Local leaders criticize Council Members Gordon and Siegel for KCAG comments

By Ed Martin, The Leader Editor
Council Member John Gordon
Council Member John Gordon

A pair of Lemoore’s council members are criticizing the Kings County Association of Governments (KCAG), and some local leaders are taking issue with that criticism. KCAG is a local agency that among its many chores, obtains grants and manages local transportation projects.

Recent projects include the 19th Avenue overpass and the Highway 198 widening project, both multi-million dollar projects designed to improve transportation needs and create a more favorable economic climate in Kings County.

Mayor Billy Siegel and council member John Gordon, who recently joined KCAG, take issue with recent actions to give pay raises to KCAG employees. Gordon voted against the agency’s budget and pay raises for KCAG employees because he believes the agency is “bloated and inefficient.”

The Kings County Association of Governments is the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for the Kings County region. The KCAG Commission includes members from each city and Kings County. In addition to Gordon from the City of Lemoore, other members include Corcoran, represented by council member Mark Cartwright; Avenal, represented by longtime council member Harlin Casida; Hanford, represented by Russ Curry, and Kings County Supervisors Doug Verboon and Joe Neves, both of whom represent parts of Lemoore.

Mayor Billy Siegel
Mayor Billy Siegel

KCAG serves as a pass-through agency for funding for local transportation projects. The local agency also coordinates with the other seven San Joaquin Valley Metropolitan Planning Organizations on projects that are regional in nature.

KCAG is led by Executive Director Terri King, a longtime planner and director of the local agency. King, who has been the KCAG executive director since 1996, and has been at the forefront of most major transportation projects in Kings County during her tenure and said the agency is the recipient of numerous grants and federal allocations that come Kings County’s way. It is up to the KCAG board to decide where the money can best be allocated. And much of it has to do with economic development, jobs, and increasing sales tax revenues, as well as transportation needs.

She cited a long-range project KCAG has been working on lately to develop Highway 198 into a four-lane expressway from Highway 99 to Interstate 5. Currently Highway 198 between Naval Air Station Lemoore and the interstate is a two-lane road.

“We got most of it done,” said King. “Let’s work on getting it four lanes all the way to Interstate 5. It’s a long-range proposal,” she added.

KCAG has support from many of the stakeholders. “What economic benefits could we derive if that was a four-lane all the way to I-5?”

King also said KCAG secured $30 million for the 19th Avenue interchange, currently under construction in Lemoore, a project to help improve the flow of business and traffic into the Lemoore Industrial Park. It has been on the drawing boards for several decades.

 According to the Hanford Sentinel, Siegel lambasted the local transportation agency via Twitter for wasting public funds and handing out unnecessary pay raises even after hearing a “logical” argument from Gordon.

Once again The Leader attempted to get Mayor Siegel to answer questions but he declined. Council member Gordon also declined to answer questions about KCAG and his controversial comments.

Neves, a Kings County supervisor since 1995 who has served as a KCAG board member for the past 18 years, takes issue with the two council members’ comments. “I really don’t see a bureaucratic, bloated agency,” he told The Leader. “I understand his (Gordon’s) frustration, but I don’t understand his logic.”

Neves said KCAG, led by King and a talented staff of five, has delivered for Kings County, citing multi-million dollar transportation projects including Highway 198 and the 19th Avenue overpass.

The Sentinel also reported that Siegel said the KCAG board members simply vote according to staff recommendations. He also made the same accusation against former Mayor John Murray and council member John Plourde. Murray was the city’s representative on KCAG prior to Gordon joining the agency as Lemoore’s representative. The longtime Kings County leader also took exception to Siegel’s comments regarding board members who voted for staff recommendations. “That is not what I have seen,” he said. He also praised former Mayor Murray and Lemoore Council Member Plourde for their efforts on local agencies, including the recent Joint Powers Land Use study group that took a long hard look and Naval Air Station Lemoore future planning issues. “Both Johns brought a breadth of knowledge and experience,” he said.

Neves also had high praise for King, KCAG’s executive director since the agency became an MPO in 2006. King was also the beneficiary of a pay raise. It was the first pay hike for KCAG members since 2007 said Neves and it came only after a salary study. He said King is one of the most qualified, experienced planners in the Valley.

King told The Leader that the KCAG staff did receive 5 percent salary adjustments, but 3 percent goes directly to the employees’ PERS retirement account, so the net personal pay hike is 2 percent.

Neves suggested that Siegel’s comments were somewhat hypocritical considering the Lemoore City Council acted in a similar fashion. He said the pay hikes were important for the very same reasons the Lemoore City Council recently issued pay raises to Lemoore police officers and members of the city’s management team.

“We try to stay proactive,” said Neves. “We don’t want to lose those people. The action we took was necessary…and well-studied.”

Neves added that a state auditor recently praised KCAG for efficient staff and ability to secure federal and state funding for a variety of projects. KCAG gets approximately 80 percent of its funding from federal sources and 20 percent from the state.

Kings County Supervisor Doug Verboon, who serves with Neves on the local panel, failed to understand the Lemoore council members’ actions. “I don’t know where they’re coming from,” he said.

Like Neves he defended the agency and said that KCAG brings home the bacon, doing a “good job” at delivering much-needed funding for a variety of local projects.

“We need somebody protecting Kings County at all costs,” he added.

Former Lemoore Mayor and KCAG commissioner John Murray agreed that the local agency staff deserved raises and takes issue with Siegel and Gordon’s comments. “I would have voted for it,” he said of the pay raises. I don’t agree with Billy or John Gordon.”

While not specifically calling them hypocrites, he did say they were wrong. “They’re certainly misguided,” said the former Lemoore Mayor who has often been at the brunt of some of Siegel’s comments.

He added that the Lemoore council members’ actions are giving the City of Lemoore a bad name.

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