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$100, $200 rents on city-owned land in Santa Rosa draw fire

  • The city is leasing this 1,400-square-foot home in Roseland to a city employee for $100 per month. (Conner Jay / The Press Democrat)

Sara Gray was living in Valley Ford with her husband and two children two years ago when she got an offer she couldn't refuse.

Her boss, former Santa Rosa Recreation & Parks Department director Marc Richardson, asked her whether she'd like to live in a 1,400-square-foot home on six acres on the outskirts of Santa Rosa for just $100 a month.

The place needed a little work, but the decision was an easy one for Gray, who at the time was the marketing director for Santa Rosa's ArtStart Program and today is its executive director.

“I couldn't really turn that down!” recalled Gray this week from outside the home on Burbank Avenue in Roseland where she and her family have lived since August 2011.

She enjoys living on the property, which has plenty of space for her young children to play, a rustic red barn and Roseland Creek running through it.

“I would love to stay,” Gray said as a flock of wild turkeys meandered down her gravel driveway.

But the arrangements Richardson struck with Gray's family and another family renting a second city-owned home nearby for $200 per month raise further questions about the management of the department and the ongoing efforts to sort out issues left in the wake of Richardson's retirement.

As a department director, Richardson wasn't authorized to unilaterally authorize leases, City Manger Kathy Millison said. That's something only the City Council or city manager acting on council direction can decide, she said.

After learning about the leases following Richardson's decision to retire in December, Millison initiated an “internal personnel investigation” into the matter, the results of which are confidential, she said.

It's the second such investigation Millison has undertaken involving Richardson.

The first was in October after she learned he had been playing golf for free at the Bennett Valley Golf Course. The probe confirmed that Richardson and his second-in-command, Rich Hovden, had accepted thousands of dollars worth of free golf access and other undisclosed gifts from the golf course operator over several years.

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