Members of the Stanislaus County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) told councilmembers Monday that they want a third-party investigation into allegations of city workers using disparaging remarks toward minorities in emails and posted on a social media website.
The latest charge follows on the heels of allegations that certain police officers were involved in the misuse of surveillance cameras to record female employees in rooms where they changed clothing.
Monica Ventura, a Ceres native with the Modesto based NAACP chapter, said the office has received phone calls alleging that "there are racist emails being sent by city employees." She said "we have researched this and we have copies and we have found posts on Facebook by city employees with sexual innuendos to other city employees. It is devastating to hear that."
Ventura suggested that the city small Information Technology staff is unable to devote more than four hours per week to search records and questioned how well the city can investigate charges of misconduct among employees.
Local NAACP president Frank Johnson said the "n-word and all these other negative words are flying around on social media, they're true."
"We will bring witnesses forward and verify some of the racist remarks made by this city," said Johnson. "If you cannot investigate and (if you) have a problem investigating then maybe the NAACP could get an oversight committee and get them involved. If not then the grand jury will get involved because there's definitely enough to take to the grand jury and open an investigation into this city. All of this is going to stop. Enough is enough."
He accused himself of being "disrespected in every way, shape and form." Johnson also said his group has been "ostracized out of the city."
Johnson and Ventura left the meeting and didn't hear City Manager Toby Wells say that the city takes charges of racism very seriously. Wells said that he and Councilmembers Linda Ryno and Ken Lane met with Johnson on Sept. 24 and asked for evidence "and he has not done so."
"It's impossible for us to investigate things that we don't get information to," said Wells.
In an answer to Ventura's comments about IT staff time, Wells said the four hours was the amount of time dedicated to a Freedom of Information request made by a Southern California journalist "who gave us a very long public records request of 14 terms that he wanted searched in every possible city directory." He said the city is required by state law to determine if the request is reasonable and how much time to respond to it. The request was reduced and the city is trying to respond, Wells said. "The law does not require us to dedicate all of our time and staff to a public records request ... we feel we are being reasonable."
The city confirmed that it has been investigating charges into the peeping tom incidences. Last summer the Ceres Police Department forwarded complaints to the District Attorney's office but prosecutors could not establish that a crime took place.
Relations between Johnson and the city began unraveling last year when the council acted to disavow city support of the NAACP /Ceres Police Stop Gap Health Services which opened in early 2012 at 608 13th Street, Modesto. The action came after Ryno saw a $2,400 city check cut to the NAACP and questioned if the funds came out of the general fund. It was explained that the city was accepting donations from community groups and funneling them to the NAACP to cover the costs of the program. The money specifically came from groups that received health screening services, included the Sikh community, Ceres Unified School District and Ceres Flea Market. The council learned that the city only had a verbal agreement for the nursing services program, prompting Ryno's fears that the city would be held liable if anyone were to file a malpractice lawsuit.
The nursing program was embraced by Ceres Chief of Police Art deWerk eight years ago when nurse Dan Lucky came up with the idea of offering preventative care to the medically indigent at public events such as farmer's markets. Later the NAACP partnered with Lucky to establish a regular office in downtown Modesto.
When deWerk was stripped of his title of acting city manager earlier this year and left the police chief post on June 16, Johnson ramped up his attendance at council meetings where he regularly offeres his criticisms of city management.