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PD Editorial: A culture of secrecy at City Hall

  • A Roseland-area house owned by the city of Santa Rosa and rented to a city employee for $100 a month. (CONNER JAY / The Press Democrat)

Confidential.

This familiar four-syllable adjective derives from the Latin confidere, meaning to trust.

It's a word we've heard over and over from Santa Rosa officials responding to revelations about mismanagement at the city's Recreation and Parks Department. Internal and personnel often accompany confidential.

Here's one more word: unacceptable.

As in, the city's reflexive response to embarrassing disclosures is unacceptable. Trust us, we'll sort this out isn't good enough when city officials are looking into misfeasance, and perhaps malfeasance, by other city officials. A full, prompt and public accounting is required.

In Santa Rosa, where residents are justifiably unhappy with dying lawns in city parks, we now learn about two houses owned by the city and rented at bargain basement rates, one of them to a city employee.

As Staff Writer Kevin McCallum reported, the city bought the houses and about 17 surrounding acres for a possible Roseland community park. The $4.2 million combined cost was paid by the city and the county Open Space District.

One house was subsequently rented for $100 a month to Sara Gray, a parks department employee. “I couldn't really turn that down,” she told McCallum.

Gray said the house was offered by then-parks Director Marc Richardson, her boss. In exchange for the rent break, she and her husband serve as caretakers for the property and have made upgrades to the house, including new carpets and flooring. They signed a three-year lease in August 2011.

The second house, located on the next block, is rented for $200 a month to a carpet cleaner named Allen Danley. He declined to explain how he learned of the rental opportunity, saying he had been told not to talk to reporters.

Danley's month-to-month lease, signed last August, requires him to return the house in the same condition he received it.

City officials have said little about the situation, and what little they've said is contradictory. Assistant City Manager Jennifer Phillips said the houses were “uninhabitable,” that they have been repaired and that rents will be increased to market rates. City Manager Kathy Millison says she doesn't want to be in the rental business, and the houses may be razed.

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