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Flasher, mayoral flap, & taxes top Lathrop news

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POSTED January 1, 2013 12:49 a.m.

LATHROP – From a serial-flasher that put school safety and security at the forefront of the local conscience to a formal reprimand of the sitting mayor, 2012 wasn’t without its talked-about events.

And that’s not even taking into consideration the election – which turned downright nasty in the battle for the city’s top spot and put the future of the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District and, to a lesser extent, Lathrop’s civic programs on the line.

Here is the first in a two-part series on the Lathrop events that dominated the headlines in 2012 and became the water-cooler conversation about residents for sometimes weeks after they happened:

Flasher targets students on and near Lathrop Elementary campus – When parents first learned that an adult male approached the female participant of an after-school program at Lathrop Elementary and exposed himself back in September, it set off a firestorm of controversy that centered around whether the installation of cameras should be looked at to ensure student safety. When it was announced that a man that fit the same description exposed himself while sitting behind the wheel of his car to a student walking to school just weeks later, pressure for the cameras grew even stronger.

Then-councilman Sonny Dhaliwal said that the city would work with Manteca Unified School District to determine the best way to proceed – the system could end up costing as much as $70,000 to have installed. Lathrop Police increased their presence before and after school and so far no arrests have been made.

Mayor Joseph “Chaka” Santos gets censured – It became big news when the City of Lathrop agreed to forward the findings of an independent investigation into inappropriate behavior by Santos against a city employee to the San Joaquin County Civil Grand Jury for their consideration. And even though the panel opted not to take any action, the matter resurfaced just weeks before the election after Santos’ allegedly made retaliatory comments against another city staffer that cooperated in the initial investigation. The risk management authority that covers the city from possible litigation required that a resolution disapproving of his conduct be passed in order to absolve them from any future legal action, and the matter included stern comments from members of the council that encouraged Santos to “take responsibility for his actions.” He was overwhelmingly defeated just weeks later by councilman Sonny Dhaliwal while seeking reelection.

Measure C raises taxes, helps provide stability – To say that Lathrop was hit hard by the recession would be an understatement. Plummeting home values nearly sunk the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District – which depends on property taxes for its operating budget. It also led to layoffs and furloughs at City Hall that seemed to tighten as the years went on. But after residents gave their blessing to a one-cent sales tax increase that will provide upwards of $800,000 to the fire district and give the city an additional $1 million in revenue to run programs that were slashed, things appear to be on the mend. With the support of the Lathrop-Manteca Firefighters Association – which canvassed neighborhoods in favor of the measure – the ballot initiative easily passed with the simple majority that it required, and checks will start coming in as early as spring of 2013. According to Fire Chief Gene Neely, the money that the district will receive will fund the nine full-time firefighter positions that are currently behind paid for by a federal grant.

An independent citizen’s oversight committee still has to be formed in order to make the necessary decisions on where the money will go and how it should be spent.

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