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Zuber goes from ‘doing’ to ‘what’ status

Former educator transitions into Ripon council role

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Zuber goes from ‘doing’ to ‘what’ status

Leo Zuber during last fall’s candidates’ forum.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED February 16, 2013 2:04 a.m.

It hasn’t been a natural transition for the superintendent-turned-councilman, but a welcomed one.

After nearly 40 years in education and administration, working for school boards and the State of California, Leo Zuber is experiencing leadership through a different lens.

He’s a “what” man now – a policy maker, a tone-setter – no longer the “doing” man, a servant of school board and state.

“When I was the school superintendent I was an employee of the state. I was the person that had to get done what the school board and state wanted to get done,” Zuber said. “On the council, I’m the policy maker and I believe very strongly that’s where I need to stay.

“We have some really good people working at city hall and in parks. I want to stay out of their way and deal with the policy part.”

Zuber was elected in November with 2,710 votes, second only to former Mayor Elden “Red” Nutt (3,050). He was the campaign season’s top fund-raiser with approximately $8,600, generating twice as much fiscal support as his opponents.

“I’ve known Leo for a lot of years and been on a lot of committees with him through the school,” Mayor Dean Uecker said. “There’s going to be a learning curve ... (but) he’s going to be a big asset.”

Through four meetings, Zuber has acclimated well. His passion for education and his natural curiosity play out in the chamber, where his probing questions have helped illuminate items on the agenda.

His voice echoes with the concerns and confusion of the community.

“I think it’s important that the residents of the city know what’s happening,” he said. “All too often when you go to a city council meeting or get the agenda, there are all these things listed on them. If you’re not into acronyms and public financing, it blows right past your head.

“You get to a point where you’re saying ‘There’s not enough money’ or ‘This isn’t going to work,’ and the community has no background or experience to know if that’s true or not. I ask a lot of questions for my own information, but for the people who are sitting there.”

Such a moment arose during the last city council meeting, when discussions turned toward the Section 125 Plan. The plan allows public employees to set aside $2,500 of their pre-taxed wages for medical expenses, child care and family aid.

Zuber asked the crowd to raise their hands if they understood what the plan entailed, himself somewhat perplexed.

Not a single hand was raised.

He then turned the floor over to city engineer and assistant administrator Kevin Werner for further explanation.

“You can’t ask people to be a part of government,” Zuber said, “if you can’t provide information.”

That ideal will serve him well, said fellow councilman and former Mayor Red Nutt, now in his ninth year on the council.

“The only bad question is the one that you don’t ask,” Nutt said.

“I think Leo and Jake Parks (also in his first year) will be fine councilmen,” he added. “Regardless if you agree with them, their intent is what’s good for the community and that’s what counts.”

Zuber looks forward to the next four years and the challenges of leading a city. He’s graduated politically, in a sense, leaving the school system for the real world.

“I was on the ‘doing’ side for so long, so I know how it’s done. My job now is on the other side of the fence; to deal with the ‘what,’” Zuber said. “I’m not going to tell Ted Johnston how to take care of a park, or tell Kevin how to make a budget. I just won’t.

“I think the role of the council is to decide where the emphasis of a budget ought to be.”

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