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Sudden resignation yet to be explained

We are all still scratching our heads over the sudden and mysterious resignation of Couper Condit from the Ceres City Council.Even the Conditistas are dumbfounded.

Condit took great pains to secure the seat. He moved into District 4 a year ago just so that he could run for the seat and raised over $10,500 in campaign cash for it. He sent out one of those sleazy slick attack mailers slamming Mike Kline for taking city-paid health insurance offered to him. Condit’s campaign effort amounted to bringing a cannon to a squirt gun fight.

Couper Condit took office on Dec. 3, 2020 and last week, on Oct. 11 he tendered his resignation. Barring some kind of immediate health emergency, nothing about this makes any sense. But we wouldn’t know because Condit hasn’t offered a public explanation.

It’s not like a Condit to quit office – unless it’s to move up the political ladder. This move, however, was an act of political suicide. Resigning after serving 10 months – without giving an explanation to your supporters and constituents – is inconsiderate and indicates a severe lack of commitment. It was one of the flakiest moves we’ve ever seen in this city.

We can speculate all day long about why Condit quit but he can – and should – offer an explanation.

His abandonment of yet another council term – just as brother Channce did last year – sets up the council for possible deadlocking in 2-2 ties over an appointment to fill his seat or another $40,000 for a special election.

We expect the council to discuss on Monday evening how to fill his vacancy.

* * * * *

In wake of the resignation I was made aware of his biography posted on the city’s website (which I bet Couper Condit himself wrote). A single sentence was the clue: “Couper was removed from the Planning Commission in January of 2020, for his insistence of being an independent thinker.”

Thinking independently and acting as an obstructionist are two different things. Then Mayor Chris Vierra and some council members were troubled over Couper’s voting record, in particular, rejecting projects without giving proponents an explanation. He voted against the Whitmore Ranch Specific Plan, the first subdivision to come along in a decade. He tag-teamed with his brother, then Councilman Channce Condit, in pushing for the city to make police staffing levels part of the General Plan when the council dictates how many officers are hired through the budget process.  During the same discussion, fellow Commissioner Bob Kachel asserted that “the commission doesn’t have any authority to set budget priorities.” Yet, Couper Condit threw the baby out with the bathwater when he cast the lone vote against the entire General Plan update – because he didn’t get his way.

* * * * *

While covering the Oct. 5 protest of the vaccination mandate in downtown Modesto, I climbed the stairs of the parking structure next to the former jail to get an aerial view of the crowd in front of the Stanislaus County Office of Education.

Two men were on an upper level, peering over the railing with eyes scanning the crowd. I had a feeling they were police. My first thought was it was a waste of police time because conservative demonstrations are peaceful. One of the men could tell I was a reporter as I had my ID tag on and I was carrying two cameras.

“Who are you with?” he asked.

“Ceres – the Ceres Courier,” I answered.

So I asked, “Are you guys cops?”

“Yeah, we’re detectives,” he answered. He didn’t say what agency but I’m guessing Modesto, not the Sheriff’s Department.

The other guy took his eyes off the crowd to glare at me as he started explaining that he doesn’t live in Ceres but he didn’t like something I wrote “a while back.” When I squinted to get a look at the name on his tag, he immediately covered it with his hand and yanked off the lanyard.

“What was it that I wrote?” I probed.

“I can’t remember what it was. You write one-sided all the time.”

I was getting a little irritated that he was engaging me in a political discussion while we were both working – while hiding his identity – and couldn’t even recall what it was that I wrote that incensed him so badly. In a tone of sarcasm, I replied, “I guess it wasn’t all that important if you can’t remember.”

“Whatever it was it had me pretty mad,” he answered. “I try to look at both sides. I support people on both sides.”

Okay, finally I get a hint that he didn’t like somebody I was supporting for office; just who it was would be a guess.

I pushed back: “I suppose I hold to my principles then.”

Keep in mind that he’s confronting me about my OPINION column, not a news story.

His whole “I support people on both sides” doesn’t make sense.

If my core beliefs are to support people who are strict constitutionalists, fiscal conservatives who support lower taxes, defend gun rights and defend the right to life, why then, would I ever support anyone who is the complete opposite just so I can have them fight the principles I believe in?

I do look at both sides of an issue, take my stand and don’t budge from where my principles take me.

The encounter left me riled. Here was a paid on-duty undercover detective popping off to a member of the media from another town about something I wrote some time ago while shielding his identity. He didn’t bother to call me or email at the time to discuss the matter, nor did he write a letter to the editor in response. I suspect he knew he was inappropriate the way he jerked his ID off.

* * * * *

A member of the community spoke to me about why he believes Ceres has a code enforcement issue: he said police don’t want to deal with enforcing codes. In short, he said officers are too lazy.

He also told me that the Police Officers Association queried of council candidate James Casey if he believed that police officers should enforce municipal code matters like illegal street peddling. Say it isn’t so!

To be sure, Ceres could use three or more code enforcement officers to get a handle on the blight problem. But if you’ll remember in August Couper Condit and Linda Ryno voted against adding one more code enforcement officer and two parks workers to the budget.

* * * * *

Nearly every council meeting features a complaint about speeding and reckless driving in Ceres. Resident Lee Brandt related last week how he had a near-miss with a silver Mustang speeding down Central Avenue. Brandt has asked for modifications on the major street to slow down motorists, such as street narrowing at crosswalks or roundabouts.

Most everyone agrees the problem of speeding and other violations are with young drivers. Just take a look at our weekly crime stories to see the ones driving drunk and passing out behind the wheel: typically male and under 25.

John Warren feels driving habits have grown worse because of a lack of traffic enforcement. Ceres resident John Osgood feels the problem is the absence of driver’s training in our high schools. Those may be ingredients but I think it goes deeper – to the sense of entitlement that many young people feel. They feel entitled to not have to be inconvenienced sitting at a red light so they gun through it. They don’t feel they must abide by speed limits because their faster arrival at a destination supercedes the safety of others. They feel entitled to exhibit speed in their sports cars – which they can afford only because they live with their parents and aren’t paying a mortgage – up the freeway at breakneck speeds and slalom the three lanes of Highway 99 like it’s the Daytona 500. And they feel entitled to check out their social media on the Smart phone in their lap rather than keep their eyes on the road.

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I rue the day that the city of Ceres created council districts. All it’s done is create more division among a relatively small population base. For example, last week Ceres resident John Warren suggested that members of the Measure H Committee come from individual council districts.

The committee is a collection of citizens who oversee how the half-cent public safety tax approved in Measure H is spent. I’m sure each council district has the same needs as the next so I’m not sure why each district would need their own representative on the advisory committee.

Ceres is literally 3.37 miles from top to bottom and 5 miles wide at its widest point and some outside force caused the city to go to council districts. It was a totally unnecessary to split the city into four council districts but the council was fearful of a possible future lawsuit by meddling outsiders like the Latino Roundtable at some vague point in the future.

* * * * *

Does Joe Biden believe his own swill?

Business Insider had this headline on Friday: “Biden just released a plan to protect Americans’ retirements and savings from the ‘urgent and systemic risk’ of the climate crisis.’”

Our retirements are not threatened by any naturally occurred change in climate but are very much threatened by the Democrats’ irresponsible spending plans that are causing inflation and indebtedness of our future generations.

I took the Business Insiders’ quick quiz about how readers reacted to the story and the majority felt it was nonsense.

* * * * *

I need to break down the strange process of the appointment of planning commissioners and Measure H Committee members that finally came to a conclusion last week.

In January the council tried to appoint three members to the Ceres Planning Commission and three to the Measure H Committee. The process called for interested citizens to apply for the Planning Commission, and be interviewed by a subcommittee of Mayor Javier Lopez and Councilwoman Linda Ryno. Lopez then made his recommendation to make the appointments. Couper Condit balked at the choices (because he didn’t like incumbents Bob Kachel and Gary Del Nero being installed again) and asked the council to hold off until a fifth member joined the council. A motion was made to make the appointments anyway and Mayor Lopez voted against it. Because of a 2-2 tie deadlock, the council waited nine months for the fifth member – who would be James Casey in September. (Meanwhile Kachel and Del Nero were held over in service out of necessity).

Lo and behold, last week Condit disappears off the radar screen like a plane in the Bermuda Triangle and the council is back to four members again.

This time it was Casey balking. He wanted the council to again go out to the public and seek applicants and scrap the current list. The council decided no, let’s appoint from this list. Casey, in turn, said by waiting for a new member he “did not take that to mean that I would not have any input in interviewing the candidates.”

Appointments are made by the mayor with the council concurring. So with Condit AWOL, Casey votes no on the appointments and Lopez votes yes – something he could have done back in January. Last week the vote was 3-1 to appoint Daniel Martinez to the Planning Commission and return DelNero and Kachel. Thank God that snafu is over.

The council agreed that in the future the entire council should interview the candidates out in the open, which is a good change.

* * * * *

Sadly, over the weekend the Ceres Courier and Turlock Journal office lost one of our faithful employees, Katica “Kate” Kroll. Kate (pronounced Ca-tay) was in charge of processing legal advertisements, answering the phones and overseeing the circulation department with her husband, Keenan.

Kate was from Croatia where her mother still lives.

She and I often had discussions about politics, on which we saw eye-to-eye on just about every issue. Kate loved her adopted country.

Kate and Keenan were eagerly looking forward to retirement and moving to Lake Havasu, Arizona. She worked hard as she was involved in the circulation of another newspaper and delivery of other products, always on the road when the rest of us were home relaxing. I’d often hear her say how she didn’t get much sleep making runs back and forth to Los Angeles and the Bay Area.

About three months ago we could see something horribly wrong happening to her. Looking jaundiced, Kate was absolutely drained of energy and shortly thereafter was diagnosed with cancer. Treatment options were limited and the prognosis was not good. She left work months ago and we never saw her again.

She was 61 when she passed on Saturday – far too young.

Life can deal terrible cruelty at times. This not how we would want Kate’s story to end, dying shortly of retirement and denied years of relaxation away from the work environment. It serves as a reminder to me that we must not take life for granted for we never know when ours will end. Each day is a blessing and we need to thank God for life. 

* * * * *

It was with sadness on Monday that we learned of the death of Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State.

I remember covering Powell’s October 19, 1998 Stanislaus County visit and press conference at the Sky Trek Aviation hanger at the Modesto Airport. Ceres Rotarian Jerry Deller had brought student John Cimadomo to meet Mr. Powell. Later that day Powell went through Ceres to Cal State University, Stanislaus in Turlock for an address. During that visit Powell said he favored Texas Governor George W. Bush for president but wasn’t interested in serving on the ticket. Instead Bush later made him Secretary of State.

I have a little memento from that press conference – a signature which he signed for me on a Desert Storm commemorative postal cover. He leaves behind a great American legacy.

 This column is the opinion of Jeff Benziger, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or 209 Multimedia Corporation. How do you feel about this? Let Jeff know at