Riverbank councilman ouster leads civil grand jury recommendations

Stanislaus County’s civil grand jury, a panel of citizen watchdogs who investigate complaints about local government, released six reports Wednesday afternoon, the most controversial calling for the ouster of Riverbank City Councilman Jesse James White.

The panel said White, 20, did not live in the city when he filled out candidacy papers to run for election last fall. The panel also faulted Riverbank’s city clerk for failing to verify information on election documents and said November’s election should be invalidated.

According to a three-page report, the panel found more questionable practices than outlined in confidential reports which prompted an investigation. The report said poor communication at City Hall prompts “intrigue, misinformation and lack of vision in all levels of city government.”

Recommendations from the 19-member panel are nonbinding, but agencies must respond in writing. State law gives elected officials and department heads 60 days to respond, while governing boards of public agencies get 90 days.

Grand juries may release reports any time during the year, but the local panel typically keeps its findings secret until the end of the term, which coincides with the fiscal year. Officials said they will release one more report from the 2008-09 term Thursday afternoon.

Allegations of wrongdoing by Modesto Mayor Jim Ridenour and Turlock City Councilwoman Mary Jackson were rebuffed in separate reports.Ridenour had been accused of doing city business while on the job at the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department, where he works as a reserve officer.

Jackson had been accused of having a conflict of interest when she voted on a permit for a downtown piano bar, because an attorney for the establishment supported her campaign.

The grand jury said the officials did nothing wrong.

The panel also commented on leasing at Modesto’s airport and membership on a board that covers a water district near Crows Landing.

Grand jurors said the city should hire a property manager to handle leasing of hangars at Modesto airport, because officials granted long-term leases without raising rent or seeking public input, and also failed to take action on some leases until long after they expired.

Grand jurors said the vice president of they Monterey Park Tract Community Service District should be removed from office because he does not live within the service area.

Each year, the panel takes a tour of the county jail in downtown Modesto, Public Safety Center south of Modesto and Honor Farm near Grayson. As in previous years, the grand jury said the facilities are inadequate, adding that the jail should be demolished.

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