Sutter to Stark: Cut Cut the check
September 02, 2009 12:31:00 AM - By Howard Yune/Appeal-Democrat
Sutter County's auditor-controller got firm orders Tuesday night to stop resisting the settlement to a long-simmering
tax dispute with Fremont-Rideout Health Group. But the final chapter in the struggle remains unclear. A 4-1 vote by
the Board of Supervisors — with only Stan Cleveland dissenting — ordered Robert Stark to release a warrant to pay
Fremont-Rideout $588,024 to drop the hospital group's claim it was wrongly charged property tax in Yuba City for
three years. Despite the decision, Stark declared he would not authorize the payout unless the county either
documents its reported closed-door approval of the pact in May — or votes on it again in public.
Minutes after the decision, Stark gave no apology for holding out against the settlement. "Public officials need to be
held accountable, and that's a function of my office," he said. The board's ultimatum was meant to end a tug-of-war
between Sutter County and Fremont-Rideout, which in February filed a claim seeking the return of $885,024 it paid in
property taxes for its Yuba City site from 2006 to 2008.
While California hospitals generally are exempt from property taxes, the county Assessor's Office collected tax from
Fremont-Rideout because it did not re-register its ownership deed in Yuba City following its creation in the 2005
merger of Fremont Medical Center and Rideout Memorial Hospital. But Fremont-Rideout directors argued it inherited
the tax break from the previous company and should not have been taxed. Board chairman Jim Whiteaker signed a
compromise with Fremont-Rideout for just under two-thirds of the disputed funds, based on supervisors' reported
agreement to the deal in a closed session May 19. But Stark resisted the release of the funds, saying Whiteaker has
no power to sign an agreement without documenting the board's approval.
Minutes from the May meeting indicated supervisors discussed the tax dispute, but that Whiteaker announced no
decision had been made. "The board took no public action to ratify this agreement or report it had ever been voted
on," Stark told supervisors. "I've seen no documentation that the board authorized (Whiteaker) to sign the
agreement." "I don't sign blank checks; I don't sign blank documents," Whiteaker replied, asserting state open-
meeting law allows the board to craft settlements in closed session and publicize them only after signing. "I was
given the authority to settle a claim and that's what I did."
Cutting a deal with Fremont-Rideout also cut off the risk of losing a lawsuit over the tax money, said Supervisor
James Gallagher. "These are not the kinds of cases you want to take to trial," he said. "It's a flip of a coin, and you
pay your attorneys hoping that coin falls in your favor. We settled this for 63 cents on the dollar; you talk to any
attorney and that's a good settlement, in my mind." Fremont-Rideout's tax fight has spawned another dispute within
the county, one that will reach a courtroom on Thursday.
Assessor Michael Strong, who denied the hospital group's tax claim, will appear in Superior Court at 3 p.m. seeking
to force the county to pay for his own attorney, saying County Counsel Ronald Erickson's support for the settlement
leaves him unable to represent Strong as well. Supervisors vetoed that request on Aug. 18
Board, Stark at odds over hospital bill
Issue may be settled in court
August 30, 2009 11:05:00 PM - By Howard Yune/Appeal-Democrat
Unable to agree whether to pay for a settlement of a tax dispute, Sutter County and its auditor-controller are set to
battle over the issue on Tuesday. The Board of Supervisors will decide whether to order Robert Stark to pay
Fremont-Rideout Health Group $588,024 to drop claims the county wrongly collected three years of property taxes.
Stark has refused and called the settlement irregular, though the board reportedly struck its deal with the health
group more than three months ago.Even if supervisors vote to force Stark's hand, one board member predicted it
would not end the battle and might lead to a showdown in Superior Court. "Whether he pays it or not is another
battle," Supervisor Larry Montna said Friday. "Just because we instruct him, he might (still) say he has the authority
to say no."
Fremont-Rideout filed a claim in February seeking the return of $885,024 in property taxes from 2006 to 2008 for its
center on Plumas Street in Yuba City. The hospital group argued it was entitled to the tax exemption the state grants
for health care organizations, but the assessor's office argued the tax break lapsed after it acquired Fremont Medical
Center in 2005 without re-registering its ownership under the new name.
Supervisors said they drew up the settlement — which Stark and other critics call a tax refund — in a May 19 closed
session, and board Chairman Jim Whiteaker co-signed it a month later with Fremont-Rideout's chief financial officer.
But Stark declared the absence of a public vote leaves him unable to release the settlement money.
"The internal control problems are totally obvious," said Stark. "If I can pay out over half a million dollars on
(Whiteaker's) signature with no documentation that the board approved it or budgeted for it, then every time he sends
over a claim, I have to pay it. I don't think that's what the public wants." Defiance of a board order to pay the
settlement could lead to a second courtroom conflict between Stark and the county.
In August 2006, Stark sued the county alleging curbs on his free speech and impeding his authority as auditor-
controller. The board had declared it had final power over expense reimbursements, and Stark said the county's
refusal to distribute his memo on the issue violated his First Amendment rights. Stark abandoned the suit after 14
months when a judge dismissed all but one of his 13 complaints against the county.
County officials still at odds on FRHG tax settlement
Auditor won't approve $588,024 payment to hospital
August 27, 2009 12:46:00 AM - By Howard Yune/Appeal-Democrat
Sutter County's auditor-controller will not sign off on the county's reported $588,024 settlement with Fremont-Rideout
Health Group, saying no evidence yet exists the deal to end a tax dispute was struck publicly and legally. In a letter
released Tuesday night, Robert Stark told the Board of Supervisors it must document its pact with Fremont-Rideout
before he can allow the release of the funds.
The dispute began with Fremont-Rideout demanding the return $885,024 in property taxes collected from 2006 to
2008. But a developing rift between Stark and County Administrative Officer Larry Combs calls into question whether
the county yet has the authority to pay back the hospital group — with Stark even suggesting the board revote in
public at its Tuesday meeting.
"It's amazing that something so simple as documenting a board vote can become so difficult," Stark said Thursday. "I
don't think the public would want me to pay out half a million dollars without adequate assurances the board had
voted on it — plus it would be illegal for me to do so. That's just not the way that government should operate."
Combs was on vacation Wednesday and unavailable for comment. The assistant administrative officer, Stephanie
Larsen, said County Counsel Ronald Erickson will recommend that supervisors order Stark at their Tuesday meeting
to make the payment to Fremont-Rideout.
The hospital group filed a claim in February seeking the refund of property taxes the county collected on its Plumas
Street site in Yuba City. Although former owner Fremont Medical Center had exemptions on the site before Fremont-
Rideout's formation in a 2005 merger, the county collected taxes because the group did not re-register its ownership
deeds with the county clerk-recorder at the start of 2006. State law generally allows the tax break for hospitals,
charitable groups and religious organizations.
Fremont-Rideout executives said the group inherited the Yuba City site's tax breaks, but Assessor Michael Strong
called the merged entity a new owner that was required to re-establish its ownership to keep the exemption.
Supervisors and Strong said the board agreed to the settlement in a May 19 closed session, and Supervisor Jim
Whiteaker co-signed the agreement June 30 with Fremont-Rideout's chief financial officer. But Stark pointed to the
lack of a record of a vote as reason to put the brakes on the deal for now, despite supervisors' declaration of a deal
"These attempts by Mr. Combs and his staff to coerce payment of the claims, if we complied, would be a
circumvention of county policy and internal controls," he wrote the board. Minutes from the board's May meeting
state it "adjourned to closed session after which the chairman (Whiteaker) announced there was no action to report."
Earlier, Combs defended the deal with Fremont-Rideout in a letter to Stark, saying the board has the power to set
"settlement parameters" with a claimant, then have a county attorney or risk manager work out the details of a
financial compromise. Erickson, the county counsel, also has stood by the settlement, saying state open-meetings
law allows closed sessions to discuss pending litigation.
The conflict over Fremont-Rideout has triggered another fight over Strong, the county assessor. He sought to compel
the county to pay for his own counsel to prevent Erickson from representing both him and supervisors, but four of five
board members blocked his request last week.
Banned from Agenda 5/12/09
The most important agenda item is #10 on redistricting. There are comments by Supervisor Gallagher at the end of
the meeting that augment his comments during the discussion of item #10. Be sure to watch the meeting from item
#10 on to get the full content. The Auditor-Controller's report which was banned from the agenda also occurs at the
end during the public participation.
FPPC Violates Auditor’s Constitutional Right of Due Process
(This addresses and explains the report in the Appeal-Democrat regarding this matter)
Overview: This information was presented to the Board of Supervisors at the meeting held at Yuba City High School,
October 14, 2008, informing them that $1,836.46 was being reimbursed to the County under protest with no
admission of guilt or wrongdoing to satisfy a Fair Political Practices Commission complaint about the Citizens Report.
What’s also noteworthy, besides the State violating the Auditor-Controller’s right of due process guaranteed by
Articles 5 and 14 of the U.S. Constitution, is the information in the Citizens Report is the same as the Citizens Report
published on the County’s own website. The so-called “mass mailing” was the inclusion of the report in the July 2008
issue of The Shopper. The two factors that constitute an FPPC violation were over 200 copies were sent (28,302
copies at 6 ½ cents each) and the report “featured” an elected official, by virtue of including the name, office and
signature of the person responsible for the report.
Grand jury backs Sutter auditor-controller in release of salary data
January 07, 2011 11:31:00 PM - By Ryan McCarthy/Appeal-Democrat
Sutter County Auditor-Controller Robert Stark did not violate the California Public Records Act by releasing the
salaries paid to county employees, the grand jury says in a report released Friday."The public had the right to the
information, and I was just following the law," Stark said of releasing the salary list May 19. "The law is clear — that's
public record." The county Personnel Department released its 2009 employee salaries to the Appeal-Democrat on
July 14 after the newspaper made a public records request, but the list omitted names of employees the county
deemed had a legitimate safety or security concern. The list Stark released included names of all county employees.
The grand jury said Stark was "within the scope of his position" when releasing the salaries after he received a
request from a private citizen for Sutter County employee payroll information. In July, the county personnel office
referred to the Board of Supervisors an allegation regarding the release of public information — spurring the grand
jury's review, according to the panel's report. "I'm not aware of any other county department head who's been
investigated like this," said Stark, 61. "You can draw your own conclusions as to whether or not that's fair."
He said he appeared before the grand jury three weeks ago for about two hours and that the panel did a professional
job. Steven Smith, deputy county administrative officer, said Stark's office "may be more likely to receive these
records requests when they involve financial information." The Board of Supervisors on Dec. 28 approved an
administrative policy about public access to county documents, Smith said. A report to supervisors about the policy
noted "It is the county's goal to provide the public with timely access to its public records."
"Within that goal, the county has a responsibility to ensure that all documents that may be disclosed are made
available upon requests," the report added, "and to ensure that any documents that are not eligible to be disclosed,
due to confidentiality or other factors, are appropriately identified by the responsible department." Stark said he'll
comply with the county policy. According to the grand jury, the Board of Supervisors contacted the District Attorney's
Office about the allegation involving the release of information. District Attorney Carl Adams said his office in August
spoke with the grand jury about the law and the California Public Records Act.
"What else we did or didn't do, I can't talk about," Adams added. Stark has been investigated by the county grand
jury before. In 2005, Stark, who ran unopposed in November's election, was indicted on 13 felony counts alleging
misappropriation of public funds. Stark's assistant, Ronda Putman, was indicted on two counts. An appellate court
has held up six of the charges against Stark, while Putman's charges were later dismissed.
A year later, Stark was indicted by the next grand jury on two felony counts of filing false versions of the county
budget. Stark would be forced to relinquish his office as auditor-controller if he is convicted of any of the felonies.
In September 2006, the state Supreme Court agreed to review Stark's appeal of the charges. The case was fully
briefed as of March 2007. In May 2010, the Board of Supervisors called for reporting Stark to the grand jury for
allowing the misdirection of funds meant for the general and transportation funds, an error that lasted 18 months
starting in January 2008.
Fullerton City Council Discusses Pension Increase January 6, 2009 Watching this is an education in
pension plans and shows what information should be considered when any public entity considers such a
significant benefit increase. Also, CalPERS actuary Richard Santos presents information which is
pertinent to Sutter's pension plan. This is in contrast to the Sutter County 2004 approval of benefits on the
consent calendar with no discussion. (Below is a direct link to section 14 of the video) (Please be patient-
The first part of the video is a visual announcement) Click here> City of Fullerton Supervisor's Meeting
© Official web site of Sutter County Auditor-Controller 2013