Hammond addresses past trouble
Former Fairfield mayor and current El Dorado Hills Community Services District board candidate Chuck Hammond’s opponents have been polite, to date, about the allegations and investigations that resulted in four Fair Political Practice Commission violations while he served the city of Fairfield.
Accusations of influence peddling and financial improprieties dogged Hammond’s tenure on the Fairfield City Council and later as mayor in the 1990s.
Most were never proven, but Hammond accumulated a total of $8,000 in fines while in office. The FPPC cited him twice for failing to report personal loans — once for casting a City Council vote that benefited the source of a loan and once for failing to report an obscure “leasehold” interest.
Hammond was never charged with any criminal activity. He left office on his own terms. Newspaper accounts of his tenure depicted him as a progressive promoter of Fairfield’s community interests.
But the sensational allegations, investigations and violations stymied his attempt to win a seat on the Solano County Board of Supervisors, and have now followed the effervescent youth basketball coach to El Dorado Hills, where he’s one of several strong candidates for two CSD Board of Directors seats. He narrowly lost to Bill Vandegrift in 2010.
Hammond’s past went public near the end of a recent candidate forum when the six contenders were asked if they’d ever been fined by the FPPC. The follow-up question asked if they had any unpaid campaign debts to local vendors.
Hammond replied affirmative on both counts, dismissing his FPPC infractions as tardy disclosure filings. He conceded some outstanding debt, but offered no details.
Deborah Morino can provide some detail. She owns Ink It!, a graphic design and promotional products company in El Dorado Hills, and estimates that Hammond owes her between $250 and $300 from his 2010 campaign for the CSD board.
Local public relations consultant Greg Jones donated services to Hammond and covered $119 out of pocket in printing costs along the way. Like Morino, Jones said he has not been paid.
Local debts were behind most of Hammond’s Fairfield problems as well.
He was elected to the city council in 1983, and became the first black mayor in Solano County history in 1993. Mayor is a separately elected office in Fairfield, unlike the city council round-robins employed by smaller cities such as Placerville and Folsom.
FPPC reports confirm two violations against Hammond in 1991, when he was on the council, and another two in 1996 as mayor.
The first infractions were for an unreported $3,000 loan from downtown merchant Howard Grubb, who advocated a statute that would allow him to display merchandise on the sidewalk. Then Councilman Hammond subsequently voted in favor of the statute.
Afterward Hammond told the Fairfield-Suisun Daily Republic, “I made a mistake. I admitted it. I paid the fine. It’s time to move on.”
He reiterated that sentiment recently in a Village Life interview dedicated to the events surrounding the FPPC violations.
The eternally upbeat Hammond saw the airing of his Fairfield past as an indication of his campaign’s mojo.
“I’m flattered to be asked about that stuff,” he blustered, “because if no one asked it would mean we’re no threat to anyone and had no chance of winning.”
The 69-year-old who likes to be called “coach” rose from his chair, seething confidence and nearly shouted, “We’re going to win this thing.”
To do so he’s going to have to convince El Dorado Hills voters that the indiscretions of his past are the result of periodic cashflow problems, forgivable lapses in judgment and lax-but-innocent political finance reporting.
Former Daily Republic columnist Joel Gordiejew was Hammond’s friend and planning commissioner. He described the mayor as a victim of political dysfunction — a progressive mayor straddled with a slow-growth council that opposed his community expansion and economic development efforts.
“Chuck was energetic and knew a lot of people,” said Gordiejew. “With a little help he could have made some great things happen.”
Hammond claimed he could have landed any one of three minor league baseball teams for Fairfield, including the team that became the Rivercats.
Gordiejew recalled a 1996 Hammond-engineered move of the Oakland Raiders training facility to Fairfield that failed at the last minute over complaints about potential congestion and lack of council support.
In 1994 Hammond again took personal loans from friends — one of whom he appointed to the Fairfield Planning Commission, another ran for City Council.
Both flamed out amidst a flurry of rumors and allegations that the mayor had taken loans, favors and unreported perks, including complimentary Rolling Stones concert tickets, Kings tickets, a Nevada casino weekend and arrangements for five at the 1995 Super Bowl in Miami.
Investigations by Fairfield District Attorney David Paulson and the FPPC in September 1995 yielded two FPPC infractions and no criminal charges.
Village Life confirmed the citations in FPPC Summary of Enforcement Decision reports available online, but the commission has yet to respond to a request for details on the 1995 investigation.
The allegations and investigations were thoroughly reported by the Fairfield-Suisun Daily Republic, however. The flagship publication of McNaughton News Inc. also includes the Mountain Democrat and Village Life. Several Daily Republic stories, editorials and letters to the editor concerning Hammond’s tenure in Fairfield are circulating in El Dorado Hills as a lengthy e-mail attachment.
The newspaper accounts depict Hammond’s 1995 troubles beginning in earnest following his appointment of WestAmerica Bank executive Marcus Stewart to the Planning Commission over the recommendations of a City Council committee that conducted extensive interviews for the post, and felt that Stewart was too new to Fairfield and lacked political experience.
The DA challenged Stewarts’ residency, noting that he owned a home in Elk Grove, and that the Fairfield address he submitted was that of a former Hammond employee. Paulson ultimately demonstrated that Stewart had failed to properly establish a permanent address in Fairfield.
Hammond told Village Life that his secretary Tiffany was engaged to Stewart, and that he never questioned the residency because, “They were both there whenever I was around.”
The appointment was problematic for Hammond at several levels. WestAmerica Bank had recently announced plans to move its headquarters to Fairfield, the result of a multi-year wooing of the bank by the city, according Daily Republic reports.
DA Paulson also alleged that Stewart engineered WestAmerica loans for Hammond.
Hammond defended the appointment and the loans to Village Life. “He was head and shoulders above the rest of them … sharp as heck,” he said, adding that any loans were unrelated to the appointment.
Stewart relinquished his post in October 1995 under pressure from the DA and City Council, while insisting that his residency foibles were an honest mistake.
The FPPC reportedly confirmed the loan, but lacked evidence to file a separate violation against Hammond.
The mayor wasn’t as fortunate with a second loan from a friend, $5,000 from John Mraz, a fellow Allstate agent who subsequently ran for City Council.
DA Paulson found that Mraz obtained some or all of the money for the loan from developer Stanley Davis, a fact Hammond claimed he was unaware of at the time, according to the Daily Republic.
Hammond’s recollection to Village Life contradicted the FPPC report and his own 1995 account.
“I knew (the loan) was from Davis when I saw the check, but I didn’t think it was inappropriate (because) I never supported any projects for him,” he said. “I just knew I needed it to make payroll for Tiffany until we got our renewals in.”
He also insisted the loan amount was $3,000, rather than the $5,000 reported by the FPPC.
Mraz went public with the loan details as retribution against Hammond for his refusal to endorse Mraz’ City Council candidacy, according to Hammond, who described his former friend’s personality as “very gruff.”
The two had been so close that Hammond and his wife stood up at Mraz’ wedding.
Hammond said he discouraged Mraz’ candidacy from the start, ultimately backing two other close friends, because he didn’t feel that Mraz’ demeanor would play well in local politics.
With details of the investigation breaking in the Daily Republic, Vice-Mayor George Pettygrove asked Hammond to resign in September 1995, a move that would have made Pettygrove the mayor. Hammond steadfastly maintained his innocence and refused to step down.
Once more, a former friend had become a Hammond adversary. Pettygrove’s wife served on the council before him, and was Hammond’s “best friend on the council” until her death, said Hammond, adding, “That’s how he got on the council.”
The mayor delivered her eulogy, according to the Daily Republic.
The FPPC released its report in March 1996. It contained details of the allegations and resulting probes, naming just two as infractions: Hammond’s failure to report the Mraz loan and his failing to disclose a “leasehold interest” on the $1,000 per month lease for his insurance office.
Hammond pleaded ignorance on both counts and told the Daily Republic in April he was embarrassed he made the mistake but felt vindicated by the settlement because the violations paled in comparison to the rumors of wrongdoing that circulated during the investigation.
“People look at me as a human being just like them; a human being who tries, a human being who makes mistakes,” he said. “I’ve tried my absolute best and I think that’s what people see. I’m just Chuck Hammond and I love people.”
Hammond told Village Life that a core group of local businessmen paid the fine for him. “That’s how popular I was; they had it for me in five minutes.”
Was he obligated to return the favor in any way? “They never asked for a thing,” he said. “They just wanted me to do a good job.”
Daily Republic readers either agreed or weren’t paying attention. They named Hammond their favorite politician in both 1995 and 1996, an honor he told Village Life he won “seven or eight times … They stopped doing it because nobody could beat Chuck.”
In a lengthy farewell piece by Daily Republic writer Ian Thompson on Dec. 2, 1997, Hammond confirmed his plans to run for the Solano County Board of Supervisors the following year to “take my smile and hug breaks to a new level,” adding, “I’ve got to get going if I’m going to make Congress.”
That’s a goal he’s hasn’t lost sight of in the ensuing 15 years. He told Village Life he’d still entertain a run for higher office, but only if he knew he had the support. “When people care for you, you can’t shut it off.”
Pettygrove succeeded Hammond as mayor and decided his former boss wasn’t so bad after all. Other former critics softened as well. Councilwoman Noreen O’Regan commended Hammond’s enthusiasm and ideas, even if some were “a little ahead of his time.”
Reporter Thompson credited Hammond with attracting job-creating businesses to Fairfield, including the Hilton Hotel, Barnes and Noble, WestAmerica Bank and the Meyer Corp., netting the city 1,500 jobs.
Hammond’s supervisor campaign was bitterly attacked in early 1998. Randall Carlson’s letter to the editor accused Hammond of “influence peddling and palm greasing,” concluding, “Hammond is not only guilty of four FPPC violations, he is implicated in other shenanigans that would be, at best, serious lapses of judgment.”
Village Life contacted Carlson, who confirmed the sentiments in the letter, which he wrote in support of Hammond’s hard-knuckled opponent Duane Kromm, who went on to defeat the former mayor in successive bids for the county board seat.
Kromm made hay out of the FPPC charges and then delivered a haymaker, a sensational flier attacking Hammond’s infractions and emphasizing the Super Bowl allegation that then-Mayor Hammond strong-armed Super Bowl tickets from Anheuser-Busch for himself and four friends in January 1995, when the 49ers defeated the Chargers.
Reached by phone at his home, Kromm recalled the campaigns. “It was abundantly clear that he was taking money for appointments,” he said. “This is not someone you want responsible for budgets and making decisions.”
Gordiejew conceded that his friend’s downfall was “trying to do the right thing the wrong way … He didn’t always think politically.”
Gordiejew said he saw Hammond as a motivator — a walking, talking example of the power of positive thinking; a big-picture visionary who diminishes obstacles and rarely backs down; a man who’s largest sins were small loans from those close to him and a mix of absent-mindedness and naïveté about political finance filings.
Hammond never countered Kromm’s attack. “In 13 years of public office, I’ve never run a dirty campaign and I never will,” he said, a promise he repeated in El Dorado Hills.