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Less talk, more action

Council nixes $9,500 for team-building facilitator

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POSTED December 16, 2008 3:46 a.m.
Mayor Willie Weatherford wants a little less talk and a lot more action.
The Manteca City Council adopted the mayor’s suggestion Monday night and jettisoned a proposal to hire a consultant for $9,500 to facilitate a team-building and goal-setting gathering of the elected leaders and city department heads on Jan. 8.
Weatherford suggested the council simply make it an intense goal-setting session noting there was no need to hire William Mathis — a former mental health director at Napa State Hospital — to open lines of communication between council members and department heads.
“I don’t see discord (like on previous councils),” Weatherford noted.
For that reason, Weatherford said he saw no need for an outsider to get council members as well as department heads to be civil to each other since they get along with each other. Instead, the mayor suggested the council conduct a goal-setting session designed to provide clear direction on where the city is heading while dealing with an impending $8 million deficit in next fiscal year’s budget starting July 1.
Weatherford’s suggestion followed misgivings about the idea of hiring a facilitator that was voiced by both fellow council members as well as citizens.
Councilman Vince Hernandez said, “ I need to show employees, I need to show citizens” that he is serious about belt tightening with the city facing $8 million in cutbacks that could include worker furloughs and more.
He noted that $9,500 “is barely a fraction of a fraction” in a $150 million budget, but it represented real money that could go to saving jobs and services.
Hernandez said nixing the expenditure would be a symbolic gesture that the council was on board to keep costs down.
Both council members John Harris and Steve DeBrum also agreed with Hernandez on two other points — the effectiveness of team building exercises and finding ways to do it cheaper if it was needed.
The last time the council under took such an exercise was six years ago. It was done outside of Manteca through a League of California Cities workshop
This time around it will take place at City Hall with easy access to the public without spending money on a consultant.
East Manteca resident Fleenor Richards urged the council to remember, “City workers are what makes this city tick. They should be protected at all costs.”
Central Manteca resident Wendy Benavides said she understood the value of team building exercises but felt this wasn’t the right time given the economy and state of the municipal budget.
“We’re all tightening our belts,” she said.
Citizen Richard Hansen said the city needs to learn to stop spending adding, “In a recession, you’d better start learning” to control spending.

$40,420 being spent on
downtown facilitator
The mayor had a different opinion on what ails downtown when it comes to communication.
Weatherford — along with Harris — were on the losing end of an effort to try and block spending $40,420 to hire facilitator Kristen Lowell to get downtown Manteca landlords and business owners to talk to each other to see if they want to work together.
The goal is to see whether there is support to form a downtown improvement district. Such a district is considered essential to putting together a strategy that could move the central district forward.
Harris called it a lot of money to spend on downtown after previous undertakings have failed to get a unified front.
“I can’t see putting more money down the rabbit hole,” Harris said.
Weatherford noted the city has undertaken numerous efforts to work with downtown only to have it blow up in the council’s face. He noted the most recent was an attempt to invest $400,000 in redevelopment agency funds to improve a parking lot behind the south side of the 100 block of West Yosemite Avenue that would provide additional stalls, landscaping and lighting.
There was a general consensus but then a downtown faction started tearing into the idea and it unraveled.
“I’m not sure if any amount of money will make a difference (downtown),” Weatherford said.
A question from DeBrum, prompted City Manager Steve Pinkerton to explain why a facilitator would be effective.
He noted other cities that have eventually gone to a downtown improvement district have shown significant progress with building a vibrant commercial center.
Pinkerton noted downtown areas that don’t speak with one voice that a business improvement district offers are at a disadvantage against newer retail complexes with one management that can effective direct marketing.
“You have 50 different opinions (in downtown) now,” Pinkerton noted.
Pinkerton said the money was well worth the investment for two reasons. First, if the facilitator sets in motion the formation of a downtown improvement district the city could realize a 10 to 20 fold increase over its initial $40,000 RDA investment in terms of increased sales tax.
“And if it fails we know downtown is done,” Pinkerton said.
The money is from the RDA tax receipts and is restricted on how it can be used. It cannot, for example, be used for general government operations to pay for city worker salaries and must be spent on economic development or blight fighting efforts that fall within state established criteria.
The consultant will spend a significant amount of time meeting with key business owners and property owners to determine whether there might be support to form some sort of downtown improvement district. If so, the consultant would help guide the actual formation of the district.
State law provides property owners the ability to increase the tax assessment on their properties to pay for a downtown improvement district.
The district would generate revenue needed to improve and maintain the downtown area.
It also would provide autonomy for property owners downtown it determines the future of the area.
The Manteca Redevelopment Agency would partner with the property owners in forming the district but would only be a member of the district as a fellow property owner.
The city owns parking lots, Library Park, Manteca Library and the Tidewater segments in the downtown district.
A downtown improvement district would also reduce the perennial tangles with the City Council over what should be done in downtown.
Should the district form, downtown would be speaking with one voice when they approach the city with a project.
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