Editor's Note: This is a part of a series looking at issues raised by council and mayor candidates about various municipal concerns.
Manteca City Manager Steve Pinkerton’s decision to hire an economic development specialist for $75,000 a year is coming under fire by perennial critics of the City Council as well as at least one mayoral candidate.
Don Smail, a retired City of Stockton employee who oversaw that community’s extensive parking districts, was retained on a contract basis to guide Manteca’s economic development. The item was included in the redevelopment agency budget adopted earlier this month by the city council. Smail has nearly 30 years of experience in promoting economic development for California cities.
“Our goal is not to let Modesto, Stockton, Tracy or any other community secure jobs that Manteca can get,” Pinkerton said. “Other cities are cutting out economic development positions which is kind of like cutting off your nose in the economy that we are in.”
Mayor hopeful Ben Cantu in a letter expressed the belief that other public necessities should “have a greater priority at this time.”
“One such necessity is increasing the level of public safety in the community,” Cantu wrote. “A ‘contract’ public safety officer at $75,000 would have been a more appropriate expenditure, in my opinion, under the current circumstances.”
The city while trying to determine how best to trim back the $11.4 million shortfall in last year’s fiscal budget examined the possibility of using RDA funds for public safety. The city was told by RDA legal experts that it was not feasible as RDA expenditures could only be spent in sections of the city that are within an RDA district. Since police protection is a citywide service they were prohibited from using the money for such a purpose. Even if it were allowed, Pinkerton noted several months ago officers paid with RDA funds under state law governing RDA expenditures would be prohibited from backing up officers or responding to crime in non-RDA areas.
RDA money can only be used to combat blight and promote economic development as well as to provide affordable housing opportunities. It can’t be used legally to cover general fund expenditures such as law enforcement unless it is specific to the RDA area such as a code enforcement officer. The general fund is the only part of the municipal budget that has been dealing with deficits in the past two years.
Several letter writers to the Bulletin have claimed Pinkerton showed favoritism to a “good old boy” who worked with him in Stockton and that he should have hired from within Manteca’s ranks. One letter writer went as far as to claim that Smail was a cousin of Pinkerton’s.
Pinkerton, who served as Stockton’s RDA director before coming to Manteca as city manager, noted he is not related to Smail and that he simply worked in the same department. He noted there was no one on Manteca’s municipal staff with the economic development expertise that Smail possesses.
“It is critical that we do everything we can to attract business and retain business,” Pinkerton said.
He pointed to municipal efforts that not only keep BR Funstein in Manteca but also the first to invest in an expansion of its operations here instead of moving to Stockton.
Pinkerton said it is one thing to have a website with demographics but it is another to actively engage people inquiring about setting up shop in Manteca.
The city manager said that some believe commercial brokers serve that purpose.
While noting they play critical roles, Pinkerton pointed out brokers will show clients only properties that they have control over. In contrast, a non-staff economic development specialist would try to find any available property that might make sense to a business wanting to locate here so Manteca would have a strong shot at landing more jobs.
Smail will have an office at the one-stop permit center at the Civic Center. The idea is to have him also act as an ombudsman for the business community trying to secure permits or get projects through the city approval process that will provide employment opportunities and strengthen the Manteca economy.
“He isn’t coming at (a project) as a regulator,” Pinkerton said. “If someone says ‘no’ based on initial reading of rules, it is his job to find ways we can make things happen.”
Pinkerton said that applies to someone who wants to open anything from an independent bakery to a large firm wanting to bring jobs to the city.
The city manager said Smail will allow the city to step up its efforts to work with businesses already here to make sure Manteca can retain jobs that are already in place.
“It is odd in this environment to see cities get rid of economic development efforts that would help generate jobs and strengthen the economy,” said Pinkerton. “This (position) will allow Manteca to take advantage of the situation.”