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Moorhead puts greater good above emotions

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POSTED September 16, 2009 2:32 a.m.
Debby Moorhead’s decision to join the rest of the Manteca City Council in backing South San Joaquin Irrigation District in the agency’s bid to replace PG&E as the retail power provider in Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon could not have been easy.

Moorhead has strong feelings for PG&E. Her father worked for PG&E. Close friends have worked for PG&E.

Those were the ties that PG&E government relations manager Emily Barnett used while the two of them where back in Washington, D.C., a few years back as part of the San Joaquin One Voice lobbying trip to persuade Moorhead to serve as executive director of Stop the Power Grab and to have her signature on a letter that was mailed to district residents to solicit their support to oppose SSJID.

It is no secret that PG&E created Stop the Power Grab to oppose SSJID. Moorhead, though, was the only resident within the SSJID territory that PG&E’s operatives could persuade to run Stop the Power Grab. The first was Kurt VanderWeide, a Turlock City Councilman who ultimately lost re-election when he aggressively backed a Super Wal-Mart over that community’s objections. Moorhead’s successor at Stop the Power Grab is Stockton resident Brian Regnart.

At the time Moorhead signed on with Stop the Power Grab, the Manteca Chamber of Commerce which she serves as executive director, had taken a position against SSJID using eminent domain to enter the retail power business. PG&E used the chamber’s position – the only local agency or board to come out against SSJID – as proof positive there wasn’t community support for SSJID. Barnett happened to be serving on the chamber board at the time.

The chamber’s position created a cantankerous situation among much of its membership. This time around, the chamber early on made it clear they were staying neutral on SSJID’s bid.

Needless to say Moorhead took a lot of heat for the letter on behalf of Stop the Power Grab.

Most folks expected Moorhead to vote against supporting SSJID at Tuesday’s council meeting.

Moorhead asked several questions during the meeting about SSJID’s proposal but did not offer an explanation for her eventual vote. She had to leave the meeting promptly after the final gavel and couldn’t be reached for comment.

In talking with Moorhead over the past few years it is clear she is driven by two simple things: doing the right thing and doing what’s best for Manteca.

You may not agree with all of her positions but her heart is definitely into it. That is why this had to be an extremely hard – if not painful – decision for Moorhead to make.

It should be made clear that Moorhead is not being a political opportunist here. She has several times been the lone council vote against something she had philosophical issues with such as the landscape maintenance districts.

The SSJID plan that has been years in the making has extreme merit. You had to weigh sentimentality against cold economic facts. The SSJID has proved to be a strong and effective guardian of public trust and assets over the last 100 years. It has also had the forward thinking needed to make things happen and to keep water rates unchanged for more than a decade. SSJID after careful research and consideration has never been afraid to blaze new trails for the economic vitality of the communities they serve.

In doing so, SSJID today has an unrestricted reserves fast approaching $70 million. They haven’t had a property tax rate increase for decades. They haven’t had a water rate increase for a decade. In the third year of a drought, they were able to help struggling cities such as Stockton and irrigation districts down the valley by sending them water. Two years ago, they suspended the water charge for farmers for a year. It was made possible by managing the public’s money so well.

A 15 percent rate reduction translates into $11.6 million a year being left in the Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon economy. That’s a lot of money.
The lower across the board power rates also gives agriculture breathing room and is an enticement for future employers.

A true leader has the courage to step back and examine their decisions and change them if facts and circumstances dictate it is better for the people they serve.

It’s a trait that more of our elected officials need to have especially in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.
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