State - INACTIVE

Riverbank councilman Jesse James White had city water without getting bill

RIVERBANK — Councilman Jesse James White didn't pay his city water and sewer bill for more than a year. But he's no deadbeat. The city never sent him a bill.

City officials didn't learn about the oversight until last week when a Riverbank police officer showed up at City Hall asking for a copy of White's utility bill. It's another twist for White since his May 14 arrest on drug charges.

White, 21, paid his past due charges and signed up for service Tuesday.

The district attorney's office had requested documentation to show that White lives in the apartment where officers found small amounts of marijuana and cocaine during a probation search, Police Chief Bill Pooley said.

White's mother said her son, who also is a Republican candidate for the 25th Assembly District, would not comment for this story.

But Ida White said she signed the lease, and her son did not know he was responsible for water and sewer when he moved into the Third Street apartment in December 2008, a month after he was elected to the City Council.

"It's how parents set up their kids for college," she said. "I was getting him set up to serve the citizens of Riverbank. So shame on me. ... It was an innocent mistake, probably on my part."

Ida White criticized the city for not catching the mistake.

"I can't believe it's so unorganized," she said. "That's not very good management on the part of the city."

She said her son didn't know about the problem until Tuesday when his landlord told him about it when he paid his rent. But the city said it sent White a letter May 25.

City Manager Rich Holmer said it's wrong to blame the city. The lease clearly states that the tenant is responsible for all utilities except trash, and the property manager said he tells tenants they are responsible for the utilities.

"They are not taking responsibility for what they needed to do," Holmer said, "come into City Hall, present your driver's license, pay the $60 deposit and provide a copy of your rental agreement.

"That's the standard. Everyone else in that apartment building has done that. I don't understand how he thought he could get water and sewer for free when everyone else there was paying for it. He's a public official and should be held to a higher standard."

Although White paid more than $600 on Tuesday to bring his account current, Holmer said, the water was turned off and the meter locked because White did not pay by the 3 p.m. deadline stated in the letter the city sent him. The water will be turned back on.

Holmer said because of this incident, the city needs to be more diligent about making sure residents set up accounts when they move into apartments and homes.

But the city also has stepped up efforts in the past month or so to contact residents not paying for water and sewer and customers who are six months or more past due on their accounts.

Did someone turn water on?

The city said it turned the water meter off outside the apartment in November 2008 when the previous tenant moved out. But Ida White said the water was on when her son moved in.

White and his grandfather and fellow council member, Dave White, have verbally sparred with city officials at meetings, accusing Holmer of being overpaid and questioning city spending.

Jesse James White missed last week's council meeting — the first one since his arrest — so he could help his parents celebrate their wedding anniversary.

But that didn't stop more than 150 people from packing the meeting and about two dozen of them calling for White to step down, which drew loud, sustained applause.

White was placed on three years' probation June 4, 2007, after entering a no contest plea to "wet and reckless" driving.

He has posted bail.

District Attorney Birgit Fladager said her office would wait until after the June 8 primary before deciding whether to file charges against White to avoid any suggestion that her office would attempt to influence voters.

White is one of six Republicans on the June 8 ballot seeking the party's nomination in the 25th Assembly District, which reaches from Modesto to Madera.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or 578-2316.

  Comments