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Lathrop council may change meetings

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POSTED November 3, 2009 4:21 a.m.

LATHROP – When Jose D. Hernandez served on the Lathrop City Council two mayors ago, he lost a number of hours at work and, on a few occasions, arrived late at the meeting. Sometimes, he did not even have time to grab something for dinner while dashing off from work to the 7 o’clock council meeting at City Hall.

Hernandez’s problem was that he worked in the Bay Area which meant he had to fight the commute traffic during the week on the way home.

Council member Robert Oliver, who was also on the council at that time, recalled that this issue about changing the schedule of the meetings in light of Hernandez’s commute challenges was “investigated” at that time. But nothing happened and no changes were made.

Today, the council is back to singing the same tune but evidently for a different reason.

At the last council meeting, Vice Mayor Martha Salcedo asked if they could discuss changing the schedule to an earlier time. Salcedo’s suggestion was motivated by her desire to see a “wider participation” of Lathrop citizens in council discussions. Like many cities in the valley, Lathrop has its fair share of residents who commute to work in various parts of the Bay Area during the week making it difficult for them to take part in government proceedings such as the council and Planning Commission meetings.

“Maybe if we met earlier, more people would come,” Oliver said.

Not too long ago, Lathrop council members agreed to end the council meetings at 10 or 10:30 p.m. although that has not always been the case, Oliver said. The early adjournment was in consideration of those who have to be at work early the next morning.

At the present time, the council meets at 7 p.m. every first and third Tuesday of the month. That’s the public portion of the meeting. Council members actually need to be at City Hall for the closed session that starts at 6 p.m. Sometimes, however, that one hour to discuss confidential matters such as employee contract negotiations or litigation issues is not even enough, said Oliver. Several times this year, for example, the council had to go back to closed session to continue the discussions, Oliver said.

“Sometimes we start the closed session at 5 o’clock because there’s so much stuff,” he said.

“There was a time when Jose Hernandez had to leave work early (to be at the council meeting on time). He lost several hours of work,” Oliver added.

While he considers Salcedo’s suggestion as “worth looking into,” Oliver does not think such a move will encourage more people to attend and take part in the council discussions. Lack of participation from the citizens of Lathrop in government procedures such as the council meetings is a problem that has dogged city officials since incorporation. Spending money to have the council meetings broadcast live on Cable TV was one of the steps the city has undertaken to gain broader and greater participation from the public.

Oliver summed up Lathrop’s dilemma this way: “The people who work in Lathrop don’t live in Lathrop, and the people who live in Lathrop work in the Bay Area.”

Council member Sonny Dhaliwal reserved his comments until he heard the entire time proposal from Salcedo.

“I would like to hear what she has to say and what time she proposes. We have to keep in mind that we can’t start too early because we have some people who commute and get home late from work,” said Dhaliwal who happens to be one of the commuters who live in Lathrop.

In his case, he works in the Silicon Valley and is an employee of Santa Clara County in the transportation department.

Despite being a commuter though, Dhaliwal does not have any of the same problems that dogged former council member Hernandez who no longer lives in Lathrop.

“It doesn’t affect me personally. I’m off on Tuesdays anyway,” Dhaliwal said. “But we got to make sure that we give people an opportunity to be there (at the meetings), and I always like public participation.”

To contact Rose Albano Risso, e-mail ralbanorisso@mantecabulletin.com or call (209) 249-3536.

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