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Local politicians taking heat

‘Mudslinging’ amps up as General Election nears

By E. CLARK
Martinez Tribune

MARTINEZ, Calif. – Several local candidates for public office, as well as politicians not on the ballot this year, are taking heat for their alleged involvement in “hit pieces” coming through the mail, on social media and other outlets.

The biggest target has seemingly been Martinez City Councilwoman AnaMarie Avila Farias, in her run for Dist. 5 Supervisor.

Throughout the last few months, residents in Dist. 5, which encompasses Martinez, have received flyers in the mail alleging Farias falsified her time card as a County employee and pocketed $40,000 in affordable housing fees from the City.

Mayor Rob Schroder and councilmembers Lara DeLaney and Mark Ross were named and pictured on one of the anti-Farias mailers, appearing as though they approved of the negative message.

While DeLaney was absent at the Oct. 19 City Council meeting and as of presstime had not yet denounced her involvement in the hit piece, Schroder and Ross said at the meeting they were not involved and did not approve of the mailer.

“The first time I saw it (the mailer) was when I got it in the mail yesterday (Oct. 18),” Schroder said. “I did not sign off on it. I did not authorize it.”

“This is an independent expenditure,” Ross said. “When it comes to the wording here, I agree with the mayor – it’s incorrect. [Farias] did not pocket $40,000. I’m actually the person that imposed the $40,000 by the way, so I know a lot about this.”

The mailer falsified an account about a property in downtown Martinez Farias turned into an eight-unit housing development. Before the market crash of 2008, Farias voluntarily agreed to contribute $40,000 to a proposed affordable housing fund. The City of Martinez never officially set up the fund,  so after the market crash, Farias petitioned the City to waive the voluntary commitment. By that time, the property’s value had come into the range of affordable housing and her petition was granted. No taxpayer money was received for the project.

Another “hit piece” circulating about Farias alleges she falsified a time card stating she was at work while she was actually in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“Something’s Fishy About Supervisor Candidate AnaMarie Avila Farias,” the flyer reads, quoting Facebook posts Farias made while on vacation. “Taxpayer Funded” is scrolled across the six-page fold-out featuring photos of her trip.

Tom Powers, a former member of the Board of Supervisors and a major funding source of the flyer and other negative literature about Farias, also requested the District Attorney investigate alleged misuse of taxpayer funds. However, he failed to verify any of his claims.

Farias said in defense of the accusation that she is an independent contract employee.

“My job demands a non-traditional, flexible schedule. My hours are my own to determine. End of story,” she said, stating the time card displayed on the “hit piece” was paid vacation time, and that her hours have never been questioned by her employer.

“This is a non-story generated by the sleazy political machine in this county desperate to protect their longtime champion – Supervisor Federal Glover,” Farias said.

Supervisor Glover, whom Farias is challenging for the Dist. 5 Supervisor seat, has denied involvement in the negative ad campaign against Farias, stating he can’t help what his supporters distribute.

When asked further about his alleged involvement in the “attack,” Glover’s campaign director, Mary Jo Rossi, told the Tribune: “All of the whining by Ms. Farias is just a last ditch effort on her part to resuscitate what has been a flailing and losing campaign bankrolled by a $300,000 slush fund from a big Wall Street landfill operator. The bigger question is – why would a big landfill operator be spending over $300,000 to elect her and punish Supervisor Glover?”

Farias did not respond to Rossi’s comments by presstime.

Three Martinez City Council candidates are also taking blows after they commented at the Oct. 19 City Council meeting about the OnStage/Campbell Theater lease, dissenting to a renewal of the lease. Those comments have some in the theater circle calling council candidates Noralea Gipner, Courtney Masella-O’Brien and John Stevens “turncoats” and “neophytes.”

The City currently leases the Campbell Theater property at 636 Ward St. for $4,600 a month. OnStage Repertory Theatre manages the events and regularly produces their own plays, as well as hosting civic and other groups. And while the theater may play an important role in keeping the arts alive in Martinez, like their predecessor, Willows Theatre Co., OnStage has not yet been able to recoup the City’s investment and become a sustainable entity.

“What I don’t understand is spending money on something we don’t get as much benefit from. We get more benefit from more police officers … being able to maintain our parks. To me, it’s not practical,” Gipner said.

Stevens said he believes the City is paying too much for the property, and advocated for the City “taking itself out of the loop” to let the theater company negotiate with the property owner in hopes a more reasonable monthly rent could be obtained. “Then if we want to support the theater in some way, we can decide if we want to give some funding to them to help assist them,” Stevens said.

Masella-O’Brien echoed Gipner and Stevens’ comments, saying she didn’t believe the City should be entering into a lease for a private building. “There’s other things the City can do to promote the arts. There’s other sources of funding we can explore,” she said.

The mayor reminded the candidates the agenda item was an informational update only, and not on the agenda for reconsideration. The lease term, with an additional three-year extension, was effective Sept. 1, 2015, and was accepted and filed.

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