RIVERBANK -- The city's political turmoil is reaching new heights -- or new lows, some say.
Many residents are scratching their heads about two puzzling fliers that appeared in mailboxes in late June. The outside of both mailers is labeled with official-looking phrases such as "estimated city deficit and tax assessments." But the inside contains a laundry list of allegations about corruption at City Hall.
Among them: Councilwoman Sandra Benitez and former Councilwoman Virginia Madueño profited from the city's purchase of the Del Rio Theater.
Another: City Manager Rich Holmer hid raises for city employees from public view.
The fliers defend City Council members Jesse James White and Dave White, both targets of a recall attempt.
The mailers have opened a fresh round of finger-pointing and mudslinging.
The city has been in upheaval since former Mayor Chris Crifasi resigned unexpectedly in January. Less than five months later, Mayor David I. White stepped down. Now a grand jury report is calling for Jesse James White to leave office because he wasn't a registered voter when he filled out candidacy papers.
Dave and Jesse James White are grandfather and grandson. David I. White is not related to them.
Who's behind the mailers? Both fliers are unsigned, listing only "Citizens of Riverbank" and a post office box as the return address. The fliers give a Web site that's registered to an Internet domain registration company, not a person. The mailers' postage-paid permit belongs to a Modesto organization called Citizens for Constitutional Government. Calls and an e-mail to that organization were not returned.
Whoever mailed the fliers is willing to put his money where his mouth is. The cost to mail such fliers is $1,500 to $2,000, said postal service spokesman Gus Ruiz.
Language bothers some
Resident Gary McDowall said he'd like to know who's circulating the mailers. He said he was disturbed by some of the language in the fliers, which seemed misleading and "extremist" to him.
"Since they're targeting both Hispanic females, I think it's rather racist and sexist," he said. (Benitez is not a Latina; her husband is Mexican.)
McDowall said he's considered filing a complaint with the post office about the apparent attempts to masquerade the fliers as official tax information.
One flier instructs people to call the city clerk and ask about "assessments, fees and charges" approved by the City Council. Three or four people have contacted City Hall with questions, Holmer said. People may have been confused, he said, because a logo on the fliers bears a passing resemblance to Riverbank's City of Action logo.
Some of the fliers' language is hard to follow. Some is simply untrue. One says Mayor David I. White resigned "amid questions of Benitez's conduct and the public's outcry for a grand jury investigation."
White resigned to take a job in San Diego.
Holmer said he thinks ex-Mayor Charles Neal, a vocal City Hall critic, is responsible for the mailers.
Neal vehemently denies it. Yes, the fliers cover topics he's been "screaming about for years," said Neal, such as Holmer's alleged "duplicitous" behavior. But Neal said he always signs his name to documents he circulates about suspected misdeeds at City Hall.
"If I do something, I want everybody in Riverbank to know it's good, legitimate stuff and that I did it," he said.
Councilman Dave White said he's not involved in writing the fliers, but approves of them.
"There's two sides to every story," he said. "I think they're trying to explain the other side of the recall."
Councilwoman Benitez called the mailers the work of "ignorant bullies" who are afraid to step forward.
"The (Symbionese Liberation Army) took credit when they snatched Patty Hearst," she said. "But these people won't stand up and be counted. If they don't have the guts to stand up and say this is who we are and this is how we feel, then why should anyone pay attention to it?"
Benitez said she's "trying to stay neutral" on the recall attempt against Dave White and Jesse James White. But she noted it's no secret that she worked on a 1991 recall campaign against Dave White when he was mayor.
Benitez credited the current recall organizers, Riverbank Citizens for Fair Change, as being upfront about who they are.
Neal and Dave White say Madueño, a former councilwoman, is orchestrating the recall effort from behind the scenes. They say she isn't over losing the November mayor's race to Crifasi.
Recall organizers Dotty Nygard and Sergio Lopez backed Madueño when the council appointed a new mayor in January, but Madueño has said she's not involved in the recall.
Joan Clendenin, vice chairwoman of Stanislaus County's Republican Central Committee, said she's been watching Riverbank's troubles with some dismay.
"It's one of those situations where people can't get past the last election," she said. "Elections are zero sum games. There's only one winner and one loser.
"It's a shame. (Riverbank's) been a nice quiet community and all of a sudden some people who can't get over it are turning everything upside down."
Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2378.