A duly-elected official like Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez has an obligation to represent the interests of his constituents and serve as a check and balance of city staff to ensure compliance with the duties of office as well as applicable local, state and federal laws and regulations; in this case, due process of medical cannabis dispensary applications and requests for public information.
On Friday, June 2, on or around 8:30 a.m., I went to the Hollister City Hall to make a public records request of all medical cannabis dispensary applicants related to the forthcoming June 5 City Council meeting wherein city manager/staff posted Resolution 2017-136 on the official agenda with a recommendation to ratify Resolution 2017-136 and accept the city manager's decision to move two medical cannabis dispensary applicants — Laylas Landing Inc. and Higher Level of Care — to the final medical cannabis conditional use permit (CUP) stage.
During the transaction request for public records, City Manager Bill Avera became angry and defensive of my request and, in my opinion, made a veiled threat against one of the applicants who I said I represented because that applicant and his attorney wanted to review the process by which city staff recommended that two applicants scored higher than all other medical cannabis dispensary applicants. The most compelling concern facing all applicants who spent perhaps tens of thousands of dollars in legal and other professional fees to apply for the two available CUP permits, was the failure of Avera to conduct public interviews of all medical cannabis dispensary applicants, which was a stated condition of the Hollister City Council pursuant to the 18-month public process to deliberate whether or not to rescind existing ordinances that ban medical cannabis operations in the city jurisdiction.
Fearing that Avera may have abused his power by making veiled threats against those who questioned his actions in this regard, I e-mailed Mayor Velazquez and City Councilman Ray Friend on Saturday, June 3 asking that they investigate and interview the city manager and the two other city employees who witnessed the incident in question on Friday, June 2.
On Monday, June 5, Avera pulled Resolution 2017-136 from the City Council public meeting agenda, admitting that he made "mistakes," according to a BenitoLink article written by reporter John Chadwell posted on June 7. It noted, "Avera had readily admitted he made a mistake in moving forward with the resolution prematurely."
I did not receive a response from the mayor for five days. On Thursday, June 8, I e-mailed Mayor Velazquez requesting the courtesy of a response to my concerns of potential improper statements or threats made by Avera. I received a curt and ambiguous response from the mayor as follows: "As you know, all the information will become public."
In my opinion, that response is unprofessional and unacceptable. It does not address the immediate concern that City Manager Bill Avera may have acted improperly which, by Avera's own admission, is now known to be accurate. But failing to investigate allegations of impropriety against the city manager also presents certain legal risks to the city should other applicants seek remedies against veiled threats of withholding or denying CUP permit applications for other medical cannabis operations in the city of Hollister.
But the larger concern to the public and all other applicants seeking conditional use permits for medical cannabis operations is this: how can we trust the public process if allegations of improprieties questioning staff are not investigated by the mayor or city council? Does the local press have the integrity or resources to investigate such allegations and report its results to the public? If such allegations are found to be true, will sanctions be imposed regarding the performance of the city manager and should he then be recused from participating in this public process? And finally, who are all the applicants competing for the two available medical cannabis dispensary permits who were not vetted by city staff because Avera "forgot" to follow written public policy by "mistake?"
Attached, readers may read the e-mail correspondence I sent to Mayor Velazquez, Councilman Ray Friend and staff. I redacted the names of certain persons out of respect for their privacy as I do not represent their interests in my allegations of potential abuse of power toward Avera.