Allegations fly at wild city council meeting
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Accusations of corruption, collusion, defamation and criminal activity were the order of the day at an especially contentious special meeting of the South Lake Tahoe City Council on Thursday night that Mayor Kathay Lovell described as an “inquisition.”
And, after nearly three hours of allegations and mudslinging that nearly descended into chaos, the council took no formal action.
Councilman Jerry Birdwell called the meeting to discuss a $937.50 reimbursement the city paid to Councilman Bruce Grego last month for legal advice he received in April 2009 regarding a potential conflict of interest surrounding votes on the stalled redevelopment project at Stateline.
Birdwell and Councilman Bill Crawford contend the March reimbursement to Grego for legal services from South Shore Attorney Dennis Crabb was done so illegally because it was not approved by the full city council.
But Grego asserts he received approval for the reimbursement from City Manager David Jinkens and did nothing wrong.
“I would not have acted otherwise,” Grego said Thursday.
He called Birdwell “way off course” and said some of the allegations council members Birdwell and Crawford have made against him have been slanderous.
Crawford and Birdwell have focused their call for action on a Aug. 20 memorandum from then City Attorney Jacqueline Mittelstadt to Grego, Birdwell, Jinkens and Councilmen Hal Cole where she wrote the a reimbursement to Grego for the legal services would be illegal.
Birdwell contended the memorandum was the last he had heard of the reimbursement before seeing it listed on last month’s warrant sheet.
Grego and Cole both said on Thursday that they do not remember receiving the Aug. 20 memorandum.
A clearly agitated Birdwell said the reimbursement cast a “very dark cloud” of suspicion on the council and that a “veil of secrecy surrounds some members that are sitting at this dais” because the reimbursement was not brought before the full city council.
“This community is not going to be satisfied until they understand the truth,” Birdwell said.
Birdwell said he has already talked to the El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding the matter.
Grego said it was possible he could have missed the memorandum and questioned why the issue was not brought to him personally. He also said the city has no clear policy regarding reimbursements of legal fees to city council members.
“No one was trying to hide anything,” Grego said.
“The bottom line is this: If I had learned that issues were arising, I would have taken a different course,” Grego said.
The councilman said he would “welcome any investigation” into the reimbursement.
Councilman Crawford offered his opinion on Thursday as to why the reimbursement was given to Birdwell without city council approval.
The reimbursement was not brought before the city council because it was a move by Jinkens to influence Grego to push for the resignation of Mittelstadt, Crawford contended.
“I believe the city manager was fishing for assistance on things and I believe he got it,” Crawford said.
“It’s my opinion that Mr. Grego has destroyed any confidence I could have or anyone could have in Mr. Grego to continue sitting on this council,” Crawford said.
Grego and Jinkens both denied Crawford’s allegations of collusion on Friday.
The councilman said any votes he made regarding Mittelstadt’s employment with the city were based only on facts.
Jinkens told the council that comments by Birdwell and Crawford were “arguably defamatory” and could violate city policy and state law.
“We’ll just have to see from there, where it goes,” Jinkens said.
Hal Cole, said he felt Grego had displayed “bad judgment” in the way he went going about getting reimbursed, but said he didn’t think there was wrong doing.
“I think it was done out of naivete if anything,” Cole said.
Mayor Kathay Lovell, also said se felt the reimbursement could have been handled better, but said she didn’t think he had done anything unethical or illegal.
She said the city should have a better policy regarding expenses of legal fees to councilmembers.
Several people who said they were friends of Grego, defended the councilman on Tuesday.
South Lake Tahoe resident and friend of Grego, Jan McCarthy, accused Councilman Bill Crawford of snickering at members of the public he didn’t agree with.
“Stop laughing, it’s enough,” McCarthy scolded.
“The way Mr. Grego is begin treated today is an embarrassment,” McCarthy said.
Local contractor and friend of Grego, Kenny Curtzweiler, said he was also embarrassed by the council and said they could lose all credibility because of Thursday’s meeting debacle, adding he would be happy to contribute $100 to help pay back the money reimbursed to Grego to sweep the issue “under the rug.”
“That’s my problem,” Birdwell quipped in response.
Councilman Cole also suggested repayment of the money could be appropriate, but didn’t feel it was the council’s job to force him to do so.
Councilman Cole said the contentious meeting could negatively affect the council’s search for a new city manager.
A new city manager might not want to join “the team,” Cole said.
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