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War of words escalate over well in Lathrop

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POSTED October 20, 2012 1:25 a.m.

LATHROP — What do a tainted well, a civil rights violation and an impending vote denouncing the Mayor’s interaction with city staffers have in common?

Well, nothing exactly. But that didn’t stop the three of them from coming together Monday night while the Lathrop City Council was discussing whether to move forward with a resolution that would have effectively censured Lathrop Mayor Joseph “Chaka” Santos for a series of “inappropriate” run-ins at City Hall.

Before the council had the chance to vote on the issue, Santos welcomed up a pair of Lathrop residents that claimed that their home had unfairly been condemned – hinting at improprieties by Councilman Sonny Dhaliwal who they claimed took advantage of the situation while trying to step in as an interpreter because of a language barrier.

Santos almost immediately halted comments from others on the council and urged the two men to find an attorney to investigate possible civil rights violations.

But when Dhaliwal got a chance to rebut against the accusations he quickly pulled in support from Community Development Director Glen Gebhardt who confirmed that Dhaliwal was brought in to help with the language barrier and noted that the house was red tagged because an abandoned well that was discovered to be in use was feared to be toxic.

“It was abandoned for an extended period of time, and after testing it was confirmed that it was tainted and not drinkable,” Gebhardt said. “The city was forced at that point to red tag it.”

A cleanup, Gebhardt said, soon commenced and the homeowner was notified when it was completed.

But the timing of the issue sent up red flags for some on the council who were upset that Santos – who had claimed that Dhaliwal brought the charges regarding his behavior – immediately turned around and appeared to be doing exactly what he had accused his opponent of doing.

“I’ve got to tell you – great timing Mayor,” Councilman Omar Ornelas said. “If I didn’t know better I’d think that this was something that was becoming a political issue. I’ve got to tell you Mayor – you’re smarter than I thought you were.

“And please don’t state that we’ve violated people’s civil rights. As our mayor that’s the most ridiculous thing that I’ve ever heard.”

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