State

Turlock group drops stadium claim

TURLOCK — A residents' group dropped its lawsuit against the city over paying for improvements at Turlock High School's stadium.

Attorney Richard Harriman, who represented the plaintiffs, said the decision to seek dismissal Tuesday came when they realized they couldn't win.

The lawsuit claimed the City Council, acting as the redevelopment agency, inappropriately voted in December to spend $2.8 million to install an all-weather track and field at Joe Debely Stadium.

"We're delighted that the lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice, meaning it can't be brought back," City Manager Roy Wasden said. "Now we move forward."

The lawsuit, filed in December by the Turlock Citizens Coalition — Dana Vaughan, Lynn Gaiser- Sarraille and Michael Burtch — named council members Amy Bublak, Ted Howze and Kurt Spycher as defendants.

It did not name Mayor John Lazar or Councilwoman Mary Jackson; the lawsuit erroneously said Lazar voted against the project. Lazar recused himself from considering the proposal because he owns property nearby. Jackson cast the lone vote against it.

Harriman said once he realized that Lazar didn't vote, the plaintiffs' claim that Howze — who sits on the board of a youth football league that will use the stadium — had a conflict of interest lost steam because his wasn't the deciding vote.

Also, "While Councilman Howze clearly had a common-law conflict of interest, we could find no evidence he received financial remuneration sitting on a volunteer board," Harriman said.

Howze said that's what he's been telling them all along.

"I'm extremely pleased to see that this frivolous, politically motivated lawsuit driven by Councilmember Jackson and her close political allies on the Democratic Central Committee has been dropped," he said Tuesday.

"The sad part is they chose to go forward with a frivolous lawsuit when they knew from the very beginning that they had no grounds."

Burtch is the chairman of the county's Democratic Central Committee.

Jackson, who has clashed with Howze over several matters, said Tuesday: "Once again Councilmember Howze speaks out before getting his facts straight. I believe in November the good citizens in Turlock will decide what's the best use of their money."

The city spent $26,000 in court costs.

"We didn't want to run up the bill," Harriman said. "When you realize you can't win, you have to do the ethical thing."

Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at pguerra@modbee.com or 578-2343.

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