Members of the public want to know why county assessor Tom Bordonaro is opposing ballot measures and promoting Wal-Mart and possibly violating the law by doing so. Earlier this month, the newly formed Central Coast Taxpayers Association headed by Bordonaro mailed a brochure to Atascadero residents. That brochure described how the superstore would provide funds for police and fire services, but it left out contact information and the names of those on the association's board.
"I believe the job of assessor is to be an advocate for the taxpayer in regards to property taxes, and the Taxpayers Association is a natural extension of that," Bordonaro said. "It is not in my duties, but it is a natural extension."
The organization boasts three board members and one volunteer who answers the phone and was originally given the title of executive director. Volunteer Paul Santiago and board member John Peschong work for Sacramento-based Meridian Pacific Inc. as public relations professionals promoting Wal-Mart.
"Why doesn't Bordonaro work with people who don't have a clear conflict of interest?" queried retired Atascadero Police Officer Mike Brennler. "Cleary this is a breach of ethics. Bordonaro said the association was started in June, then later said it was months and months ago. The date of filing is actually in July. When I see these discrepancies, my concern is the trustworthiness of this organization."
"We jumped the gun when we called Santiago our executive director when he is just a volunteer," Bordonaro said in response. "Peschong and Santiago were involved in the startup, and I would like to have new volunteers become involved in the future."
He also said that he made a mistake when talking about the organization's start-up date.
Bordonaro originally provided New Times with the phone number of Meridian Pacific when asked for the Central Coast Taxpayers Association's contact information. When asked a few days later why the two organizations shared a phone line, Bordonaro said he made a mistake and couldn't remember the actual number for the association. He provided New Times with a cell phone number about eight hours later.
When asked if he planned to become involved in other controversial developments, Bordonaro noted that his organization couldn't take a position on ballot measures. However, the Atascadero brochure takes a stand against ballot measures that promote sales tax increases.
"I was mistaken," Bordonaro said when asked about the apparent conflict. "We can't take a position on candidates, but we can take a position on ballot measures."
A local city attorney who asked to remain anonymous said that Bordonaro's use of his office appears to be in a violation of government codes 54964 and 8314, which ban government officials from using public resources including buildings, computers, or phones to discourage or support a ballot measure.
"The general rule is you cannot use taxpayer money to support a ballot measure, though you can support it in your free time, but you cannot use taxpayers' resources," said Tom Dresslar, spokesperson for Attorney General Bill Lockyer.
"My attorney said the codes don't apply," Bordonaro said, then refused to provide his attorney's name. "I'm not dragging my attorney into this. Why don't you just believe me?"