Mayor Of Ione Sounds Off On City Government Dysfunction
In a The City of Ione is being operated and taken advantage of by people who aren’t even living here. It’s a huge problem where locals have no say and people with no respect or knowledge of our geography, history and community change things under our noses and behind our backs to benefit only themselves. Managers that have no knowledge of Ione come in, make a few hundred thousand (dollars), strategically gain benefits and retire. They don’t serve the people, they serve themselves. A shameful amount of things are being kept from the public.
For example, our attorneys from Fresno didn’t know there was a city protocol manual after years of working for the City of Ione. Legal opinion changes constantly to serve their best interest and file billable hours. One example, public requests. The previous City Manager was told she was to fill public requests immediately, yet the new manager does not have to deal with them or at the same level. And to confirm, yes we have paid for travel, as well as food (like a box of Lucky Charms) that is not contracted. “Magically malicious,” as Ledger Dispatch Publisher Jack Mitchell pointed out in his (September 24, 2021) opinion piece, indeed.
Engineers out of Auburn have charged us $250,000 a year, sometimes much more. The board just voted to hire another one out of Pleasanton. The planners are out of El Dorado Hills. They have busied themselves making it impossible for people to build pools, decks or sheds on their private property – an invasive and huge overstep. Construction companies from out of our area don’t understand Ione’s geology, so roads fail prematurely, pipes break, draining issues arise and the list goes on.
One of the problems is that almost no one local wants to work for the City of Ione. They’ve seen the ugliness and stay far away from it. Out of the entire state of California, one engineer responded to a recent job posting. We have a terrible reputation. Constant misdirection and differing opinions from separate department heads has led to local contractors that will not work for the City of Ione because they know how they will be treated. To the folks out of town, it is just a job and their heart isn’t in it. Even worse, it is a hostile work environment.
The bottom line is Ione has amazing people. The division comes purely from the city government’s stupidity.
This is the most toxic work environment I have ever seen. Harassment that took place was horrific. I had made changes with the previous interim City Manager and for a short period it worked like clockwork. Longtime employees and even a department head said they had never seen City Hall so productive, efficient and people getting along so well. Today that has changed. Even worse, it’s not just city employees that receive harassment and belittlement, it goes out to other government agencies, contractors and even volunteers. I’ve been asked, “What is wrong with these people?” I have no answer.
When I first ran for Ione City Council, I was advised by a prominent businessman not to let them ruin my soul. I didn’t realize or understand what that meant until I saw for myself how evil and power-hungry people can be in politics, despite their own incompetence.
I was told by a council member it is not my job to save the city money when I went to them as a citizen working at the sewer plant pointing out hundreds of thousands of dollars that the city was wasting at the sewer plant lining job. As the construction company superintendent, I showed the engineers that we could compact the Ione clay without $250,000 worth of rock being hauled in. The answer: it’s not my job to save the city money. That same response was given to me when I joined the Ione City Council. And again when I became the Mayor. Not my job to save the city money. Then who the hells job is it? I’d like to know. Maybe that explains all the contractors, engineers, planners, attorney and city managers making their fortunes at your expense. Having local people in your local government is essential if you are to have representatives and workers that are actually devoted to their community. It should never be a strategic retirement move, just a place to work or just another job. They have no regard for long-term effects of their actions, or lack thereof.
The last interim City Manager was set up for failure. Whether it was hostility or apathy, the previous City Manager did not leave access to the computers and items and projects were deliberately kept hidden away. Files and projects were left in disarray. I spent hours with the attorney transitioning from the City Manager to the interim City Manager that was fired shortly thereafter. The office was an intolerable unsystematic mess and projects were delayed. I spent two full weeks organizing papers and files, even personnel police files, that were just piles scattered about the office. Then, 6 to 12 hours a day for months, working with staff, repairing equipment and rearranging the office for efficiencies. I learned exactly what had been going on in that office. I witnessed the harassment, and yes, received harassment. One council member went so far as to ask me to step down as Mayor.
Demand transparency and action. Their true colors will be on full display for the public soon enough. During the recall, the park which was used as part of the Governor’s recall booth location for months was questioned. They approached people signing the recall form to argue and intimidate, which is not legal, but even if it were, it is harassment.
When the current interim City Manager arrived, the first thing on his agenda was to try to convince me to leave City Hall. My initial meeting with him, he showed up two hours early and I found him in my office, sitting at my desk, scrolling through documents on my computer. After a little conversation, I mentioned I was the Mayor and he was at my desk. He stated there was no room for a Mayor office, so I moved to the Building Department’s office. Could not having room for an office of the Mayor’s for the previous years be part of the problem here? I think so. Later, he went so far as to remove the Mayor and City Council off of check-signing. A needless power move and terrifying as someone with no ties to Ione now signs all the checks. Why?
Half, if not more of the items at city meetings are lies, deception or distraction from real underlying problems. Agendas say “staff recommends” yet no one goes physically to see what they are recommending and they pass it. We have sewer lines broken and collapsed, failing streets and stormwater drains, a disaster of a sewage treatment plant, but instead, one councilmember is focused on putting in electric car stations. Priorities are way off. Upgrades to Howard Park, a museum entrance to City Hall, the train depot building, fire fuel reduction, getting free hydrants working again, obtaining a permanent source of good, clean water for the golf course, working with Union Pacific Railroad to clean up the rails in town – they were put on hold. Shouldn’t those be a priority? They are to me.
Many of these projects were being done with volunteers or at no cost. Are they being frugal with your tax dollars? Not when the power bill was around $1,700 every month at City Hall. I managed to knock it down to $700 by programming thermostats and changing nasty filters. I’ve never witnessed such a waste of money. Their solution is to go after grants to make up for their spending. Why not take a look at where you are eating taxpayer money, instead they choose to go after more taxpayer dollars and blow it all again.
It’s important to keep the history and character of Ione and not utilize the template of destruction. Look at Elk Grove or Folsom. They are basically the same. How does that happen? Ordinances. It is essential that Ione write their own ordinances that best serve their communities unique needs and goals. When ordinances are apathetically copied and pasted from Santa Barbara, for example, then it is likely you will end up with a bunch of legislation that works against the interests of our constituents and the town. We need people in office that take accountability for their actions, care about their long-term effect on the community they serve and the people in it. Having local engineers, planners and attorneys wouldn’t hurt either.
As it is, the City of Ione ruins people’s lives. Try to start a business, build a swimming pool or a deck on your property – you’ll go through hell. Complaints and suggestions will be met by a government that will fight you rather than finding a solution. It’s disgraceful. If you really want to be disrespected, volunteer, which is pretty sad considering our town was mostly built by volunteers.
With regards to other government agencies, Ione totally screwed our friends and neighbors at Sutter Creek, as well as Castle Oak Golf Course, by telling Amador Regional Sanitation Authority (ARSA) we no longer needed its effluent water for the golf course. The City of Ione claimed we no longer needed the treated effluent because of so many houses being built. Interesting as our city sewer water does not go onto the golf course, it goes to a private property that has a 30-year contract. The reason the golf course does not have enough water on the golf course is because of this stupidity. Sutter Creek found other places that would accept their water. Only then did Ione realize that we actually need that water and they changed their mind. How did they take care of it? They sent a nasty letter to the City of Sutter Creek/ARSA about not giving us water. A letter that I, as Mayor, never knew about until the Manager of Sutter Creek reached out to me and asked what on earth the letter was about. The city goes behind the Mayor’s back all the time, which wouldn’t be a problem if it was productive, autonomous work, but when burning bridges and not acting on behalf of the people’s best interests, it is a huge problem.
For more than 24 years I have worked with the California Regional Water Board. I have personally designed, built, operated and permitted water processing plants way more complicated than the City of Ione’s and never once received a violation. So, as Mayor, I reached out to the California Regional Water Board to see if we could fix the issues with Ione’s sewer plant and citations. They were happy to work with me and the former interim City Manager to get Ione on track. Then the Ione City Council and the city government decided to attack me. The city is now saying the water board is incorrect about needed repairs and fighting with them. I’d like to apologize to the California Regional Water Board on behalf of Ione for the incompetence and arrogance. It is shameful, hinders progress and no one wants to work with us due to the behavior of our own city representatives.
It seems everything the city puts its hand on, it ruins. All the traffic issues are due to the city itself, not Caltrans. Take Shakeley Lane for example. Caltrans told Ione back in the 1980s it was never to be an access road to Castle Oaks. The city made a deal with the developer so they could save money and now the intersection is a mess. Wildflower should not connect to Brickyard Road and was to hook onto Highway 104. Past administration would not listen to Caltrans and the city almost got sued for $300 million and created a terrible fire hazard. The school entrance was to be moved toward Wildflower to improve traffic during pick-up and drop-off times. That too, was left undone.
Howard Park used to be controlled by the Ione Picnic Association, maintained by volunteers, local mining companies and businesses and it was beautiful and well cared for. The city took it over and it turned to crap. Not only is it a huge city expense, but they do a terrible job.
The train depot should never have become a city project and it never should have been moved from the original location, but the City Manager at the time insisted on making the city do it, costing around $100,000. The city’s engineer at the time said they would never let it be occupied. It was stated it was in a flood zone and placed on an elevated foundation. Then it was decided it’s not in a flood zone, but now ADA access will cost tens of thousands of dollars to accommodate it. Companies have offered to donate to finish the project, but they are hesitant because they know the city will not maintain it. The park grant was for equipment, the train park has always been done by volunteers. The new City Manager took their money away and a city employee turned in those volunteers into the construction union. Now the city claims they have to go to bid, which is a lie (Assembly Bill 327, Exclusion of Volunteer Work from Public Works Projects). Until the red tape is sliced, it will sit and rot, thanks to another brilliant city decision.
The undeveloped industrial park is another massive failure. Designed to bring in manufacturing, commercial retail warehousing, etc., it was crushed by a prior City Planner and City Manager. In one day, I could bring three to four attractive businesses to Ione, but they know the constant uphill battle with city officials and the wasting of their time and money in the process. The building and planning department care more about how much money they can make prolonging a project instead of seeing Ione succeed.
The City of Ione has a huge amount of issues and I want to fix them, but the city government refuses to listen. So, I am going to the owners, the people of Ione. Continue to demand what best serves you and your community and do not let up. We all want the same thing regardless of where you live in Ione, we have just been misled as to what our problems are … and what solutions are available.
The bottom line is Ione has amazing people. The division comes purely from the city government’s stupidity. Some developers may have screwed the city, but we’ve also screwed some developers. It’s a shame. While the city was playing games, our schools have slowly been degrading – run-down, over-populated, with portable classrooms and leaky roofs. We should have had new schools by now. But the money and attention was spent elsewhere and we are going to experience growing pains that could have been much less painful.
If this was a normal job, I would have quit a long time ago. The fact that I work for the people that elected me, gives me reason to stay. I will not quit. I will continue to improve our town and protect the interests of its people. I appreciate this opportunity to expose those that have been taking full advantage of us and I will continue to update my constituents and speak openly about who and what has occurred. An elected official works for those they are elected by. Period.
The Tuolumne Utilities District G.M. Ed Pattison Released From $200,000 Contract
The Tuolumne Utilities District (TUD) Board of Directors has voted to release its General Manager from his contract.
Thursday, after coming back from a closed session during a special meeting regarding whether to dismiss G.M. Ed Pattison, Board President Barbra Ballen revealed the decision.
“By a 3-1-1 vote, the board voted to terminate General Manager Ed Pattison’s contract without cause.”
The three in favor were Ballen, Board Vice President Ron Ringen and Director Lisa Murphy while Director Jeff Kerns voted against the firing and Director David Boatright abstained. That same vote by the board last Friday (March 26th) put Pattison on paid administrative leave with his access privileges revoked, as reported here.
Before the board’s vote, the public was able to give feedback on Pattison’s possible firing. Five individuals spoke with a representative of CSERC (Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center) stating it would support any board decision and four others opposed to his discharge. Those against questioned the timing of the meeting and why it was so rushed. One even claimed a possible conspiracy was afoot to stop growth in the county. However, the main concern centered around the current water rights negotiations Pattison has been engaged in with PG&E since March of last year regarding the potential transfer of the Phoenix Hydroelectric Project, as detailed here.
Tuolumne County resident Justin Myers questioned the boards’ priorities, stating, “I believe the decisions of the board should be focused on obtaining water rights, working and completing the capital improvement projects and the future of the water in Tuolumne County. That should be the utmost thing that that board should be focused on.”
Resident Eric Segerstrom asked whose interests were served by releasing Pattison before the water rights were secured, asserting, “This negotiation taking place right now is going to last longer than any of you or even me are going to be here. So, I really hope board members can look themselves in the mirror and honestly say to themselves they are acting on the best interest of TUD, its ratepayers, and the county rather than their own personal agendas.”
Pattison’s contract was to last through 2023 at an annual salary of $200,000. In November, there was a push by some board members exiting after the election to extend the GM’s contract to 2025, but in the end, the board agreed to let the newly voted-in members decide on any extension, as reported here.
No details were released as to when the board would begin its search for a new General Manager.
Amador county news
Amador County Board Of Supervisors Vote To Suspend Board Chair Frank Axe
The Amador County Board of Supervisors have voted to suspend Board Chair Frank Axe as Chair for sixty days as a reprimand for swearing at a member of the public.
The vote came after over two hours of public hearing on the pair of incidents, in which Axe replied by email with an indecent suggestion.
Many public speakers condemned Axe for his vulgarity and called for removal as chair or even his resignation from the Board, but an equal number of supporters spoke in his defense, praising Axe’s past work as a Supervisor and calling the push to remove him hypocritical and driven by national politics.
Axe for his part issued an apology for the incident both written and verbal. The 60 day suspension was suggested by Supervisor Jeff Brown and was approved by a vote of 3-1-1, with Supervisor Richard Forster voting against and Axe abstaining from the vote. Supervisor Pat Crew will serve as Chair during the suspension and chaired the remainder of the meeting.
Still No Repairs Planned By CDCR As Contaminants Continue To Spill At Mule Creek State Prison
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has reported a spill from Mule Creek State Prison (MCSP) into Mule Creek occurring on Friday, January 22nd and ending on Wednesday, February 3rd.
According to the Governor’s Office Emergency Services Hazardous Materials Spill Reports, an estimated 11,126,134 gallons of stormwater, mixed with Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and Semi Volatile Organic Compounds (SVOCs), surfactants, oil, grease, metals, inorganic, and nutrients of varying concentrations was released into Mule Creek. These waste-type constituents are at levels that would be expected in wastewater, sewage, and/or gray water containing coliform, fecal coliform, and E. Coli, and were released into Mule Creek when CDCR opened their slide gates.
Since May 25th, 2018, the date when the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) ordered CDCR not to open their slide gates as the stormwater is contaminated, MCSP has spilled an estimated 91,902,338 gallons into Mule Creek. CDCR continues to open its slide gates any time there is .25 inches of rain in less than an hour, in defiance of the RWQCB order.
In all that time, neither the RWQCB nor CDCR have issued a schedule for repairs to end the contamination. In fact, CDCR hasn’t even been issued a fine for known violations occurring during the time period.
Amador county news
Amador County Sheriff Martin Ryan Announces His Retirement
Amador County Sheriff Martin Ryan has announced his plan to retire as the Sheriff of Amador County effective April, 3rd, 2021.
Sheriff Ryan’s career spans 46 years, starting in Amador County. Sheriff Ryan's career started at the Amador County District Attorney’s office where he served for 6 years, he then spent 26 years with the California Department of Justice, the last 7 serving as the Attorney General’s appointed Chief of the California Bureau of Investigation, before returning to Amador County and becoming elected as the Amador County Sheriff in 2006.
Sheriff Ryan has said that the last 15 years have been an amazing and humbling experience. More information on Sheriff Ryan's retirement and plans will be released in the coming weeks. For now, Amador County congradulates and thanks Sheriff Martin Ryan and his family on an amazing career and his pending retirement.
After routinely complying with Transparent California’s annual request for employee pay data for more than half a decade, the City of Parlier is now refusing to provide this information for the 2019 year — forcing the government watchdog to take the city to court.
Today, the Nevada Policy Research Institute filed a lawsuit in Fresno County Superior Court alleging Parlier has committed multiple violations of the California Public Records Act.
In response to Transparent California’s annual request for 2019 employee compensation data, Parlier provided none of the information requested and instead supplied only a listing of various job titles and their associated pay rates.
Parlier City Attorney Neal Costanzo repeatedly refused to provide any additional records beyond the nonresponsive report initially provided, falsely claiming the city is not obligated to “create a new document” in response to a request for public records.
Costanzo also repeatedly refused to comply with multiple provisions of state law, including those that require public agencies to assist the requester in finding information responsive to the purpose of the request.
2019 was the first full year that Costanzo served as the city attorney for Parlier, suggesting that his hiring could be related to the city’s dramatic reversal in how it responds to routine public records requests.
As a contract employee, Costanzo is paid a monthly retainer of $3,000, which covers his appearance at, and work related to, monthly council meetings. Additional services are then billed at the cost of $160 per hour, with any litigation incurring a $170 hourly rate.
But given Costanzo’s role as de facto public records officer, this arrangement could result in a perverse set of incentives, wherein unlawfully withholding public records leads to litigation, which in turn financially benefits the very person responsible for the unlawful withholding.
Transparent California Executive Director Robert Fellner was stunned to see a city attorney so unwilling to comply with such a simple request, even after the organization’s repeated attempts to elicit compliance.
“We have worked with the legal counsel for every city in the state, and while we have encountered a handful of bad actors before, Parlier’s response is perhaps the most hostile to transparency we’ve ever come across,” Fellner said.
Fellner believes the Legislature needs to implement penalties for those government officials who violate California’s public records law.
“Allowing public officials to violate the law with complete impunity undermines the promise of a transparent and open government enshrined in both state law and the California Constitution,” Fellner said.
Parlier facing growing number of public records lawsuits
Parlier is currently facing at least two other public records lawsuits in addition to the just-filed action by Transparent California.
One of those lawsuits was filed by the Fresno County Fire Protection District, which alleges the city, through attorney Neal Costanzo, is unlawfully withholding records related to a recent eminent domain decision.
Mr. Costanzo responded to the Fire District’s request, court records show, by asserting that “there simply are no documents required to be disclosed in response to your very impertinent request for records.”
The Fire District, however, argues that the wholesale denial of their request was an unlawful violation of the California Public Records Act, and further alleges that “Parlier failed to perform a reasonable and diligent search for public records that were responsive to the District’s CPRA request,” court records show.
The complaint filed today by Transparent California in Fresno County Superior Court similarly alleges that Parlier violated state law because of its refusal to query and search electronic databases for records responsive to the purpose of the request.
Transparent California is asking the court to enter a Declaratory Judgment holding that Parlier “violated the California Public Records Act by (a) failing to promptly disclose records responsive to Petitioner’s request, (b) failing to assist Petitioner in locating records responsive to the purpose of its request, and (c) failing to provide a timely response to Petitioner’s public records request.”
The lawsuit also asks the court to compel Parlier to comply with the CPRA and provide a copy of records documenting city employees’ name and salary information so that it may be published online at TransparentCalifornia.com.
TransparentCalifornia.com is used by millions of Californians each year and has received praise for its ability to successfully improve transparency in government by elected officials, government employees and their unions, the media, and concerned citizens alike.
STORY NOTE: VOICE In Ione has approximately 20 current ‘Requests For Information’ on file with the City of Ione, some dating back as far as October 2020. These record requests are for financial reports, which had been made public in the past, which have not been made public since September 2019. Requested information includes copies of Treasurer’s Reports, Warrants Reports (checks issued to vendors) and Fund Balance Reports.
These reports had routinely been included in City Council Meeting Agenda packets prior to September 2019. Past City Councils were asked to approved warrants paid at the second City Council meeting of each month. Such approvals ceased in 2019 when the reports were no longer made public.
According to Kelsey Walsh, of the law firm Prentice Long, “Our office represents the City of lone in the capacity as City Attorney.” Any requests for information made to the City of Ione are forwarded to Prentice Long for processing, and it is Prentice Long who responds to these requests.
In correspondence dated December 18th, 2018, Prentice Long issued this statement regarding official requests for financial documents: “At this time, the City of Ione is in the process of phasing out financial reports, and the reports will therefore no longer be included in the council packets.”
In December 2017, Transparent California filed a similar legal suit naming both the City of Ione and Lori McGraw, Ione’s Finance Manager at the time (now employed as both the current Finance Manager and City Manager). That case was quickly settled before trial with Ione agreeing to provide a “copy of City of Ione’s Employee Compensation Report for the 2016 year.”
Ione has provided Employee Compensation Reports to Transparent California for the years 2017 and 2018, but not for 2019.
Lori McGraw Working Hard To Make City ‘Great Again’
It’s been a few short months since Lori McGraw took the helm as the City Manager for the City of Ione. To say it’s been a whirlwind would be an understatement as staff changes, upgrades, projects, developer agreements, numerous day to day activities, as well as making sure the City Council Board Members make informed decisions, would seem to be an impossible task. One would think that the pressure and myriad of activities would make McGraw a tired, worn out and cranky. But, they’d be wrong.
“First thing you have to know is that everyone from the City Council, to city staff, which I direct and work with, is extremely dedicated and devoted to the City of Ione,” said McGraw. “I guess I’m not worn out, because I see the passion and dedication of all the staff at Ione City Hall every day.”
In her short tenure as City Manager a great deal has been accomplished including: preparing RFP for Waste Water Operators, preparing RFP for Engineering Services, responding to PRA’s, hiring of two full time staff members, compiling installation of a drop box at Ione City Hall, meetings with the Motherlode Youth Soccer League to go over upgrades to the fields at Howard Park, meeting with the Arena Contractor regarding upgrades that are needed, meeting with the Picnic Association to discuss upgrades that are needed, working on grants with Train Depot volunteers, reviewing developer agreements, participating in the virtual California League of Cites (City Managers Conference), reviewing all city contracts to create and reevaluate RFP’s and schedules. The list is long and impressive.
“There’s a lot going on,” McGraw said. “Lots of new faces and a drive by everyone to work together to review what has been done, where we can improve and how we can accomplish items that have struggled in the past.”
McGraw will be the last to take the credit for the list.
“I answer to the City Council and the citizens of Ione,” said McGraw. “It’s been exciting, and yes, very frustrating at times, but we all have the same goal, making Ione great again, the best town and the best home, we can.”
While past administrations have been under public scrutiny for lack of transparency, and poor management decisions that were less than public in the view of some, McGraw pulls no punches.
“Yes, as a business the City of Ione made many mistakes in the past,” said McGraw. “But we can either cease doing the work that needs to be presently done, or we can continue to try and fix those errors and oversights while focusing primarily on the future, in order to bring the results our citizens want and deserve. Again, it’s a mindset, staff finally feels appreciated and they are unified, working and volunteering together as a team for the community in order to protect and build on our beautiful town.”
On questions regarding disagreements, egos, or credit, McGraw won’t budge.
“Yes, our Mayor Stacy Rhoades is certainly the one that pushes more out to the public and promotes all that is going on,” she said. “So, you hear and see a lot of his projects that are going on. He’s not afraid of working tirelessly, promoting and meeting with the public to gather volunteers to help with all that is taking place in town. It’s cooperation and helping in any way possible, from the top, down to the bottom, all working together.”
With the rosy outlook, one would wonder if there are any hard issues or disagreements within the political differences and personalities that are working together.
“Oh, yes,” laughed McGraw. “We certainly have differences of opinion, differences in priorities and different approaches to solving the various tasks we face each day. However, the dedication and desire to serve and have the citizens be proud of Ione. It’s the commonality and gut check that each individual looks at. I truly believe there is nothing we can’t conquer. Some of it will take time, but with the amazing dedicated staff in the City of Ione, failure is not an option and we won’t ever give up.
“We’re working hard every day for the citizens. If you want my State of the City report, as you suggested, I’d say I am getting to know Council members on a different level, it is interesting to see the different levels which each council member view their civic duty. The one thing I have found is we all share a love of Ione. Once we focus on that, together, I don’t think there is anything we can’t accomplish.”
Ione City Manager Lori McGraw has been fired by the Ione City Council, less than four months into her time at the position. The decision was announced following a closed session vote of the City Council at the end of their meeting Tuesday night, April 20th.
Following a regular public meeting, the Council then moved into closed session for almost 2 hours. Under California public meeting law, personnel matters must be addressed in closed session out of public view, so the details of the discussion are not known, however it was reported that Councilmember Diane Wratten made the motion to end McGraw’s employment contract, with Dominic Atlan seconding the motion. Dan Epperson joined these two in voting for the motion to end McGraw’s contract. Mayor Stacy Rhoades voted against the motion and Councilmember Rodney Plamondon abstained.
It was also reported that the Council then voted to offer McGraw her previous job with the City as Finance Director, which she later accepted. McGraw had previously worked for the City of Ione as Finance Director for four years before becoming City Manager at the start of 2021. Prior to Tuesday, she had assumed the duties of both City Manager and Finance Director.
Following the announcement, McGraw denounced the decision to the Council from the public speaker’s lectern, as did several other members of the public following the announcement of the closed session vote. McGraw said she had been let go for, among other accusations, opposing favoritism shown by the Council. When she brought up a Council decision over the benefits package of former Ione City Manager Jon Henken, she was warned by City Attorney Sofia Meyer not to talk about items discussed in closed session.
McGraw was optimistic for her new job and working with the Council in an interview published in the Ledger Dispatch earlier this month, but McGraw had drawn criticism from Councilmembers at a meeting two weeks ago over a Request for Proposal for city engineer services.
A special meeting of the Ione City Council is scheduled for Friday, April 23rd to discuss, consider and approve a contract for BHI Consulting for the recruitment of a new interim City Manager.
In the regular public session of Tuesday’s Ione City Council meeting preceding the closed session, the Council voted to approve a new ordinance allowing AirBnB and other short-term rentals in the city. Previously, the city has not allowed such residential rentals and the Council has spent several months working on the ordinance, which in its final approved draft will require that the City Planning Commission to approve a conditional use permit following a public hearing for short-term rentals to operate.
Accusations Of ‘Dirty Politics’ In Ione - Firing Of City Manager Lori McGraw Does Not Sit Well With Many
Editorial Commentary By Ledger Dispatch Publisher Jack Mitchell
With a quick meeting and only a few citizens left sitting at the Ione City Council meeting on Tuesday, April 20th, the Ione City Council returned from its closed session and announced the decision to fire City Manager Lori McGraw. The motion was made by Diane Wratten, seconded by Dominic Atlan, with Dan Epperson voting in favor, Mayor Stacy Rhoades voting against and Rodney Plamondon abstaining.
A second closed session motion was made by Epperson to offer McGraw the opportunity to stay on as City Finance Manager, with Plamondon and Rhoades voting in favor and Wratten and Atlan voting against it.
What (Lori McGraw) accomplished in a short period of time was amazing.
I believe this decision by the board is terrible.’
City of Ione Mayor
The announcement shocked many as just a few weeks ago McGraw sat down with the Ledger Dispatch giving constituents a close look at a number of accomplishments that had been achieved in her short tenure as Ione City Manager, including preparing Request for Proposals (RFP) for Waste Water Operators, preparing RFP for Engineering Services, responding to Public Records Acts, hiring of two full-time staff members, compiling installation of a drop box at Ione City Hall, meetings with the Mother Lode Youth Soccer League to go over upgrades to the fields at Howard Park, meeting with the Arena Contractor regarding upgrades that are needed, meeting with the Picnic Association to discuss upgrades that are needed, working on grants with Train Depot volunteers, reviewing developer agreements, participating in the virtual California League of Cities (City Managers Conference), reviewing all city contracts to create and reevaluate RFP’s and schedules.
McGraw, who was unanimously voted to the City Manager position by the Ione City Council in December, stated in her recent interview with the Ledger Dispatch, “We’re working hard every day for the citizens. If you want my State of the City report, as you suggested, I’d say I am getting to know Council members on a different level. It is interesting to see the different levels which each council member view their civic duty. The one thing I have found is we all share a love of Ione. Once we focus on that, together, I don’t think there is anything we can’t accomplish.”
So, just what happened to turn a rosy outlook into a dark day at the Ione City Hall? As you can imagine, with personnel issues and the danger of litigation, going on the record with information to give the citizens of Ione the full picture is limited.
“I can’t comment for the other board members and have to be careful as this was a closed session item,” Rhoades said. “That being said, you saw my vote on the items compared to the other council members and I can answer questions related to my view outside of the closed session.
“Yes, I continue to maintain that Lori is the best City Manager for the City of Ione and one of the best I have ever seen. What she accomplished in a short period of time was amazing. I believe this decision by the board is terrible. Thus, my vote to keep Lori.”
What is interesting is that McGraw’s contract as City Manager would have been completed just 10 days later, meaning the council could have finished the contract and voted to look for a new City Manager.
“I am of the opinion that, yes, the vote to fire McGraw and the timing based on her work – the board has placed the City of Ione at risk,” Rhoades said. “I am not a lawyer, but firing someone just weeks before their contract was finished puts the city at risk and is just a bad business decision. You’ll have to decide if this was business as usual or if it was a personal attack.”
Several sources within the city stepped forth with what they believe has happened. Those sources asked to remain anonymous, as they fear retribution and retaliation.
“Diane Wratten has been at odds with Lori from the day she became the City Manager,” said one source. “She has harassed her and spoken down to her on numerous occasions, sometimes within the City Council meetings – just take a look or listen to them. It’s been awful to watch and it’s disgusting. Lori was fired because Diane and Dominic Atlan don’t like her. They didn’t like the attention she was getting and the numerous items uncovered that were poor decisions voted on by them in the past. It was personal – not city business. It’s plain and simple – dirty politics.”
“Lori was told she didn’t respect the board, with one board member stating that they demanded and held a position that requires respect,” said a second source from within the city. “And that was your third vote for termination, Dan Epperson.”
Another source stated that the dirty politics run a bit deeper.
“This is all positioning as Diane Wratten is trying to orchestrate a way to become the Ione City Manager. She didn’t like Lori and all she was accomplishing with Stacy Rhoades, the attention they were getting, fixing problems that were caused by past decisions of the board – a board where Wratten, Atlan and Epperson all assisted in creating the problems. Diane has had her eye on the City Manager position and that is what she is trying to manipulate and make into a reality.”
Ione resident Jim Scully believes that a big part of McGraw’s firing has to do with larger city issues and specifically the issue of wastewater.
“With the wastewater issue, the improvements and solutions, McGraw had masterfully developed an inexpensive and easy way to fix Ione’s problems,” said Scully. “That’s great, but not when you have three people on the board that will be so embarrassed by their incompetence and non-progress over the years. Imagine fixing an issue quickly and inexpensively in a few short months, on a system that you couldn’t fix in years. That’s Lori and that’s what she did. So now these three board members are in a pickle – they’re going to make it as expensive and embarrassing as possible. They could have the whole thing fixed in weeks, but Epperson, Wratten and Atlan won’t let that happen. It’s small. It’s petty. It’s juvenile. And that folks, is your city council – and a majority voting, unfortunately.”
The RFP for Design of Improvements Associated with the Waste Water Treatment Plant Headworks Replacement, Irrigation Well and Interconnection with the Castle Oaks Water Reclamation Plant was the one item tabled at Tuesday’sCity Council meeting.
With the talk of a recall to remove board members and special elections lingering in the air, the citizens attending the Ione City Council all shared a similar sentiment of shock and disbelief, while a group of city staff sat devastated and broken.
“It’s dirty politics. It’s personal. And it’s disgraceful,” said one attendee. “They want respect – respect is something you have to earn. The board has earned nothing and I hope you do your job and call them out in the paper. They just fired the best chance at a better future for Ione. You watch, they’ll try to run off the Mayor next. It’s disgusting.”
McGraw declined to comment at this time and would not confirm or deny if litigation would be pursued. She has accepted the offer to stay on with the City of Ione as Finance Manager.
In the end, the City of Ione sits without a City Manager, the staff at Ione City Hall is left devastated, there is the Ione City Mayor feeling handcuffed by what he can say and what he can’t to protect the city – a city he loves – and the Ione City Council that has demanded respect and is willing to take on anyone and have them fired or removed if it falls short in their eyes.
In a special meeting on Friday, April 23rd, the Ione City Council review and approved hiring BHI consulting to begin a search for a new City Manager and later announced the hiring of Michael Rock as the new Interim City Manager.
At its meeting on Tuesday, April 20th, the City Council voted in closed session to fire Ione City Manager Lori McGraw. While details of the discussion are unknown, it was reported that Councilmember Diane Wratten made the motion to end McGraw’s employment contract with Dominic Atlan seconding the motion. Dan Epperson joined these two voting for the motion to end McGraw’s contract. Mayor Stacy Rhoades voted against the motion and Councilmember Rodney Plamondon abstained.
The Council then voted to offer McGraw her previous job with the City as Finance Director, which she later accepted.
Rhoades was the only member of the Ione City Council physically present at Friday’s special meeting, as the other Councilmembers chose to attend the meeting virtually via Zoom, with the exception of Atlan, who could not attend either in person or online.
Numerous members of the public began the special meeting voicing their outrage at the firing of McGraw, as well as the added financial burden of hiring a consulting firm to hire a new candidate.
“This was the last straw,” said Ione resident Jim Scully. “At the last meeting, on Tuesday, April 23rd, I was going to ask the three councilmembers on the wastewater committee (Wratten, Epperson and Atlan) to do a little soul searching … and resign. I am going to still ask them to resign. The liability that you’ve stuck your necks and the cities neck is way the hell out there, and sooner or later someone with an axe is going to come along.”
“It’s a beautiful Friday morning and we are here wasting taxpayers money and time. This is absolutely ridiculous,” said Michael Politi of the Ione City Planning Commission. “To be here discussing $40 grand for something that the City Council should be taking care of. We shouldn’t even be here in the first place because that lady there should never have been let go. You got a City Clerk that can put it out there, just like this company is going to do. You got a City Council that should be interviewing people. If you can’t do it, step aside. Or if you are afraid, whatever … but don’t keep wasting our tax money. Don’t keep beating us up like this. You guys got to stop this.”
“I’m shocked and outraged at what has transpired here,” Ione resident Chuck Swart said. “That person has printed the truth and done nothing but good for this city. For what appears to be councilmembers that have personal agenda and gain to step up and terminate her. Why? Because she did a good job? This is ludicrous. I don’t know what to say. I am to the point where … why can’t we just make the City Manager an elected official? Because based on our track record of the last two that we have had, including the last one which is a $3.5 million liability, among other things, and the one before that that ran off with the money, the City Council’s choices of City Managers have been less than stellar. The City Council is supposed to serve the people and our desires and it appears that is not happening, it appears that personal agenda has taken place over what the people want.”
McGraw then took to the podium stating that since her removal as Interim City Manager and accepting the position as Finance Manager for the City of Ione, the Ione City Attorney had locked her out of her computer.
“I want the citizens to know that I am getting paid to sit. I cannot work. I’ve been locked out of my computer,” said McGraw.
After the concerns of their constituents were voiced, the City Council voted to approve the hiring of BHI Consulting at the estimated expense of $37,850 to begin a search to hire a new Ione City Manager with Epperson making the motion, seconded by Plamondon, Wratten in favor, and Rhoades against. Motion passed.
After the closed session portion of the special meeting to interview candidates and discuss hiring an Interim City Manager, the public reconvened in City Hall, where the Ione City Council announced Rock as the Interim City Manager. The appointment of Rock to Interim City Manager left the public in attendance shocked at the speed at which the Ione City Council moved, as well as asking numerous questions – Who? From Where? Among a list of other questions.
Those questions were left unanswered, as there was no public comment or discussion. The Ledger Dispatch has learned that Rock is coming to Ione as the Interim City Manager from Yuba City and has been told an introduction to the community and interviews will be made as quickly as possible.