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Councilman: Lathrop isnt transparent enough
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LATHROP – Lathrop Councilman Robert Oliver stated the problem plainly at the last council meeting.

“We haven’t been transparent enough. We need to be more transparent. People need to know what’s going on,” he said during the heated discussion over the wisdom of sending the mayor and interim city manager to the One Voice lobbying trip to Washington, D.C., on the taxpayers’ dime.

A petition signed by about a hundred residents asking the council to reconsider their vote in favor of sending the city’s two representatives to D.C. failed to convince the council, with the exception of Vice Mayor Martha Salcedo, to change their previous vote in favor of the trip.

Salcedo stuck to her original position of opposing the trip to D.C. this year saying she did not think it was fair to use the taxpayers’ money for the trip the same night the council voted to raise their monthly sewer and water bills which will double in three years.

But it was over some residents’ question about the productivity of these trips and whether the city actually benefited financially from this investment of taxpayers’ money which prompted Oliver to use the word “transparency” in his comments.

Residents like Dan Mac Neilage, who is also a Planning Commissioner, Rosalinda Valencia and J. “Chaka” Santos wanted to know the actual figures – dollar amounts the city spent in sending the delegates to D.C. versus federal funds that were funneled to the city as a result of that trip.

Some numbers were given. Interim City Manager Keaten said city records show that a total of $45,606 was spent for the trips since the One Voice inception in 2001. During that same time period – the city sent representatives from three to four people every year – Keaten said the city received a total of $1.6 million in the last eight years: $1.1 million of that went to process the environmental impact report on a well project, and the rest to the construction of the easterly railroad overpass on Lathrop Road.

However, Valencia questioned those figures saying the city actually spent $200,000 to send a lobbying group – not the One Voice – to D.C. and got back $600,000 for that effort. She also asked how much money Mayor Kristy Sayles brought back to the city from the One Voice trips in the last four years.

A follow-up call to Keaten fine-tuned some of the figures that were given at the meeting in response to the residents’ questions.

Keaten said that the city did hire a lobbyist in 2005-06 “to advocate for transportation funds in D.C.” He said he was “not sure exactly” how much it cost to send the lobbyist to D.C. but that it was “in the neighborhood of $200,000.” However, he also explained that “most of the cost” related to that trip was paid for by developers, and the rest, by the city.

Keaten added that the $1.1 million in federal funds received came from a combination of the lobbyist’s efforts and that of the One Voice trip in 2006 which was attended by Pam Carder and Gloryanna Rhodes, city manager and mayor, respectively, at that time. At the same time, Keaten pointed out that Carder and Rhodes flew to D.C. days ahead of the One Voice delegation to meet with Congressman Dennis Cardoza (D-Ceres) for the same purpose of lobbying for federal funds. Another $500,000 in federal funds were funneled to the city from the Environmental Protection Agency in 2002 but whether this was a direct result of the One Voice trip in 2001 is not certain. But it’s possible, Keaten said, because the city met with EPA during that One Voice trip in 2001. That $.5 million federal money was used as replacement funds for Well 5 which was contaminated by plumes coming from the former Sharpe Army Depot on Lathrop Road.

In response to the questions from the residents at the council meeting, the mayor stated that she has filed reports of her trips to D.C. at City Hall for public review and that she plans to “continue bringing back reports” of her trip.

Staff can’t find reports mayor submitted on previous DC trips
However, when the Bulletin requested copies of those filed reports, a staff said they could not find those reports in the city’s public records.

“We’re still trying to locate the documents,” the staff said.

City Attorney Salvador Navarrete acknowledged in a letter that the mayor did provide “a verbal report and referenced a document relating to the One Voice trip” on April 15, 2008.

“Unfortunately, staff has not located the referenced document within the City’s Public Records,” he stated in the letter in which he enclosed a DVD copy of the April 2008 council meeting.

“If said referenced document is located, we will provide you a copy without any need for you to file further requests,” Navarrete stated.