Former Fresno Unified trustee Terry Slatic, who is being investigated by the California Fair Political Practices Commission over whether he improperly reported a dinner gift from Superintendent Bob Nelson, said Friday that he was never told Nelson had established a fixed price meal when he ordered expensive bottles of wine and $145 Wagyu steaks for himself and his plus-one guest.
Slatic’s comments on KMJ radio, where he has been a frequent commentator in recent years, were his first public comments on the investigation by the Fresno County District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit and its complaint filed with the FPPC. He did not comment in local news stories, including GV Wire, which broke the story on Dec. 12.
Slatic acknowledged that he was among the trustees who failed to report the gift of a dinner from Nelson, who traditionally had treated trustees and top staffers attending the California School Board Association annual conference each December.
Under state law, elected officials are required to report gifts of over $50.
But Slatic said the investigation of the complaint lodged by Nelson against him should have halted as soon as it was evident that the dinner in question was paid for by Nelson on his personal credit card and not Nelson’s district expense account.
“My No. 1 counselor in the world and I trust more anything, he does have a law degree and he’s a former cop and on and on. He said a seasoned — quote, a seasoned investigator would have looked at getting the complaint from Nelson to the DA. And looked at it, read it. Then they would have called Nelson and said, ‘was this credit card the school district credit card, meaning public moneys, or was this your credit card?’ And Nelson would have said, ‘my credit card.’ Click. That’s the end of the discussion. This is not a DA matter.”
According to the report by the Public Integrity Unit prosecutor Victor Lai, the investigation continued because investigators were trying to determine whether Slatic’s actions represented an intent to violate state law on fraud or misappropriation. Ultimately the Public Integrity Unit concluded there was not enough evidence to prove a case against Slatic.
‘Didn’t Know Meal Was Fixed Price’
KMJ host Philip Teresi asked Slatic whether he knew that Nelson, who had been presented expensive bills for past dinners, was trying to control costs by providing a $95 fixed-price meal at the Fogo De Chao Brazilian Steakhouse in San Diego.
“Now I have to say this and this is on the record. This, oh, ‘everyone was fully told that you’re going to order this and this, and you can only drink that in there.’ Well, gang, I missed the memo,” said Slatic, who then went on to blame former chief of staff David Chavez, who sat next to him at the dinner, for failing to point out to Slatic that it was a fixed price meal when he was ordering four bottles of wine, three of which were shared with the table.
He ordered two bottles of Oak Napa Cabernet, each costing $202, and two bottles of Opus One Meritage, at $435 each.
As to his walking out with the unopened fourth bottle, one of the bottles of $435 wine, Slatic said he carried off the to-go bag without knowing its contents: “After the dinner was over, the to-go bag was brought to the table. I simply took the to-go bag with it, never opened it, never looked at it, never asked for stuff to be put in it. It was put there on the table. And if you carefully read the testimony of the highly credible man sitting next to me (Chavez), who I have alluded to previously, he doesn’t say I looked in, examined the bag, or talked about what was in the bag or anything like that. And that, Philip, is all we’re going to say about that bag.”
Steaks Instead of Alcohol on Bill
As to how the bill originally presented to Nelson had replaced the wine and alcoholic beverages that Slatic and his guest had ordered — four Chopin 80 Vodka drinks at $14.50 a pop and one Don Julio 1942 tequila drink at $33 — with 17 Tomahawk steaks, Slatic said he wasn’t sure how that happened.
A Tomahawk steak is a large ribeye steak.
“Oh, I have no idea,” Slatic said. “What I vaguely remember is speaking in the bar prior to the thing that the lady in charge, the shift manager or whatever it was, had also served in Afghanistan, so we established an immediate level of rapport. The Marine (Slatic’s plus-one guest) had also been in Afghanistan and myself, and she’d been in the Army, but we’ll forgive her for that.
“And so, get into a lot more personal thing, it was right when the restaurant had first opened. ‘Oh, what are you guys here for, are you here for business or pleasure?’ Well, I’m here for business and such and such. And, we are a public entity and, conversationally, public entities, you cannot have alcohol in the bill. And I’m just going to take a wild stab and say that that seed germinated into a lot of this.”
Slatic said despite the “specious brickbats” that he said were thrown around in the complaint to the FPPC, he found it noteworthy that the total amount on the restaurant bill was unchanged after Nelson got the staff to present a revised bill listing the food and alcohol that actually had been ordered.
However, according to the investigative report, the total bill was reduced from $3,702.79 to $3,542.82 after Nelson raised questions about it.
Other Trustees Also Drank Wine
Teresi questioned why the DA’s report made Slatic responsible for the wine costs when it was also consumed by other members of the party that included fellow trustees Valerie Davis, Keshia Thomas, Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas, Claudia Cazares, and Veva Islas. Slatic acknowledged that he had ordered the wine.
All of the trustees who attended the dinner got letters from the Public Integrity Unit after they failed to report Nelson’s dinner gift on their Form 700 in early 2022, prompting them to file amended forms.
Jonasson Rosas told GV Wire last week that the district’s legal counsel had previously advised her that the annual dinner was a district function and as such did not need to be reported.
As to why he and not the other trustees were the targets of Nelson’s complaint and resulting investigation, Slatic said the animosity from other trustees who attended the dinner is clear from their interviews with investigators, and it was no secret that he had on occasion butted heads with Slatic.
And that animosity, said Slatic, who was twice-censured by the School Board over a series of incidents, stems from his role as a truth-teller about the district’s shortcomings.
“When I got on the board four years ago, gang, y’all didn’t know they were a bottom 5% school district. You do now, unless you live in a cave. Four years ago, you didn’t know that only 7% of the kids do math at grade level. You do now. You didn’t know four years ago that only 7% of kids read at grade level. You do now. My job has been completed in my four years on the board. …
“Their motives for doing this? I guess I’m to take a wild stab, Phillip and audience, and say they like to have these things covered up and this is maybe some way to promulgate that.”