Turlock Councilwoman Jackson cleared in grand jury probe

TURLOCK — The Stanislaus County civil grand jury cleared Councilwoman Mary Jackson in a report issued Wednesday after she was accused of a conflict of interest for voting on a controversial piano bar project.

“It exonerates me,” Jackson said Wednesday. “The perception was not the majority of Turlock voters. It was a few people who were politically motivated.”

The grand jury said it could find no evidence of such a conflict after conducting interviews and confidential documents.

“Often the perception of wrongdoing is greater than the offense itself,” the report said.

City Attorney Phaedra Norton told Jackson she should recuse herself from a vote to approve the permit for a Main Street piano bar in January.

“The Turlock City Councilmember should have recused herself to avoid any perception of wrongdoing,” the report acknowledged.

A lawyer, who was a volunteer strategist on Jackson’s 2008 campaign and donated $500, was the attorney for the Vintage Lounge project until two months before Jackson voted to deny the bar’s permit.

Jackson voted against the permit because she objected to limitations on the operating hours, wanting the establishment to be allowed to stay open until 1 a.m. rather than close at midnight.

Jackson said she consulted with state authorities, including the attorney general’s office and the Fair Political Practices Commission, and was told she did not have a conflict of interest.

The civil grand jury investigates complaints from residents, civic groups, government employees and others about the operations of county and city governments and the conduct of their officers and employees.