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Oliver ends nearly two decades of Lathrop service
Robert Oliver, center, is greeted by well wishers. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO
LATHROP – In typical preacher form, Lathrop Councilman Robert K. Oliver summed up the reason behind his two decades of involvement in the city he called home.

“Service is the rent you pay for the space you occupy,” he said during his short farewell speech before Mayor Kristy Sayles presented him with a recognition certificate in appreciation of his many contributions to the community.

The certificate, among other things, recognized Oliver’s attendance at 500-plus meetings in various capacities including that of mayor and council member.

The presentation was made during the March 15 meeting of the council, the last one attended by Oliver as councilman before his official retirement that week.

“I’ve done my very best. I appreciate so much the time I spent with you,” Oliver told his appreciative colleagues and to the residents of Lathrop.

As part of his last action as an elected official, Oliver helped tip the balance by a 3-2 council vote in favor of laying off the city’s parks manager and demoting the assistant community development director to senior planner as part of the ongoing process to solve the continuing budget crisis. That night’s council action, which also included funding two part-time clerical positions to full time, resulted in paring off $111,000 from the current $1.5 million budget deficit.

In a show of solidarity, the other members of the council, from Christopher Mateo who is the rookie in the group, to the mayor praised their departing colleague for the words of wisdom he shared with them.

Councilman Sonny Dhaliwal recalled a conversation he had with Oliver in the November 2005 special council elections.

“I came to you and you told me, ‘be careful what you ask for.’ You gave me a lot of pointers; you gave me a lot of advice, and I thank you for that,” Dhaliwal said.

He added that Oliver made “a lot of sacrifices” that many times people did not even know about.

“Thank you, sir. You’ll be dearly missed,” he said.

Vice Mayor Martha Salcedo also thanked Oliver for the many things she learned from him, though they were not always on the same page.

“We didn’t always see eye to eye,” said Salcedo who shared one thing in common with Oliver, that of an educator.

“You always have a good reason for what you believe in. Everything has been a learning experience, thanks to you,” said Salcedo who is a teacher at Lathrop Elementary School.

Even Sayles who, during the last mayoral contest when she launched a mailing campaign in which he called Oliver a “Water Boy” among others, was magnanimous in her praises to her former political-campaign foe.

“When I was elected in 2005, you gave me a lot of advice. We’ve had many conversations,” Sayles said.

Like Salcedo, Sayles told Oliver that they did not always see eye to eye on some issues, but nonetheless thanked him for his long and dedicated service to the community.

“Thank you very much, sir, for your dedication and service to Lathrop,” Sayles said.

Planning Commissioner Dan Mac Neilage also offered his thanks to Oliver for his services to the community.

“You always tried to do the right thing, and I thank you for that. That takes a lot of internal fortitude,” Mac Neilage said.

Second time to announce retirement
Oliver, who turns 78 this year, decided to officially retire this time – he first announced he was going to retire from local politics in 2006 at the end of his last four-year full-term as councilman but later changed his mind – so he and wife Vivian could move to Ventura in Southern California to be near their children.

He was persuaded to return into the political arena during the special elections in June 2008 to choose a candidate to finish the unexpired term of former council member Felicia Cherry who was elected in November 2006 but served only one year of her four-year term and then resigned for family reasons. Oliver won in a five-way race where the other contenders included Mac Neilage, Christopher Mateo who later waged a successful second campaign and is currently on the council, former councilman Bob Gleason and retired Alameda deputy sheriff John Rock.
In the mayoral elections of November 2008, Oliver was again persuaded to run against the incumbent mayor in one of the ugliest election campaigns in Lathrop history – if not the ugliest, according to some concerned residents. In Sayles’ smear-tactic mail-in campaign, he characterized Oliver as a “Water Boy” for the city developers, along with other names. This all happened toward the last days of the campaign which left Oliver unable to answer some of the charges. During one of the council meetings after the election which was won by Sayles, Oliver placed next to his chair a pail marked “Water Boy” with a bottle of water next to it without making any comment.

Oliver served as Lathrop mayor at one time when he was appointed to fill the position left vacant when Darlene Hill resigned from her post in 1993.

When interviewed in 2006 when he announced his first retirement, Oliver said he has had “many exciting and worthwhile projects that I have studied and voted on” but three of them stood out.

One of them was Lathrop’s participation in the $126 million South San Joaquin Irrigation District’s surface water project which also involve the cities of Manteca, Escalon and Tracy.

“This is a valuable supplement to the water from city wells, reduces the amount of water pumped from these wells and returns a significant amount of water to the underlying aquifer,” said Oliver who called this project “the most important regional matter.”

Another project that stood out for him was the area’s most ambitious project, the 10-square-mile River Islands at Lathrop development. When the Stewart Tract area was annexed to the city to accommodate River Islands which was then called the Gold Rush City, LAFCo’s action made Lathrop the second-largest city in land area in San Joaquin County.

“I have worked on this from the days of Gold Rush City, through Califia, and now River Islands. This will be a very unique part of the city, with a wide mix of housing, commercial areas and parks,” Oliver said.