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Whistleblower questions Sonoma finances, motives

Posted on August 21, 2017 by Sonoma Valley Sun

When I first raised concerns regarding the millions of dollars Sonoma collected from water bills illegally used for non-water activity without voter consent, the reactions of City staff and City Councul were denial, disbelief, and shock. (At that time, only $3.5 million was viewable, since then nearly $6 million has been revealed).

Then came the initial patterns attributable to abusive behavior: a direct denial letter from city staff, then came a letter from the former Director of Public Works justifying the malfeasance. When I challenged the denial letter on technical merits the former Public Works Director contacted my employer asking them to “do something about him”.

Then came the gaslighting behavior; questioning my motives and my qualifications, trying to escape the scrutiny by stating “those laws did not apply to the City” and that “merely a citizen could not possibly understand,” and “it’s very complicated”.

Then came the minimization and ex-post facto justification, with statements from the City that “it may be found that the transferred amounts were correct just wrongly named”.

Now we see our elected officials complicit and colluding to minimize and cover-up what was done and to protect the governmental organization, meeting illegally behind closed doors discussing and deciding what should be done.
The facts are:

  1. The City Council approved illegal water rates on the advice of paid consultants, City staff, and the City Attorney in 2014.
  1. The City’s Audited Financial Statements attempted to cover-up approximately $3,500,000 illegally collected water money transferred to the General Fund with the statement,“Transfers from the water fund are for water projects and related activities”. This money was then used for other government activities without 2/3 voter consent as required by the California Constitution.
  1. The City of Sonoma and its City Council repeatedly misrepresented the City’s unrestricted cash position to recertify to its debtholders and bondholders that it was in compliance with their covenants. Without the water money transferred to the General Fund, the City was not in compliance with its debt and bond covenants in 2014 and 2015.
  1. The City has not had its financial statements audited since the fiscal year ended June 30, 2015. Through Public Record Requests it has been revealed that approximately an additional $2,500,000 has been illegally transferred from the water fund since June 30, 2015 through June 30, 2017 and used for government activities without 2/3 voter consent as required by the California Constitution.
  1. The initial Budget for the City attempted to justify future rate hikes by showing huge deficits in the water fund under the guise of conservation, when in fact the drought restrictions ended last summer and the City’s own data shows water per capita consumption up 75 percent in 2017. This was quickly changed after challenged and now reflects a more realistic, yet prudent, forecast.

We can debate motive or intent, but the facts are not debatable items. It takes a little bit to digest, you have to work to verify but all of the information above is in the minutes of public meetings (except for the decisions made in closed sessions), public documents and email chains or texts of public officials that anyone can requests.

Frankly, we can see the City bankrupt, taken over in a state receivership and see people complicit in some of these acts held personally liable, lose licenses and ability to hold office — maybe even go to jail. I have struggled personally to keep that parade of horrors from happening as I know that road means millions in lawyers fees paid by us taxpayers and incredible turmoil in our community.

I still believe the best solution is one which includes the Citizens and our elected leaders openly and collectively deciding how to repair the trust that is lost and that makes the ratepayers and taxpayers in Sonoma whole.

I strongly encourage you to contact the council, don’t let them dissuade you with a paternal speech or abusive behavior tactics and insist this get fixed 100 percent.

Chris Petlock, MBA
, City of Sonoma Taxpayers’ Association

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