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July 28, 2015

Meanwhile In Patterson

A political brouhaha has erupted in Patterson, California, that centers on City Council member Sheree Lustgarten. Since I came into this at the tail end, I've arranged the links below into chronological order. The dates are the dates of the newspaper where the information is published. Why those sometimes seem to be out of order is probably some quirk of how articles are dated.

October 7, 2010, Lustgarten running for City Council answered a questionnaire from the local newspaper saying "I am troubled by the level of division we have seen on the City Council in the last couple of years. While it’s not realistic to expect that the mayor and City Council members are going to agree on the approach to every issue, I do think we need to recapture a level of civility that has been lost at times in recent years."

"Civility and tone can go a long way toward bridging some of the divisions, real or perceived, that have arisen in recent years. ...We can have civil discussions about the issues we collectively face, and even when we disagree, we can and should be able to do so in a respectful way."

January 16, 2013, Lustgarten says that when she answered this question from the Modesto Bee "Have you or a business you owned or had principal interest in ever filed bankruptcy?" with a No, she had merely misunderstood the question. She has had two bankruptcies and a foreclosure, all of which she attributed to a 10-year abusive marriage.

January 10, 2013, Lustgarten said she answered the question No because she thought the 10-year legal limit for financial records had been reached. In other words, she knew she was answering it incorrectly because she thought she couldn't get caught, but it turns out she just can't count.

July 17, 2013, in a letter to the editor Lustgarten criticized the City Council for purchasing a property "as is" without getting a structural engineering inspection. This occurred before she was elected. The purchase price was $650,000. But she also suggests that keeping the real estate purchase process strictly in closed session was an attempt to cover up the mistakes. State law requires real estate negotiations to be conducted in closed session.

July 16, 2013, a former member of the City Council blamed the mistakes in that real estate purchase on city staff who did not follow council instructions. The former Council member also pointed out that Lustgarten was at that time involved in a closed session real estate negotiation the city was conducting.

March 5, 2014, Lustgarten became Mayor Pro Tem after she nominated herself

April 3, 2014, Lustgarten is friends with Dominic Speno, the owner of Best Western Villa Del Lago Hotel in Patterson. Speno has some grievances with the city about his plans for use of some vacant land. The city had sued Speno for $175,000 in unpaid TOT. Speno had counter-sued. A former City Council member witnessed Lustgarten speaking with Speno for half an hour and assumed that the two were speaking about matters discussed in closed-session City Council meetings. Lustgarten says she was there only to get the recipe for crab chowder from the hotel's chef. Her meeting with the chef was unwitnessed. She said she and Speno talked about promoting tourism.

June 19, 2014, in a letter to the editor, Lustgarten says the fact that a reporter had been unable to reach her was entirely the fault of the rude reporter, not her. All the troubles at the Senior Center were the fault of a small group of seniors who "inexplicably attempted to undermine" the efforts to improve the center.

In 2014 Lustgarten ran for Mayor.

January 8, 2015, Lustgarten claimed that the City Manager notified the other four City Council members when the investigation was initiated, but did not notify her.

July 13, 2015, the investigative report was released to the public. "After the completion of this investigation, Lustgarten left several emotionally charged, threatening and/or profane messages for city representatives, special legal counsel Shelline Bennett said, including a threat directed towards a fellow council member."

"The city has filed for a workplace violence restraining order against Lustgarten as a result of these threatening messages."

July 13, 2015, the investigative report. Lustgarten refused to participate in the investigation (which began about a year ago) until January 2015, after the complete investigation report was handed over to legal counsel for the city. Then she indicated a desire to cooperate, but the interview was not conducted until May because of her foot-dragging.

One of the allegations in the report (page 33) is that Lustgarten would regularly discuss closed-session information publicly at a weekly Sunday breakfast with six or eight women. The accuser said she advised Lustgarten to stop that behavior, but it continued.

There are repeated allegations that she grabbed bingo cards away from seniors. And that she treated a volunteer rudely during the "ice cream crisis." This was when the Senior Center was going to hold an ice cream social and its freezers failed just when they were packed full of ice cream. I wonder why no one investigated for possible sabotage.

One person who was interviewed by the investigator accused a local reporter of printing hearsay. I wonder if that person understands what a newspaper is.

There is a racial element to the troubles at the Senior Center, but, just relying on the investigative report, it's hard to tell how deep it runs. One woman who is African-American is accused of "playing the race card" too readily, and she sits off with a group of women who keep themselves apart from the other seniors.

The real scandal is that their bingo balls are wearing out, so they don't pop up on an entirely random basis. Some seniors, having figured this out, are selecting bingo cards they know have a higher chance of winning. Rather than buy new balls, the situation was resolved with a rule that no one could use the same bingo cards over and over.

Both sides are clearly polarized. Lustgarten's supporters describe her as pure as snow, while her accusers are nothing but filthy, vile liars.

The investigation found that it was true that Lustgarten behaved in such a way that it left seniors feeling bullied, intimidate, or belittled. But she did not violate the city's discriminatory harassment policy. There were two other findings, but they were both redacted.

July 14, 2015, the Patterson City Council unanimously voted (Lustgarten was absent) to request Lustgarten's resignation. In lieu of resignation they approved these provisions:

  1. Request that she submit to a fitness for duty examination;
  2. Request that she pay back roughly $5,000.00 in legal fees the City has paid on her behalf;
  3. Not pay any further legal fees on her behalf related to the Senior Center investigation;
  4. Request that she cease visiting the City Hall and Senior Center;
  5. Request that she participate in one-on-one training, including, but not limited to, training regarding the prevention of discrimination, harassment, retaliation and abusive conduct in the workplace;
  6. Direct Councilmember Lustgarten to exclusively communicate with the City Manager or City Attorney in written or electronic form regarding all City business;
  7. Direct City Staff to prepare a resolution to formally admonish her at the next Council meeting;
  8. Direct City Staff to prepare a censure ordinance for the next Council meeting;
  9. Remove Councilmember Lustgarten from any appointed position of authority on the Senior Board Recommendation Committee and any advisory role regarding Senior Center decisions;
  10. Remove Councilmember Lustgarten from any appointed position of authority on any City boards or commissions and strip her of any advisory role regarding City affairs; and
  11. Request that she refrain from any further harassing, bullying, or retaliatory conduct.

I wonder if they actually intend to try to keep her from speaking directly to the City Manager or City Attorney at a City Council meeting.

July 23, 2015, "the court has granted the city a workplace violence restraining order against the councilwoman." Lustgarten said "I feel that this resolution is inappropriate. Primarily, I feel this way because the investigation report was based on a series of totally false, completely unfounded and unsubstantiated claims made by a group of seniors."

Yup, the simple old "they're all liars" defense.

Filed under Desert Hot Springs,Politics | permalink | July 28, 2015 at 08:25 PM


You really should follow up on this story.

More has happened since July ...

Posted by: Veracity at Oct 15, 2015 1:41:51 PM

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