LATHROP – The Council Chambers inside Lathrop City Hall will not only have the sign, “In God We Trust,” prominently displayed above the city seal.
It will not even cost the city or taxpayers a single penny to have it completely installed.
Before the council members could even start voting Monday night on the allocation of $552.30 to get the sign up, enough donations were already received and pledged to cover the project’s total expenses – that is, materials and installation.
Resident Rosalinda Valencia started the donation ball rolling by writing a check for $100 which she immediately handed to City Clerk Mitzi Ortiz. But it was a comment by Mayor Kristy Sayles that helped nudge the ball.
“I, for one, am willing to donate $100,” Valencia said when she stood up to comment on the issue.
The mayor then quickly pounced on Valencia’s statement and said, “You go ahead and leave your $100 check to Mitzi.”
“We already have a $100 donation. I’ll match that,” was the quick follow-up from Council member Sonny Dhaliwal.
Just as quickly, Council member Chris Mateo solemnly commented, “I trust God that the (balance of) $350 will come.”
While some of those in the room reacted in laughter, the mayor also stepped up to the plate and volunteered to match Valencia’s donation. That should leave just $250 to be covered by city funds, she happily commented.
But she barely finished her sentence when the voices of two Lathrop church pastors came from the audience. Pastor Bill Barnett of Grace Community Church and Pastor Tim Vogdt of Lighthouse Community Church announced that their congregations will take care of the rest of the expenses.
Vogdt “applauded” the council for their “courageous move” to act in favor of a controversial project, “even if someone may want to take you to court on this one,” he said, and for their willingness to “work underneath that blessing.”
Council member Robert Oliver who is a retired church minister, said that he saw “no room for lawsuit” in having the sign displayed at City Hall. The statement has enough “room for interpretation,” he said.
“This does not say, ‘In Christian God we trust,’ or ‘In Jewish God we trust.’ This is our national motto. It’s on every dollar bill, on every coin we have. I approve this one,” he said confidently.
Dhaliwal echoed Oliver’s comment, but added that “everything this body does, there’s a threat of a lawsuit.”
Sayles pointed out that many cities in California already have put up the sign in their council chambers.
Having that motto at City Hall, she said, “will help us to align with the values of this community. We are very pleased with the churches of our community.”
But resident and retired farmer Dan Doyle was not totally convinced that displaying the religious motto is a step in the right direction for the city in terms of potential lawsuits.
“I guarantee you, in three months there will be a lawsuit,” he told the council.
The mayor explained that in the event of a lawsuit, the city has been promised legal protection by the Pacific Justice Institute, a nonprofit organization which “specializes in defending religious liberty, including our nation’s religious heritage” and will not cost the city any money to put up the legal defense.
“I hope they (those who gave donations to the sign) will be as generous when you get sued,” was Doyle’s concluding response.
Acting on a request from In God We Trust – America, Inc. in Bakersfield late last year, the council adopted a resolution supporting the display of the national motto in the council chambers and directed staff to get estimates for the project. Staff presented two quotes to the council to discuss and vote on at the Monday night meeting. The council chose the first option which features 8.44-inch-tall black acrylic letters with gold edging at a cost of $552.30 for both the letters and the installation. The second option simply had the acrylic letters in plain black, 8 inches tall, for a total cost of $537.
The city clerk also informed the council that a local company late Monday afternoon offered to cut the letters free of charge. However, Ortiz said that “looking at the staff time” involved in the installation, plus the purchase of the material for the letters, “I’m not sure if that would be a better option or not,” she said.