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MacNeilage wants Lathrop government more transparent

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POSTED October 30, 2012 1:59 a.m.

LATHROP – Getting involved with Lathrop just came naturally for City Council hopeful Dan MacNeilage.

With kids active in local organizations like Little League and the Boys and Girls Club, it didn’t take long before he was locked into fundraisers and board meetings and events aimed at helping the less fortunate in a community that he had come to call home.

And it was at one of those events that he saw the true definition of selflessness – then-Mayor Steve McKee showing up in a pair of dirty overalls, smelling of diesel fuel, making himself available anyway that he possibly could because he believed in the organization.

“That right there drew me in,” said MacNeilage – a retired construction superintendent that oversaw work on the Stadium Retail Center project in Manteca as well as parts of Spreckels Park. “He had this passion for the community – growing up here – and he saw what it was and what it was becoming and wanted to play a role in shaping that future.  That really lit a fire under me.”

So he dove in with both feet.

Under Mayor Gloryanna Rhodes MacNeilage took an appointment to the Planning Commission and began keeping up on the happenings around city hall – watching the items that came before the council and studying the people that made the decisions in the community.

Even though he didn’t agree with his politics, MacNeilage said admiration grew quickly for Robert Oliver because he “was a straight arrow” and you knew what you were getting when you dealt with him.

“You never had to wonder whether something was the truth with him or not,” MacNeilage said. “That doesn’t appear to be the case with some on the council today, and there’s a lot of chaos over the last few years because of that.”

But MacNeilage said that from his perspective the future of the community still shines brightly.

With a solid staff in place at City Hall and a variety of projects moving forward, he said, it’s only a matter of time before Lathrop breaks through and earns the respect of its Central Valley colleagues that have long been leading the race for new home construction and business appropriation.

During his career he had to stand by and watch the construction of the Super Target in Atwater – a project that was originally pitched to Lathrop – and the sprawling commercial center that would become the Stadium Retail Center at Big League Dreams in neighboring Manteca.

Now that River Islands is ready to move forward with their first 200-plus units, he said, there’s no reason that Lathrop can’t become the community with the clout to nail down those types of projects.

“We have a very intelligent city staff and a city manager in place that actually came up through the ranks of the private sector, and he knows how the real world works outside of city government – that’s invaluable where we’re headed,” MacNeilage said. “You can look at the projects, but he’s able to look at them viably and how they work in the real world – that’s one thing that really needs to happen right now.

“That doesn’t mean that we need to give him an open checkbook, but we need somebody that understands how to generate business and jobs in the longterm. We need to figure out a way to let him do the job that we hired him to do.”

A champion of making the government process more transparent, MacNeilage said he’d like to see some of the things conducted behind closed doors brought out into the open so that people can have a better understanding of how the decisions that affect them are made.

And while things on the dais haven’t exactly been the smoothest among members of the council lately, MacNeilage says that he won’t play a part in picking sides or adding to the argument.

“There has been a lot of arguing and I think that the people believe there has been enough of that,” he said. “It’s time that we move forward. We all have a belly full of the animosity that’s been fed to us and it’s gotten sickening at times to watch it on TV or to be down there when it’s happening.”

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