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Manteca council avoids stepping into political & labor quicksand

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POSTED July 20, 2013 2:16 a.m.

Manteca’s elected leaders came perilously close this month to starting a political firestorm.

Had they pursued a suggestion that Manteca needs an assistant city manager now instead of later they could very easily have started undermining the “we’re-in-this-together” attitude that served Manteca well before the Great Recession and even better after the economic fallout started battering municipal finances.

There is little doubt that the workload is heavy at the top. And there are also critical projects coming up that have the potential to bring thousands of jobs for Manteca residents as well as significantly shore up municipal finances to allow the hiring of  additional manpower throughout the city. Manteca can ill afford to let a manpower shortage at key junctures in dealing with these projects cost the city what could be economic golden opportunities. But at the same time Manteca can ill afford a collapse in the relationships of municipal employees who have taken a 30-percent cutback in their ranks and forfeiture of existing or agreed upon pay and benefits well in excess of 20 percent of their overall compensation.

Manteca is not out of the financial woods yet. At the same time it needs a culture to stay in place that is based on a belief that things will never go back to what they were before 2006. That will require labor relationships where there are no ill feelings. Everyone from the city manger to custodians to finance clerks, street workers, police, firefighters, water and sewer workers and more have stepped it up to keep Manteca moving and service levels up as high as possible.

This past week when the council finally adopted the budget and agreed with McLaughlin’s suggestion that this is not a good time to hire more help at the top, each City Council member went out of their way to praise the work ethic and sacrifice of rank-and-file municipal workers.

That wasn’t the case two weeks ago when the council initiated talk centered on an overworked city manager’s office. By focusing entirely on the workload demands and how critical that position is, the council inadvertently made a broad backhand swipe at other municipal employees. That wasn’t their intention but it came across to more than a few folks in that manner.

Generals are crucial to a successful war effort. But try to fight a war without foot soldiers. Or, worse yet, try to fight a war with soldiers who are disgruntled with their leadership and less dedicated to the cause.

Manteca can ill afford employee relations such as the ones that the City of Stockton has with its police and firefighters.

Manteca’s municipal employee groups all came on board after the city opened its books and implemented sacrifices evenly across the board while giving each labor unit the ability to determine how their percentage cut was made. It helped build trust and cemented the attitude that it is a group effort where everyone is just as important  as everyone else when it comes to providing municipal services.

McLaughlin demonstrated just how effective of a city manager she is and how attuned she is to the big picture when she continued to recommend against additional help for her office even after a majority of her bosses made it clear that they wanted her to have an assistant city manager.

In defense of the council, the point they make about an assistant city manager is critical to the city’s long-term stability and financial success. But by following McLaughlin’s advice to wait until January the council made the right move. That’s because revenues will be more clear, labor contract re-openers come up with employee units based on concessions they made to balance the budget, and she will have had time to look at ways to reshuffle the administrative deck even further. Manteca, as a city, is only as good as the ability of municipal employees to work together to provide the best possible services for the community’s 72,000 residents.



This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

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