By Per Peterson
Expressing frustration over not being able to have a conversation with any council member or the mayor, Greenwood Nursery owner Jeff Farber made another attempt Monday to receive some kind of compensation over his sewer hook-up issue at his 4th St. business.
In his second appeal in front of the Tracy City Council in a month, Farber, who in August told the council he had racked up more than $21,000 worth of sewer costs since 1981 without ever being hooked up to a sewer, said he was disheartened that he couldn’t have his voice heard by a council member because the issue had been tagged with a “potential pending litigation” label. That designation is what also officially kept him off the agenda for Monday’s meeting, meaning he could speak during the public comment period of this week’s meeting
Farber, who has been in business for almost 40 years, said he never hired an attorney, so he didn’t understand where the “litigation” designation came from. He was looking for a credit (about half of what he said he can prove he has spent over the years) to his sewer bill and was earlier this year offered a $4,750 settlement from the City.
The council, which on the request of council member George Landuyt delayed a final vote from the last meeting until this week, ultimately voted 4-0 to deny his petition, with Landuyt abstaining.
“I thought I had to contact council members, and at that time I was told he couldn’t talk to me because of potential pending litigation,” Farber said Monday. “Last week, I went out to see (Mayor) Tony (Peterson) and I guess the pending litigation was still going on. I respect their wishes, I never pressed them any further, but I would like to know why it was in potential pending litigation.”
Farber said he wanted to resolve the issue without lawyers, thinking everyone could come into agreement through discussion in council chambers. He asked council members to put themselves in his situation, saying as a business owner, he holds himself accountable to his customers, so why shouldn’t the City have to be accountable to their customers.
“I am a customer of the City,” he said. “To the council, the question I got is, ‘Who elected you?’ The citizens, the taxpayers did. In the future, is this how things are gonna be handled? If it doesn’t go well with me, is this gonna be something where you don’t communicate with your taxpayers or the citizens of this city? I’ve never experienced this in 40 years, I’ve never seen anybody not be able to talk to the council. Usually, you try to work things out that way.”
City Attorney Matthew Gross said the council’s action was based upon the City’s investigation and Farber’s testimony at an Aug. 24 public hearing and is supported by city code and state statute.
Council member Jeri Schons made the motion to approve a resolution denying Farber’s petition; Dave Tiegs seconded.
Hearing no other comment, Peterson, in a prepared statement, reiterated that the City is not liable for Farber’s losses. He said the statement was the council’s way of answering questions from Farber that it says it couldn’t previously answer because of the gag order. He thanked the public for their patience for resolution to the issue as the City came to its final conclusion, and said it was not an easy decision. Peterson also acknowledged that only one side of the story has been heard.
“We believe it’s important that the public know that there is more than one side to this issue,” he said. “Our consideration is for the whole community — any decision we make will affect everyone, not just Greenwood Nursery. This is the reason we made the offer of a settlement in the first place, we wanted to avoid an ugly scene and any harm it might do to the community. Unfortunately, our generous offer was not accepted, and that has resulted in the controversy.”
See this week’s Headlight Herald for more on this article.