Manteca Mayor Willie Weatherford had to buy a gun when he first got involved with city government.
It was for the public’s protection as much as for his own protection.
That’s because back in 1966 when Manteca hired police officers they had to buy their own gun. They also had to buy their own flashlight, handcuffs, belt, and all but one uniform.
His first gun was a 6-inch Colt revolver he bought from one of the 11 existing Manteca Police officers at the time. He found out later that everyone else on the force was using Smith and Wesson guns and that his fellow officer simply needed to sell a revolver that he no longer considered the best for the job.
His pay for working to keep the peace back then was $447 a month. That contrasts with $500 a month stipend he now receives as Manteca’s mayor. Back then, like now, he got his city check just once a month.
There was no retirement. There was no overtime. Officers did get one sick day a month and two weeks’ vacation.
The Lodi native applied for the Manteca police job after completing a four-year stint in the Air Force where he served as an Air Police Officer.
Back then those hired to work as police officers did not have to have any training. Instead, they were out with a training officer for a week and then turned loose to go solo afterwards. Once a year passed they would be sent to a police academy.
“I ran for the city council for the same reason I went to work as a police officer, to serve the public,” Weatherford said.
Weatherford, 71, is stepping down as mayor next November after deciding not to seek re-election. He’s been Manteca’s mayor for 11 years after serving six years as a councilman. He ran for council after working for 29 years as a police officer before retiring in 1994 after a stint as police chief.
The 1961 Galt High graduate pitched for the Warriors baseball team as a four-year varsity player. He was also a forward on the school’s basketball team.
His career included working in Galt as police chief and then as city manager.
During his tenure as Galt city manager, the flea market the city runs was able to triple its revenue that flowed into the city’s recreational programs to $300,000 by management changes he instituted. Today, the flea market generates close to $1 million for the City of Galt.
In Galt, he was on the founding board of the Boys & Girls Club just as he was in Manteca.
He obtained a degree in criminal justice from Sacramento State.
Weatherford is active in various community boards and organizations including Eskaton that provides subsidized senior housing and the Manteca Kiwanis.
He started playing softball after high school “because there really weren’t that many opportunities to play baseball,” Weatherford explained.
He still plays today with teams affiliated with the Northern California Senior Softball Association. He’s been inducted into the organization’s hall of fame.
His tenure on the Manteca City Council includes involvement in numerous civic improvements ranging from a new surface water treatment plant to a major wastewater treatment plant upgrade and expansion to development of the 52-acre Woodward Park.
He also helped secure development such as Spreckels Park, The Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley, Del Webb at Woodbridge, and the Stadium Retail Center.
But the one project he is most closely identified with is the Big League Dreams sports complex. It took seven years from conception to ground breaking to build the six Major League Baseball replica softball fields complete with stadium style seating, two restaurants and an indoor soccer arena. The original location proposed at Woodward Park set off a political firestorm that covered three election cycles.
Today, the BLD is the most successful of 10 such complexes throughout the West including Las Vegas and in the Los Angeles area. It is booked for at least one tournament every weekend even through holiday weekends such as at Christmas. It also has soccer play that goes on past might.
His style of running a meeting has drawn comparisons from some to the personality portrayed by Andy Griffith in the Mayberry TV show.
Weatherford said that simply is not the case despite his down home humor and references.
“Every show Andy ended up solving a problem with a moral point being made,” Wetaherford said.
Weatherford said that he and the council — as well as the city — often do not explain things well enough to give people a better understanding of how things work and why they are the way they are.