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Barbs fly over late donation

Developer who gave to Bill Kirby campaign at center of debate
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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An Auburn City Council race that has featured several heated exchanges got its latest dose of verbal fireworks on Friday when Gary Moffat was critical of Dr. Bill Kirby receiving a $2,000 donation from developer and prominent businessman Martin Harmon.
Moffat, who is challenging incumbents Kirby and Keith Nesbitt for one of two seats on Tuesday’s ballot, called the contribution Kirby received a week before Election Day, “tainted money” because of Harmon’s links to elder care lawsuits and a North Auburn development project.
“My view is the contribution from Harmon is nothing less than tainted money. He’s connected to a horrific situation at his former nursing home, yet none-the-less Dr. Kirby took the money in the 11th hour,” Moffat said. “With Harmon trying to build a nursing facility in North Auburn near the DeWitt Center, I think clear implications can be drawn even by the most charitable observer.”
Kirby called Moffat’s comments a “cheap shot” and “desperate.”
“He’s denigrating an honorable and wonderful man for his own purposes,” he said. “And I find that very inappropriate.”
Harmon is the president and chairman of Western Care Construction, developer of the proposed Timberline Project that consists of 858 mixed-use units in North Auburn.
In an emailed statement to the Journal, Harmon called Kirby “a great individual and a good friend.”
“He has an impressive background and he has done a fantastic job on the Auburn City Council,” the statement read. “We’re pleased to support his re-election.”
Harmon did not respond to Moffat’s statement.
Harmon was president and chairman of Golden Legacy Inc., the owner of Horizon West Healthcare when its Rocklin headquarters was raided by the Department of Justice in 2011.
In an unrelated case in 2010, Horizon West settled with a family after a Sacramento jury found one of its nursing homes, Colonial Healthcare in Auburn, guilty of elder abuse in the death of a 79-year-old woman.
Horizon West sold its 27 facilities to Plum Healthcare Group in February 2011.
As a urologist, Kirby said he has been in Horizon West nursing homes and they have “always had exemplary care.”
“That doesn’t mean there aren’t breakdowns that occur, but with any healthcare institution that’s that big they’re going to have lawsuits,” he said. “And I’m not speaking to the merits of the suits. Some of them may have been well-founded, I just don’t know. I know that if they were, Mr. Harmon was very chagrined by that and would have taken steps to correct it.”
Kirby said he’s developed a longstanding friendship with Harmon during years of seeing him at charitable events around Auburn and called him possibly the most generous philanthropist to this community. He said Harmon donated to his last City Council campaign as well.
“Martin Harmon is one of the most honorable, decent, caring men that we’re fortunate to have in this community,” Kirby said.
As for the Timberline project, Kirby said it’s irrelevant because the City Council has no authority over it since it is located outside Auburn’s city limits.
“We have no say so or control over it at all,” he said. “Does the idiot know what the city limits are?”
From Oct. 21 through Monday, candidates are required to report contributions and independent expenditures of more than $1,000 within 24 hours. As of Friday, Kirby was the only Council candidate to file such a statement.
He said he has “absolutely” spent more on this campaign than he had originally planned.
“I don’t think an election in Auburn should be more than five or six thousand dollars. I said that in the beginning,” Kirby said. “We were fortunate to raise a little more because we’ve had to combat the massive amount of spending … (Moffat has) doubled us.”
The second pre-election campaign statements filed Oct. 25 showed Moffat had raised $17,299 and spent $15,958.48, Kirby $9,680.00 and $6,093.56 and Keith Nesbitt $5,968.79 and $2,486.25.
Moffat also chided Kirby for going against his own spending policy, citing Kirby’s comment in the Journal about how a candidate would have to be an “idiot” to spend more than $5,000 or $6,000 on a small-town election.
“Since his campaign has now raised more than $10,000, I guess he qualifies as an idiot,” Moffat said in his statement.
Nesbitt said Harmon’s contribution to Kirby was just a local citizen trying to ensure a responsible government is in place.
“Martin Harmon has been around for awhile and knows Bill,” he said. “And it’s still a lot better than taking a lot of money from unions.”
Jon Schultz can be reached at jons@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on