" this time.

Under questioning from the senators, UC officials admitted for the first time that they had violated policy in secretly agreeing to give Rose, the former UC Davis vice chancellor, $50,000 and a new job that pays $205,000 a year. That agreement came after Rose, who is African American, threatened to sue for discrimination when she was told to resign. Rose's new job doesn't have any regular duties, and UC promised to keep her on the payroll for two years regardless of whether she does any work.

"This should have been approved by the regents," UC attorney Jeff Blair told the committee. "There was confusion as to who was taking action to get it approved. It was an error."

In other cases, Dynes acknowledged that UC administrators had made exceptions to policy to pay employees additional money or perks. Last month, UC drew fire for an exception granted former UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Berdahl, allowing him to keep the full $355,000 he earned on a 13-month leave even though he plans to quit to take another job before fulfilling his teaching commitment.

Dynes said he had no idea how often such policy exceptions were granted. Until the audits can be completed, Dynes announced, future policy exemptions for senior managers will require his approval in consultation with the regents.

"I want to see the exceptions to see if there are flagrant violations,'' Dynes said. "I am only guessing at this point, and guessing is not a healthy thing to do."

Critics, however, said the new policy does not go far enough.

"Dynes continues to insist that he will consult, rather than requiring approval by, the regents before making exceptions to new compensation policies. That's an insufficient safeguard," said UC Berkeley Professor Bruce Fuller, who led a faculty drive for an independent investigation into the compensation practices. "It's a sugar-coated version of the status quo."

Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Salinas, urged Dynes to impose a salary freeze until the university can finish reviewing and improving its pay practices.

"Why not stop the blatant abuse we have seen and figure it out," Denham said.
Dynes said UC has already frozen executive pay.

"We have had a salary freeze the past three years,'' Dynes said. "I have had no salary increase in three years."

In fact, the UC regents in November approved a retroactive pay raise of 2.5 percent for dozens of senior managers, including Dynes. Dynes' pay, for instance, went up $10,000 to $405,000 as of Oct. 1.

UC spokesman Michael Reese said executive pay had been frozen for three years, despite the recent increases, so "that does not negate the basic point he was trying to make."
------------------------------------

UC provost who quit got questionable perk
$125,000 payment for housing possibly violated policy
Todd Wallack, Tanya Schevitz, Chronicle Staff Writers
Friday, November 11, 2005
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2005/11/11/MNGFMFMNV01.DTL

…In addition, UC has placed one of Greenwood's underlings, Winston Doby, on paid leave while it investigates whether he did anything improper to help Greenwood's 43-year-old son, James Greenwood, win a paid internship at UC Merced.
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PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE
Lessons not learned at UC
Louis Freedberg
http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2005/11/23/EDGVPFS9FO1.DTL
Wednesday, November 23, 2005

WILL THEY ever learn?

The most depressing aspect of the recent revelations by my Chronicle colleagues Tanya Schevitz and Todd Wallack about the lack of transparency in awarding compensation to top University of California employees is that the university went through a similar nail-pulling experience 13 years ago.

In 1992, the university was thoroughly shaken by disclosures that the Board of Regents, in a series of closed door meetings, had awarded then-UC President David Gardner a "deferred compensation" and retirement package worth close to $1 million.

That included an annual pension of $126,000, adjusted annually for inflation, that Gardner, who chose to retire at age 58, would receive for life.

The revelations came during another period of financial duress for the university. During the three years leading up to the Gardner disclosures, student fees had risen by 85 percent. That was the last time student fees had escalated so rapidly until the most recent round of fee increases -- up 79 percent since 2001.

I covered the ins and outs of the scandal, which included publishing transcripts of a closed-door meeting at which regents schemed how to keep details of Gardner's compensation from the press. (As we later discovered, I and other reporters were waiting right outside the room where the regents brazenly discussed how to keep the information from us).

Revelation upon embarrassing revelation followed -- including how the university bought Gardner's house in Utah in order to facilitate his move to California and ended up losing $111,000 on the deal when it sold it later. Gardner didn't want to live in the president's house in Kensington, so the regents gave him a low-interest loan, plus a generous housing allowance, so he could buy a house in Orinda. It even paid for the property taxes on the Orinda property.

The scandal widened when it turned out that 22 other top officials of the university also received similarly secretive "deferred compensation" packages.

The furor reached its peak when then-Gov. Pete Wilson and Speaker Willie Brown showed up at a tumultuous special meeting of the regents to defend Gardner's severance package.

In his memoir "Earning My Degree," published last year by UC Press, Gardner tried to rewrite history by downplaying the seriousness of the scandal.

He blamed the media for its "unremitting, and unrestrained (mostly inaccurate) news reporting" -- even though he never once requested a correction for any of the dozens of stories I wrote about the furor.

In his memoirs, he paid me a backhanded compliment by describing me as "an intelligent and accomplished journalist." But, in a conspiratorial flight of fancy, he concocts a theory that has no basis in fact by suggesting my reporting was driven or manipulated by Ralph Nader, simply because I knew his sister Laura, an anthropology professor at UC Berkeley.

In his 432-page memoir, Gardner leaves out any mention of a lacerating 1992 report commissioned by the university by retired Legislative Analyst A. Alan Post, at the time perhaps the most respected fiscal analyst in California.

"The manner in which compensation issues have been presented, considered and approved during the last 10 years has been seriously deficient," Post concluded. "The imposition of secrecy (regarding executive compensation) appears to have become commonplace, becoming a matter of convenience rather than principle."

Gardner's memoir also neatly leaves out any reference to a 178-page audit by the state's auditor general, also in 1992, expressing concerns about questionable practices by UC officials, including first-class air travel, using university money to pay for a wedding reception and making charitable contributions using UC funds with no clear benefit for the university.

The auditor rejected the argument that some of these perks were paid for from "private funds." "Because UC exists as a constitutionally based public trust, it is an entity of the state," the auditor wrote. "As such, all of UC's funds are state funds and should be expended with similar regard for UC's responsibilities as a public trust."

After Gardner left, new UC president Jack Peltason introduced a range of reforms that promised more openness in disclosing executive compensation. The university, for example, pledged to provide full details of executive compensation to the Legislature and involve UC faculty in helping to set administrative salaries.

So what happened? Gardner went on to become president of the Hewlett Foundation and chairman of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Over time, the scandal faded in memory, and Gardner was lionized by his peers. A smart new addition to the Doe Library on the UC Berkeley campus was named after him.

The transparency promised by the university gradually become more opaque, making a mockery of the "reforms" adopted by the regents -- with the unfortunate results we have seen over the past weeks. As Jeremiah Hallisey, the retired regent who was Gardner's most persistent critic at the time, reflected this week, "If they have to pay these salaries, let's justify it in a public meeting, and let's have transparency."

It's pretty simple. A public university has no choice but to do its business in public.

That is a truism that the University of California has yet to fully embrace. It should not take a lashing from the public and the press every dozen years or so to force it to do so.

Louis Freedberg is a Chronicle editorial writer.
--------

List of SF Chronicle stories on the UC administration pay scandal:

List of execs who got severance
(1/27)
President gets power to boost salaries
(1/19)
Big changes sought in how UC raises pay
(1/13)
Details given on extra pay
(1/12)
Legislative hearing into UC compensation
(12/6)
Ex-provost still on payroll
(11/26)
Freedberg: Lessons not learned at UC
(11/23)
Outrage in Capitol at pay revelations
(11/16)

Editorial: UC's hidden pay
(11/16)
UC refuses to release exec raise list
(11/15)
Student services cut as high-pay jobs boom
(11/14)
Free mansions for people of means
(11/14)
UC piling extra cash on top of pay
(11/13)
Other perks include gifts, travel, parties
(11/13)
Database of highest paid UC employees
(11/13)
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UC Merced introduces foundation board of trustees

http://www.ucinthevalley.org/articles/2000/march1700.htm

...The blue-ribbon board consists of several Silicon Valley executives from such companies as Lucent Technologies and Sun Microsystems. Several current and former members of the UC Board of Regents included in the UC Merced Board of Trustees are current UC Regent chairman, John Davies, former chairs Leo Kolligian, Meredith Khachigian and Roy Brophy, current Regent Odessa Johnson, former Regents Carol Chandler and Ralph Ochoa. In addition, UC President Richard C. Atkinson, and Emeritus Presidents David Gardner and Jack Peltason are members of the new board ...

| »

The politics of death in Merced

Submitted: Jan 29, 2006

The newspaper coverage of the tragic death of Greg Gomez, 20, of Merced, has from the beginning raised more questions than it has answered. With each succeeding article, the story gets more obscene.

A Badlands reader suggested that without putting all the official reports of the matter together, end-to-end, it is impossible to tell what actually happened. However, in politically sensitive matters including large private or public institutions, police reports do not always make things clearer.

The best we can do it put the timeline of newspaper coverage of the event in some kind of order and raise questions we believe ought to be asked.

The Modesto Bee reported at 4:15 a.m. on Dec. 20 that Gomez was hit by a car driven by UC Merced student, Antony Jay Ducray, 18, of Los Angeles, about 11:30 p.m., according to a California Highway Patrol report. He was taken to Mercy Medical Center Merced.

CHP Sgt. Sam Samra said the accident happened about 2,500 feet west of Lake Road, near the UC Merced campus. Gomez was wearing dark clothes and walking in the road; there are no streetlights in the area, according to the CHP. Though it wasn't raining, it was cloudy and the streets were wet, Samra said.

Ducray, who was driving about 50 miles per hour, did not see Gomez walking in the road before his car struck him, the CHP reported.

Gomez was thrown into Ducray's windshield, and suffered major injuries. Ducray was not hurt, and a passenger in his car, 18-year-old Daniel Joseph Wilson of Rancho Bernardo, suffered minor cuts to his left hand, the CHP reported.
No one was arrested and the CHP said speeding and alcohol do not appear to have been factors in the accident. The collision remains under investigation.

On Dec. 21, Merced Sun-Star writer Rosalio Ahumada reported that Gomez died about 23 hours after he was struck by Ducray’s car. We got more details of the case.

The UC Merced student was not arrested.

Speeding and driving under the influence do not appear to be factors, the report stated, but the car accident is still under investigation, Ahumada wrote.

Evidently Ducray was tested clean for alcohol and drugs.

Ducray, a UC Merced student from Los Angeles, was driving a 2000 Toyota Corolla westbound on Bellevue Road at an approximate speed of 50 mph when the car struck Gomez.

Gomez was reported to have been wearing dark clothing and walking “on a small paved portion of the shoulder of the road. The road has a larger dirt and gravel portion of the road shoulder.” There are no streetlights on that country road.

Samra, the CHP officer on the scene, told Ahumada, “the road was wet and it was cloudy, but officers reported it was not raining when the accident occurred and there was not any fog or other visual impairments.”

The coroner’s office said it would do an autopsy to establish the cause of death on Thursday of that week. We saw no follow-up on that story but the Christmas weekend was coming and the cause of death could not have been more than the listing of injuries sustained from being hit by a car.

The first question that arises is why isn’t this story being covered by the Sun-Star’s veteran police reporter, Mike De La Cruz? The first report from the Modesto Bee has no byline. The second story was covered by the reporter on the UC Merced beat, at least until shortly after this story. Since January 16, another reporter seems to have taken over UC Merced coverage.

How could the CHP officer know the students were driving about 50 miles an hour? Was he on the scene before the accident? Were there witnesses? Is there electronic speed monitoring equipment on that stretch of road?

The story disappeared for a month only to return this week.

On Tuesday, Ahumada’s apparent successor on the UC Merced beat, Janet Pak, informed us:

University of California, Merced, students who want to stay downtown or enjoy a movie late at night won't have to worry about transportation.

A new shuttle service called "Nite Cat" will run every hour from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, said UC Merced spokeswoman Ana Nelson Shaw.

"It helps them be more connected with the community," she said. "A lot of students don't have a car.

"It provides them with a new option to go see a movie that ends late at night or to go eat out at one of the dining locations or see friends who live off campus."

Riggs Ambulance Service, presumably the same ambulance service that took Gomez to the hospital (there is no other in Merced), sponsored the shuttle, “paying $20,000 for the van, fuel and labor costs.” Sounds pretty cheap to me. I wondered if a farm labor contractor could get a van, driver, fuel and maintenance at that price for eight, 20-mile roundtrips a week.

Nite Cat would also prevent people from driving back in poor weather conditions.

"It's not exactly a great drive," he said. "It's dark, narrow and foggy."

There is no evidence Pak even asked if the shuttle might also be connected to Gomez’ death, which would have raised the issue protecting the public against UC Merced students rather than simply protecting UC Merced students from themselves.

At this point, the Badlands editorial board began to study a few UC Merced police reports.

Police Calls...UC Merced calls...Last Updated: January 27, 2006, 07:45:32 AM PST
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/policecalls/story/11736459p-12459406c.html
The UC Merced Police Department responded to three calls on Wednesday.
WEDNESDAY
12:35 a.m. -- Officer took student report of a possible burglary.
12:34 a.m. -- Officer checked a suspicious vehicle parked in the staff parking lot.
5:20 a.m. -- Driver verbally warned at a traffic stop at Bellevue and Lake roads.

Police Calls...UC Merced calls
Last Updated: January 24, 2006, 08:05:33 AM PST
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/policecalls/story/11724321p-12448098c.html

Saturday
11:05 p.m. -- Driver issued a citation for failing to stop at a crosswalk in the student parking lot by Tulare Hall
10:08 p.m. -- Driver given a verbal warning for failing to stop at a crosswalk on Scholars Lane and Emigrant Pass.
12:49 a.m. -- Driver given a verbal warning for failure to stop at a crossing walk on Scholars Lane and Mammoth Lakes Road.

FRIDAY
10:34 p.m. -- Citation issued for failure to stop at crosswalk on Lake Road south of main entrance.
10:08 p.m. -- Citation issued for failure to stop at crosswalk on Scholars Road.

Last Updated: January 10, 2006, 06:45:36 AM PST
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/policecalls/story/11672477p-12400494c.html

SATURDAY
3:33 p.m. --Verbal warning issued for failure to stop at a posted stop sign at Scholars and Emigrants Pass.

UC MERCED CALLS
The UC Merced Police Department responded to 9 calls Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

SUNDAY
1:22 p.m. -- Driver issued a verbal warning near front entrance to Lake Yosemite.
11:42 a.m. -- Officers assist two male adults stuck in an elevator.

SATURDAY
11:50 p.m. -- Driver of a suspicious vehicle parked in the residential parking lot given a verbal warning.
3:33 p.m. --Verbal warning issued for failure to stop at a posted stop sign at Scholars and Emigrants Pass.
3:01 p.m. --Driver issued a verbal warning during a traffic stop at Bellevue and Lake roads.
2:31 p.m. -- Driver issued a verbal warning during a traffic stop on Scholars Lane at the dining hall.
Driver issued a verbal warning during a traffic stop at Lane and Trovare roads.

FRIDAY
7:37 p.m. -- An electrical fire smell in the east wing of the library determined no fire risk.
8:16 a.m. -- Driver of a vehicle blocking the emergency exit found and vehicle removed.

Last Updated: December 10, 2005, 07:21:14 AM PST
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/policecalls/story/11576675p-12309523c.html

UC MERCED CALLS
The UC Merced Police Department responded to 6 calls Thursday and Wednesday

Thursday
5:08 p.m. -- Report of a noninjury hit-and-run accident that occurred sometime in the day in the Lake parking lot.

Thursday
6:33 p.m. -- Assisted a disabled motorist with a flat tire.
5:08 p.m. -- Report of a noninjury hit-and-run accident that occurred sometime in the day in the Lake parking lot.

Wednesday
11:32 p.m. -- Two students in the construction area given a verbal warning.
9:53 p.m. -- Assisted a UC resident assistant in student housing.
6:29 p.m. -- Escorted a staff member to the parking lot.
6:27 p.m. -- Conducted a student welfare check at the request of a family member.

Last Updated: November 24, 2005, 06:50:36 AM PST
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/policecalls/story/11517885p-12254904c.html

5:08 p.m. -- Report of a noninjury hit-and-run accident that occurred sometime in the day in the Lake parking lot.

UC MERCED CALLS

The UC Merced Police Department responded to 3 calls on Tuesday.
10:53 a.m. -- Traffic stop on Lake Road at Bellevue Road. Driver was warned.
4:53 p.m. -- Noninjury accident reported at Ranchers and Lake Road.
4:18 p.m. -- Reports of students barbecuing on campus next to dining commons.

Last Updated: October 20, 2005, 06:45:34 AM PDT
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/policecalls/story/11373686p-12120637c.html

9 a.m. -- A hit-and-run accident reported in the Lake parking lot. The responsible party returned to the scene.

Badlands editors, after daring to post this police description of the vehicular situation out at the UC Merced campus, got their money down on the question of whether the public would ever see another UC Merced police log.

Lulu from the Badlands Religion desk, who tipples, complained that UC Merced had never offered to pick her up and take her downtown for Blues night and bring her back home all safe and sound, soul full of throbbing bass guitar.

D.A. May Have Served Alcohol to Underage Drinker Who Died
The Novel and The Tape
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/11741563p-12463552c.htm

Saturday Sun-Star readers encountered a novel of 3,288 words in their newspapers and an accompanying audiotape on the newspaper’s website, concerning a political tangent associated with this tragedy. The story would not have suffered at all if a regular police reporter had done it in a few hundred words, something like:

Merced County District Attorney Gordon Spencer served drinks at the Merced Country Club for an employee Christmas party attended by Greg Gomez. Gomez, 20, later died as the result of being hit by a car driven by UC Merced student Antony Jay Ducray, 18, of Los Angeles. Three hours after Gomez was admitted to Mercy Medical Center, a test revealed a .245 blood alcohol content, about three times the legal limit for driving a car. Gomez was on foot when Ducray’s vehicle hit him.

Spencer said he tended bar at the party for about an hour until the employee-guests went to dinner. He added that he left the party four hours before Gomez was struck by the UC Merced student’s car as he was walking on the side of Bellevue Road .

Spencer explained he had an agreement with three managers at the country club that they were responsible for checking IDs. He said it is possible he served Gomez but did not serve anyone as drunk as Gomez was reported to have been three hours after he was hit.

Chris Collins, one of the Sun-Star’s political reporters, wrote the 3,288-word novel. Collins appears to believe that good district attorneys grow on grape vines or almond trees (the same place they grow good cops) or are as rapidly multiplying in Merced County as his celebrity-of-the-week Greg Hostetler’s housing products. This indescribable travesty of journalism, complete with tape selections, is available at http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/11741563p-12463552c.html. It comes off, whether intentionally or not, as one of the most blatant political hatchet jobs in the paper’s dismal history of political coverage. But it is also, fundamentally, something else: a distraction from who killed whom.

UC bobcatflaksters must have danced on their monitors when this novel was published. People will be thinking about Spencer for days, weeks, forgetting who killed whom, all those fraudulent pay packages for top UC administrators and the new generation of nuclear weapons to be built at UC’s two national laboratories of WMDs.

Other evidence that it was some kind of political hatchet job or a PR diversion is that Collins never shares with his readers who it was who told him Spencer was serving drinks at a private country club employees' party. Nor, in the midst of nothing but a political story around manslaughter, does he ever mention that Spencer has announced his retirement. Nor does he ever list, in this political story about manslaughter, either Spencer’s political friends or his enemies.

Jonathan Arons, a San Francisco attorney who specializes in legal ethics, said Spencer had entered a "very gray" area ethically., Collins wrote, 2,500 words into his masterpiece.

Who might the deep, terribly obscure Arons be?

The only guy in the Badlands organization who took the bet Gomez v. Spencer would be studied in Torts courses by future law students pondering the mysteries of causality was Bobo. Bobo’s in sports.

Compared to the fact of his death, did it matter at all that Gomez was 20 instead of 21? If a 90-year-old senile escapee from a rest home in a dark housecoat on a black walker had been in that place at that time, would she have fared any better than Gomez or a Labrador Retriever? Did it matter that the district attorney, doing a volunteer stint as a bartender for his club’s employee Christmas party, said he wouldn’t deny he might have served Gomez a drink four hours before he was struck by the UC Merced student’s car?

No.

Spencer’s suggestion that there was something called personal responsibility poured gasoline on Collins’ passion to play the political blame game with a tragic mystery that could not be reduced to gotcha without violating common decency.

Why was Gomez, drunk, on foot, two miles from the country club at 11:30 p.m.? It must have been the DA’s fault.

Wrong.

There is another, grimmer possibility that would not have come to light without Collins’ reckless novel. With perhaps better information than the public has, Spencer seemed to suggest at one point on the tape that Gomez had thrown himself into the car. If Collins had not been so intent on lynching Spencer, he might have heard that warning. Having done this stupid thing, he raised the issue of suicide – more doubt and misery for the family he describes with such saccharine bathos in the last several hundred words of his opus. Adn what of the misery of the driver and his passenger?

Forget them: we must have the novel of blame, which will soothe all wounds.

Wrong.

Do Collins’ editors have a shred of common sense?

Bill Hatch

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Merced year in frosting

Submitted: Jan 01, 2006

The Merced Sun-Star editors Saturday licked the frosting off their fingers from the cake they imagine they have and are eating, while others in the community imagine the editors been had and are being eaten. Looking at the "many great things" brought in the past year, they said:

Perhaps the biggest was the opening of the University of California, Merced, campus. This dream for several decades finally became a multi-million dollar reality last fall as the first students occupied dorms and classrooms.

Odd choice of words, "multi-million dollar reality." It certainly was a multi-million dollar investment for the taxpayers of California. It certainly raised landowners' property values for development, and home building and land ripping is certainly going along -- involving many millions of dollars going one way and another.

However, the sugar fix is in at the Sun-Star as always: UC Merced was not even a glimmer, much less a dream even in the greedy little minds of the various Mr. and Ms. Merceds, when, as the result of a joint environmental/agricultural lawsuit in the late 1980s, a general plan was finally written for the county in 1991. This general plan, despite Sun-Star frosting delirium, was never updated, as it is now proposed it might be at some point in the next several years. It was amended, amended, and amended, to the point where it is useless as any kind of guidance for development. And the mother amendment of them all has been UC Merced and the UC Community Plan.

Then one wonders at the lapse of adverbial consistency. In the lead, UC Merced is described as the "most notably" good thing. Here, it is merely "Perhaps the biggest." This lapse can be explained by the terrible strain the Sun-Star editors have been under since the UC Merced "done-deal" that wasn't, in 1998, until now. A steady stream of UC Merced Bobcatflak for seven years or more has drowned thought and silenced the critical mind in that newsroom. But the immediate cause is the frosting high from the delusion of having and eating the cake.

The loss of a newspaper is a political tragedy, A.J. Liebling, one of our greatest newspaper critics thought, back in the 1950s. Today it is a foregone conclusion whenever any institution with an adequately staffed flak office moves to town. Merced has a prison, the WalMart and a whole bunch of big-box retailers, and now UC Merced. Merced is now far, far too important for anything as tacky as journalistic inquiry.

A stunning example springs to mind from what the paper calls its news department. A week after County CEO Dee Tatum introduced Bobby Lewis to the Board of Supervisors as his choice to directed the planning department -- nobody on the board or in the planning department seemed to know anything about Lewis -- the newspaper did a story on the appointment. It focused on the "demotion" of former director, Bill Nicholson.

"There isn't quote-unquote a need for a new director," Tatum said. "We really need to focus on what services we're giving people and what the board wants."

Presuming Tatum actually uttered this meaningless statement, reporting, writing and printing it serve only to further fog the public brain, already misted over by the steady stream of Bobcatflak dutifully reprinted as "news" in the Sun-Star for lo, these many years (but not yet decades).

He (Lewis) spent 17 years working in the planning departments for the cities of Las Vegas and Henderson, Nev.

In 1998, he started his own engineering and surveying company and eventually ended up as vice president for a Las Vegas developer.

It would have been awfully nice to know what Las Vegas developer Lewis worked for and whether or not this Las Vegas developer has interests in Merced or is planning to have interests in Merced. There is no evidence our newspaper even thought to ask. The whole article, in fact, increases public suspicion that a new fix is in at the planning department.

Returning to the collective mind of the editors that passed on this story, municipal joy is asked for federal highway funding for the Mission Interchange, which will permit traffic to bypass Merced on its way to UC -- perhaps not a boon to downtown business but a windfall to a number of landowners with farming roots (like Lewis says he has) selling to developers along the Campus Parkway. And if that weren't enough joy, Merced has landed "a major Wal-Mart distribution center which will provide hundreds of good jobs for local residents." Organized labor in America hates WalMart like no other corporation. Is it possible organized labor has some reason for its hatred? Then, of course, there is editorial joy for passage of the obligatory "enhanced" police/fire bond to keep those local residents employed by WalMart, and even some who aren't, in line, and to provide new fire stations for new neighborhoods.

Editorial joy for new school construction is muted because there is nothing to be joyful about after the developers whupped the school administrators into submission this year. The quality of Merced K-12 public education was the big loser for years to come as a result of the UC Merced-induced, speculative housing boom. The concluding pious hope for lower crime rates and better public education is pure frosting revery.

Bill Hatch

Notes:

http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/11642823p-12372373c.html

http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/11636386p-12366520c.html

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