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Supervisor’s $10,000 county flight questioned

Rockholm flew from Utah and voted on highway plan, removing Kranz from Tahoe agency
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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A Placer County’s supervisor’s $9,887 flight on a chartered plane is being criticized by a taxpayer watchdog group’s president. On vacation in Utah at the time, Supervisor Rocky Rockholm took a county-funded, roundtrip flight between Ogden, Utah and Truckee. The flight allowed him to return to Placer County and attend a supervisor’s meeting July 22 in Kings Beach. Wally Reemelin, president of the League of Placer County Taxpayers, said he learned about the flight from several sources after the meeting. Reemelin said he was subsequently mailed a receipt billed to a staff member’s county credit card. The bill showed Rockholm, who represents Roseville on the board, had flown out of Ogden the morning of the meeting, taking a Stratos Jet Charter Services flight to Truckee Airport. A copy of the receipt shows the plane leaving again from Truckee at 6 p.m. that evening, returning Rockholm to Ogden. The bill was for $9,260, plus $627 in taxes. County elected officials and staff have confirmed that the county paid for the flight. Rockholm said the meeting in Tahoe revolved around the board vote on a plan to reduce traffic to three lanes from four on Highway 28 through Kings Beach. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency board had voted 7-6 in June in favor of the four-lane alternative and Rockholm favored the three-lane plan. In the subsequent vote July 22, supervisors voted 4-1 in favor of approving the three-lane plan, with Supervisor Bruce Kranz, who represents the Tahoe area, the lone vote against. In a subsequent vote, Rockholm joined board chairman Jim Holmes, Supervisor Robert Weygandt and Supervisor Kirk Uhler in removing Kranz as Tahoe Regional Planning Agency representative. Rockholm said he was on a two-week vacation in Utah and, at first, the county CEO’s office considered a teleconference. That would have required him being in a public place and his appearance away from the Tahoe meeting being given public notice. “At the end of the day, the CEO and board chairman felt it was important for me to be there in person,” Rockholm said. “They flew me in from Ogden to Truckee and back. The only thing I was doing was fulfilling my duties as Placer County supervisor.” Reemelin said he believes there was collusion between Rockholm, Weygandt and Holmes to secretly provide the Roseville supervisor the means to attend the meeting, with Kranz and Supervisor Kirk Uhler unaware of the moves. “I don’t fault Tom (CEO Tom Miller) so much,” Reemelin said. “He serves at the pleasure of the board.” Rockholm said he sacrificed part of his vacation to attend the meeting and flew alone both ways, leaving his wife in Utah. Holmes said Reemelin’s allegations regarding collusion between board members – including a charge of the three conspiring in an attempt to get Kranz election challenger Jennifer Montgomery elected so Holmes could take over the eastern Placer County district in 2012 after redistricting – were “wild speculation.” Rockholm had lived in the Tahoe area and was upset with the Regional Planning Agency vote, Holmes said. “It was clear the community wanted three lanes and, not knowing how the others would go, I said to look at our options,” Holmes said. “We’re talking about the future of the community for the next 50 years and Rocky understands the issue.” The suggestion to charter a flight came from the CEO’s office, Holmes said. “I had not qualms about it,” he said. Weygandt said that while he wasn’t involved in the decision-making process, Miller did inform him that Rockholm was making the flight. “I thought it was fine,” he said. “It was an important vote and he felt strongly that he needed to be here. It seemed to be the only intelligent way to have Rocky at the hearing.” Weygandt described Reemelin’s allegation of collusion as “ridiculous” and a conspiracy theory that’s “classic Wally.” The Lincoln-area supervisor added that the chartered flight was expensive but had to be weighed against the cost in staff time and meeting space for another hearing in Tahoe. “It would be very expensive if we did this (the flight) every day but we don’t,” Weygandt said. Kranz said that he knew nothing about the charter and wouldn’t have supported it if he had. “I am surprised,” Kranz said. “I’ve never seen it happen in the past. It’s a lot of money for four hours.” Kranz said he has never heard the flight mentioned at a supervisors meeting. Miller said funding will come from the Board of Supervisors budget. “My understanding of the law is you have to publicly announce when you do these things,” Kranz said. “I’ve always taken public transportation – not private. That’s a huge difference – at 10 percent of the cost.” Miller also said a requirement that out-of-state travel costs be approved by the Board of Supervisors applies to staff but doesn’t apply to trips taken by supervisors like the one Rockholm made. For Reemelin, the circumstances surrounding the Rockholm charter flight were a clear signal the board is making moves under the public’s radar. “It represents small corruption but bigger corruptions are going on that we don’t know about,” he said. “If they’re doing this for one vote, what will they do for something that’s maybe more important than this?” Miller said that the expenditure was determined to be allowable and the decision was made by his office, not the board, based on a desire by Rockholm to be part of the vote. He described the vote as probably the most important the board would make this year, besides the budget. The three-lane project, which includes sidewalk widening, is expected to cost about $46 million. “There was no skullduggery among politicians,” Miller said. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.