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Ripon makes adjustments for leaner times ahead

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POSTED January 3, 2009 12:27 a.m.

RIPON — It was a year of new faces at the City Council and at the school district, plus challenges and some upbeat news for the city that prides itself as the Almond Capital of the World.

The year 2008 saw significant changing of the guards taking place at Ripon Unified School District and with the Ripon City Council. At the school district, longtime administrator Leo Zuber finally called it a career and announced his retirement. His departure paved the way for a new superintendent, only the third to occupy that seat in the district’s half-century history.

A pair of veterans with the City Council likewise decided to hang their  political hats last year. Mayor Curt Pernice and Councilman Mike Restuccia did not seek another term of office in the November elections which resulted in two new faces filling their seats in the Council Chambers at City Hall.

The city was not immune from the pervading tough economic times, but although it escaped the worst of the foreclosure mess that really pummeled its neighbor cities like Lathrop and Manteca, city leaders nonetheless thought it prudent to look into possibly cutting some of the fat in its budget to better deal with the uncertain economic times.
It was the year Ripon also decided to start a more proactive stance against gang problems in the city in hopes of nipping that problem in the bud.

On a high note, Ripon High School’s highly acclaimed Ripon JROTC program literally put the city on the map with the JROTC Drill Team being invited to perform at various world-famous historical sites in Washington, D.C., and at the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Their historic trip was at the invitation of Congressman Jerry McNerney (D-Pleasanton) who had seen them perform at the Gallo Arts Center in Modesto and was so impressed that he issued them an invitation to do the same at the country’s famous historic sites in D.C.

Below, and not necessarily in their order of importance or significance, or chronological order of appearance, is a brief summation of the events that helped mark the year 2008 in Ripon.

• Lean times call for program cutbacks
To adjust with the tough economic times in the national and global scene, the City Council decided to take pro-active steps to protect the integrity of Ripon’s spending blueprint. For starters, the council voted by a slim narrow margin of 3-2 to eliminate the $500,000 funding that has been slated for the expansion of the controversial existing Curt Pernice Skate Park from the 2008-09 budget plan.

The council also decided to put on hold several city employee perks: the annual Christmas party for city employees and mayor’s luncheon, and the purchase of new chairs for the Ripon Senior Center.

Also considered was the possibility of suspending other programs designed to help city employees purchase a home or a new computer, and putting on hold the program that allows police officers to take home their  patrol cars at the end of their work shift until such a time that the economic situation improves.

• New year, new faces on the council and at the school district
The November elections was a six-person scramble for three vacant seats on the City Council. Mayor Pernice and Councilman Restuccia did not seek re-election, while incumbent Elden “Red” Nutt, retired former police chief, was scheduled to end his current term but decided to run for re-election. Together, they created three vacancies that needed to be filled. Six candidates, including Nutt, duked it out at the polls. Nutt handily won the highest votes, assuring him another four years on the council. Taking over the seats vacated by Pernice and Restuccia were former Planning Commission chairman Charlie Gay, who finished second, and former planning commissioner Garry Krebs.

Those who also ran but did not make the cut to be on the council this time were Jennifer Sanguinetti, Dale Wild and Billy Gonzales.

Following the new council members’ installation at the first council meeting in December, the new slate named former Vice Mayor Chuck Winn as mayor, and Nutt who cast the only dissenting vote against Winn, was unanimously picked as vice mayor.

• Ripon declares pro-active war against gang problems in the city
The Ripon Police Department have been diligent in keeping residents informed of the current status of gang activity within the city and seeking their partnership in solving this societal ill in their local neighborhoods by giving them tips on how to spot a developing problem. Nevertheless, a statement by Ripon Police Sergeant Steve Merchant during a presentation before the Ripon Unified School Board still shocked those who were there.

“We used to say that we didn’t have any gang members in Ripon; we just have wanna-be gang members. We now have hardcore gang members right here in our community.”

That shocking statement prompted then Vice Mayor Winn to propose to the council the formation of a gang task force.

“I’ve been in discussion with other cities, law enforcement agencies, district attorneys, judges, and they all feel that this is becoming more of an issue for our nation and our individual communities. I think that it’s about time we took more of a community approach,” Winn said.

Ripon Police Chief welcomed the vice mayor’s proposal as another valuable asset to add to the police department’s arsenal of prevention measures in combating the city’s growing gang problems, or at least in preventing it from going out of hand.

While Ripon has historically maintained a reputation as a safe community, police officials believe that outside influences have led to the formation of Ripon’s own gangs, something that Winn believes needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

• Ripon Unified School District’s changing of the guard
In the half-century history of the Ripon Unified School District, only two have occupied the top post of superintendent.

Before the end of 2008, that number increased by one with the retirement of longtime superintendent Leo Zuber earlier in the year. Before the end of spring, the district named Louise Nan as Zuber’s successor, becoming only the third to lead the district since its founding.

Nan, who took over her new post in April, came from the Konocti Unified School District in Lake County where she served as superintendent for five years prior to her appointment in Ripon.  Prior to that, she was a high school teacher for 11  years and an elementary school principal for two years. Prior to her appointment at Konocti, she was director of curriculum and assistant superintendent for eight years in the Dinuba Unified School District.

Zuber was superintendent for the Ripon district for 15 years before he retired.

• Once-in-a-lifetime trip for Ripon High JROTC Drill Team
The members of Ripon High School’s JROTC Drill Team called it a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

They were referring to their trip to Washington, D.C., and Virginia in March where they will perform at eight world-famous and historical places: the White House, the U.S. Capitol, World War II Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, and Vietnam Memorial in D.C. and Arlington Cemetery in Virginia just outside D.C.

Their trip is at the invitation of Congressman Jerry McNerney (D-Pleasanton) who saw them perform at the Gallo Arts Center in Modesto during a Veterans Day ceremonies, and was so impressed he asked them to give the same performance at various historic sites in the nation’s capital.

The invitation also meant that the drill team needed to raise $31,000 — or $500 for each student member — to realize their dream trip. Fund-raising activities occupied most of their time before and during the holidays. Nevertheless, they still found time to awe audiences performing at various venues including an anchor appearance at Gallo Arts Center, a television appearance on KOVR’s Good Day Sacramento, and at the Stockton Air Field.

The JROTC Drill Team is comprised of 13 rifle cadets, 13 saber cadets, and six color guard cadets.

Ripon High’s JROTC Program is headed by retired Lt. Col. Patrick Dunn and retired Sgt. 1st Class Everett Perry.

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