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City of Lathrop knows how to party

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POSTED December 19, 2008 12:29 a.m.
Lathrop is a city that loves a party. The social gathering kind, not the political-faction type.
Just as there are proverbially many ways to skin a cat, anyone can view the city’s penchant for party in multiple interpretive ways.
I can come up with at few interpretations that some would probably strongly disagree with or, could be subject to misinterpretation.
First off, though, I would like to categorically state that while it is understandable to question the relevancy of the city’s number of receptions held for various reasons especially given the gloomy economy and uncertain fiscal future gripping the local and global community, those who were the reasons for the celebrations deserved all the recognition.
I’m sure there are those who question the wisdom of throwing a party without sending an invitation to those who foot the bill, namely the taxpayers. And I’m sure there are others who ask why such an indulgence is necessary in a city where many cash-strapped families have lost their jobs, then lost their homes to foreclosures, and where many households are bleeding financially that they could not even pay their utility bills that the services had to be turned off. I’ve heard those sentiments expressed by a number of people. Sure, $250 or $300 a pop for shrimp cocktails, cakes, cookies, and drinks may not sound much. But try saying that to a parent who could not even buy a coat or a pair of shoes for her child in the winter.
On the other hand, I can see a positive side to the city’s penchant for celebratory party. Yes, I see a city tapping into its public funds to recognize outstanding individuals’ contributions which may not be the politically correct, and maybe even ethically and morally correct thing to do especially in these tough economic times. But I also see an employer that still recognizes and appreciates loyalty, a rarity in this day and age when the quiet strength and wisdom and skills of older (please note, I didn’t say elderly) workers are often sacrificed in the altar of exuberant but nonetheless less experienced youth.
In the dot com generation when workers thrive by jumping from one company to another more often than they change wardrobes, and when longevity in one’s place of employment is being interpreted as synonymous to a stagnating career, these receptions for Lathrop employees and officials tell me there are still places where loyalty counts and is appreciated and actually rewarded.
In the case of the latest social gathering this week at the City Hall lobby, the honoree was not even technically an employee of the city. The man of the hour was Chester Smith, operations and training division chief of the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District, who is retiring in January after a service of nearly 30 years.  He started out as a reservist for the district, then worked his way up the proverbial career ladder. And the honor was not just for his many paid hours on the job but for his countless volunteer services in the the two communities that the district served.
While these recognition events make Lathrop look good as an employer, what gives it the negative glare is the fact none of the other surrounding cities — that is, Manteca and Ripon — or even agencies such as the Manteca and Ripon unified school districts are doing no such splurges.
After the November elections, I checked with the cities of Manteca and Ripon as well as the school districts if there were any receptions, with food and drinks served, honoring incoming or outgoing elected officials. Lathrop was the only one that played host to such social gatherings. Steve Dresser was honored for his nine years of service to the city as a planning commissioner and later as a council member. For Christopher Mateo, this was a welcome party for being elected into office for the first time. Martha Salcedo, who successfully ran for re-election after a brief tenure as appointed council member to finish the term of Leroy Griffith who resigned last year, was also being welcomed for her first election triumph.
At least, Lathrop was keeping up with tradition. Not too long prior to the post-election reception was yet another party, held also in the City Hall lobby with more cake, shrimp cocktail, cookies and punch and fresh fruits for guests to munch on. This time, it was to honor Lathrop Police Chief Dolores Delgado for being recognized by the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce as the state’s highest-ranking Latina in law enforcement who is not a political appointee. Concurrent to that recognition was her selection as the recipient of the Mayor’s Distinction Award presented by Mayor Kristy Sayles.
Even further back in time was the reception held for former mayor Gloryanna Rhodes when she retired from local politics two years ago. There was a big party in the City Hall lobby with plenty of food for the large crowd to enjoy as they watched the outgoing mayor receive her various commendations including an oil painting from the city staff.
Lathrop does know how to party and have a good time.
But here’s a curious thing. No one ever complained, either in newspaper letters to the editor or comments made at the podium during council meetings, about the hundreds of dollars spent to fund those events, so one can safely assume the citizens did not mind, or don’t mind, having their taxpayers’ money being used this way. Or do they?
Having said all that though, I have just one other question. If these receptions are a tradition, why wasn’t there any reception given to recognize the more than quarter-century services of former fire chief Jim Monty who retired last year? Like Smith, Monty worked his way up the ladder in the district, from being a volunteer fireman to fire chief, a position he held while working as fire marshall at the same time. That’s not even counting the many volunteer hours he poured into the community through various involvements, and he was not even a resident of Lathrop. He lived in Manteca. (Post retirement, he and his family moved to Mariposa.) At least, he has been recognized somewhere else. Earlier this year, he was honored at a dinner in Stockton for retired fire chiefs. Given the fact he saved the city more than a million dollars when the new fire station in the new developments at Mossdale Landing was built, closely overseeing the construction while doing his dual job as fire chief and fire marshall, Lathrop has even more reason to say, “thanks, chief.” But that didn’t happen. Will that ever happen?
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