Thursday, September 1, 2011
A cross the street from Greenfield’s new city hall on El Camino Real towers a billboard offering $50,000 for information on the 2004 murder of Ricky Torres. The reward money is from a state grant; the billboard, paid for by Torres’ parents, Avelina and Richard, has been up for 18 months.
In recent weeks, however, it’s become a lightning rod for tension surrounding the effort to recall two City Council members and a proposal to merge the city’s police department with that of neighboring Soledad.
“I go every morning to check on it now,” Richard Torres says of the billboard, for which he and his wife pay $100 per month. “I’ve never had to do that before.”
His increased vigilance springs from second-hand reports that threats to damage or destroy the billboard were bandied about during an Aug. 23 meeting of city department heads.
It’s something the city categorically denies. “The discussion was about billboards in general, and who owns and pays for them,” says City Redevelopment and Housing Director Paul Mugan. “I said, ‘If the billboard burns down, it can’t be replaced by the city.’ Nobody’s threatening to burn the billboard down.”
Police Chief Joe Grebmeier says he contacted Avelina Torres following the meeting, but only to confirm who pays for the billboard and to let her know about the concerns.
The Torreses are convinced the billboard conversation is connected to Avelina’s effort to recall councilmembers John Martinez and Yolanda Teneyuque. She served the two with recall papers for a second time Aug. 23.
“They’re pursuing their personal agenda and not representing the interests of the community,” Torres says.
Martinez and Teneyuque did not respond to requests for comment.
In particular, Torres cites what she sees as the councilmembers’ poor treatment of Grebmeier, as well as their successful push for a $22,000 audit of the city’s police department by Matrix Consulting, which recommended consolidating Greenfield’s police force with another to compensate for understaffing and overtime.
Since the report was released in June, both the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office and the Soledad Police Department have presented merger proposals to the Greenfield City Council. Torres is opposed to a Sheriff’s Office takeover because she feels county officers improperly handled her son’s case; the Greenfield officer currently assigned to the case has been more competent, she says.
Soledad’s proposal, which aims to save the cities $100,000 combined its first year, would consolidate the two chief positions into one. It’s widely speculated Grebmeier would get the axe.
“Those conversations are above my pay grade,” Grebmeier says. The City Council did not invite him to present his own cost-saving proposal until last week, he adds, questioning the need for Soledad’s proposal.
“I’ve been able to meet or come under budget every year I’ve been here,” he says.
Grebmeier claims supporters of the merger, and of Martinez and Teneyuque, have made personal attacks against him, his family and recall supporters. “The City Council’s divided on my police department, and, one might speculate, me,” he says.
In the meantime, Avelina Torres continues her recall efforts despite what she sees as smear tactics by her opponents.
“People are trying to hurt me through my son,” Torres says. “How low can you go?”