Modesto's mayor cleared in civil grand jury probe

Modesto Mayor Jim Ridenour doesn’t get special treatment in his part-time job as a reserve Stanislaus County sheriff’s deputy, the county Civil Grand Jury concluded.

The grand jury looked into allegations that Ridenour was getting paid for work he didn’t do at the Sheriff’s Department, but did not find evidence to support the charges.

“There was no documented evidence that the Sheriff’s Office had mismanaged this individual’s time and pay,” the grand jury wrote.

Ridenour has taken heat for his work at the Sheriff’s Department since last year, when former Mayor Carmen Sabatino obtained Ridenour’s time cards and his mayoral calendar.

Sabatino on his since-cancelled talk radio program alleged that the calendars showed conflicting appointments with Ridenour’s time cards.

Alternately, Sabatino has asserted that Ridenour “padded” the mayoral calendar to impress a five-person commission that was charged with setting his salary a year ago.

Sheriff Adam Christianson a year ago assigned a lieutenant to review the charges and concluded that Ridenour was being paid appropriately.

“We’re absolutely right on the mark and for me it was a dead issue at that point,” Christianson said.

The Bee reviewed the calendars and time cards and interviewed Ridenour, determining that the mayor did not attend the events that appeared to show a conflict with the time cards. Some of them were clearly personal, such as meetings at Ridenour’s church.

Ridenour provided his mayoral calendar to the salary-setting commission at the request of the group’s chairman, Hugh Rose III. The calendars were a relatively small piece of evidence for the commission, which also interviewed elected officials, held public meetings and researched how other cities compensate council members.

“I had no doubt about it. We had done it right,” Ridenour said about the grand jury investigation.

Christianson said Ridenour has worked for the department as a reserve deputy since 1992. The county personnel department on Wednesday confirmed that he has worked there at least since 1998.

Sabatino is unlikely to drop his charges.

He views Ridenour’s work in the department as a political favor dating back to the endorsement Ridenour got from a union that represents sheriff’s deputies in 2003.

Sabatino noted that Ridenour received more hours from the Sheriff’s Department since Christianson’s election in 2006, though Ridenour has put in less time there over the past year as his mayoral salary climbed and he began to take a greater role in setting the city’s budget.

“It’s called payola,” Sabatino said.

Sabatino plans to speak about the time cards and calendars at Tuesday’s council meeting.

He has been trying to obtain more calendars through a California Public Records Act request. City Attorney Susana Alcala Wood has agreed to let Sabatino review them in City Hall, but she is not providing him with copies of Ridenour’s 2008 calendars.

Sabatino has received Ridenour’s 2007 and 2009 calendars. He says that Wood has begun to redact items on the calendars.

The Bee reviewed the City Council’s 2007 calendars for a project profiling local lobbyists. The city redacted some information on the documents, such as medical appointments and items that involved council members’ children.

Sabatino has a standing request for the mayor’s weekly calendars. He is receiving them.

“Why not? I’ve got another two years (as mayor) and Carmen will constantly be after me,” Ridenour said. “Half the stuff he says isn’t right, but I’m not going to respond to him.”