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Cop layoff debate: The need to avoid a repeat of 1983

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POSTED October 7, 2009 2:10 a.m.
Economic reality has prompted a council that consists of two retired law enforcement personnel – John Harris who served as a San Joaquin County probation officer and Willie Weatherford who is a retired Manteca police chief – to send City Manager Steve Pinkerton forth with a compensation readjustment proposal for all municipal employees including police. If the bargaining groups didn’t buy it, the other option is layoffs within that particular set of employees.

It sounds heavy handed especially when you’ve already made concessions on a contract negotiated in good faith. It goes without saying, though that these are not ordinary times.

No one wants to cut back on the number of Manteca police officers.

Having said that, folks need to keep the rhetoric, personal attacks, and veiled threats in check.

They didn’t back in 1983 when another police department issue – the early dismissal of Leonard Taylor as police chief for reasons the council could not legally disclose – touched off a firestorm that led to the divisive recall of the majority of the City Council. It set in motion bitter council level politics that eventually shortchanged the community for more than a decade by letting squabbles dictate Manteca’s direction. By refusing to keep a tight lid on spending plus a reluctance to raise fees and advocate tax increase, Manteca was down to $1,000 in reserves while police were forced to patrol in old CHP cars that had 90,000 miles on them when Manteca took delivery of the units while the then new fire station on Union Road sat empty as the city lacked money to man it.

Remnants of that recall poisoned the municipal water up until the late 1990s. And it wasn’t because of what the council ultimately did, it was how people attacked each other during the ensuing debate. A lot of people held grudges from what was said effectively weakening Manteca for years and squandering the opportunity to get ahead of the curve on growth.

It is also important that one thing be made clear. This council – with the exception of Debby Moorhead because she wasn’t on it at the time – went out on a limb for Manteca Police manpower and salaries on more than one occasion. The original public safety tax garnered only a 17 percent approval – so much for those thousands of people who signed petitions saying that public safety should be the No. 1 priority. Saying that and paying for it are two separate things.

With 83 percent of the people voting against it, those who are glib with rhetoric would say the council should have adhered to the will of the people. They didn’t. They came back with another proposal with ironclad guarantees that the percentage of general fund support of public safety wouldn’t drop – which they have honored – if Measure M passed and developed an implementation plan. It ended up passing by the required two-third majority.

That definitely doesn’t sound anti-police although more than a few speakers at Tuesday’s council meeting threatened to vote against the council if they didn’t support the police.

The council has an obligation to keep the city safe as well as financially solvent.

It is also safe to say if those aren’t real numbers being bantered around, that City Manager Steve Pinkerton and others would be putting their jobs on the line.

Given that, it would take $90 roughly per parcel in Manteca annually to cover the tab for 16 officers for a year. I don’t think you’d garner much support at the ballot box at the moment for such a tax. Yet that is the only way to keep minimal services in the city in place while meeting the current contract.

Mayor Weatherford may be right in that next year will be worse. The only thing Manteca has going for it are sales tax generators that the current council has pushed to get into place – Bass Pro Shops, the rest of the Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley that will now include Manteca Lifestyle Outlets, Costco, and Big League Dreams. They draw in enough outside revenue and sales tax that it may be enough to keep sales tax receipts from dropping further. At the same time, economic development pushed by the council – including the additional 250,000 square feet being built at Orchard Valley could generate enough property taxes to minimize any further reduction in overall assessments on Jan. 1, 2010.

If everyone can pull together and Manteca did indeed make all the right moves about finances while everyone else was in denial or else unwilling to aggressively attract regional retail, Manteca could be in a position to come out of this downward spiral dubbed the Great Recession before neighboring cities and end up being stronger than before financially as well as a community.
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