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Petition fails to derail Lathrop mayors DC trip
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LATHROP – A petition signed by at least 60 residents did not change the Lathrop City Council’s decision Tuesday night to send Mayor Kristy Sayles and interim City Manager Cary Keaten to the One Voice lobbying trip to Washington, D.C., in April.

Neither did Vice Mayor Martha Salcedo change her firm opposition to that move for the same reasons she gave when the council originally voted on it on March 3 and she cast the lone dissenting vote. She “could not bring herself” to approve using taxpayers’ money for this trip when they have just raised the residents’ water and sewer rates which will double in three years, she said.

“I still stand by that,” she said of her decision, but quickly added, “I’m not saying this is wrong” to send city delegates to D.C.

The estimated cost for sending three people to the trip is approximately $10,000 to $20,000. But with just two going this year, and with half the mayor’s expenses being covered by the San Joaquin Council of Governments, the actual cost will be lower. SJCOG, which is spearheading these annual lobbying trips to the nation’s capital, is paying for half of the mayor’s travel expenses (the money will be reimbursed to the city) because she is a member of the board.

At least one resident spoke in support of the council’s majority decision.

“I know money is tight for all of us (but) if you don’t go, then you don’t know if you missed out on something. If you try and fail, at least you tried. I say, Godspeed and bring back some money,” said resident Arnita Montiel who was one of the dozens of Lathrop citizens who registered their strong opposition to the increase in their monthly water and sewer bills.

Andrew Chesney, executive director of SJCOG, was also at the meeting to explain why it’s necessary to have city representation at the trip to D.C. When money is tight as it is right now, “that’s when you need to work the hardest,” he said, adding, “this is the time to go to D.C.” to meet the important members of the administration.

“Washington, D.C., is a community where decisions are made,” he said, further emphasizing the importance of sending delegates from the city to meet with elected representatives at the nation’s capital.

But residents J. “Chaka” Santos, Dan Mac Neilage and Rosalinda Valencia were just as firm as the vice mayor in their belief that now is not the proper time to be spending taxpayers’ money.

 “You just raised the water rates, now you want to go to Washington, D.C. You don’t need to go at this time, not this time,” Santos insisted.

He suggested that as an alternative to spending money for this trip, city officials can contact their representatives via e-mail or even by inviting them as officials elected by the people to come to Lathrop.

“That’s a better scenario,” he said.

“This is about the bottom line, and right now, we’re in deep recession,” he said.

 Valencia said she collected 60 signatures from Lathrop residents who are opposed to sending the mayor and interim city mayor to the One Voice trip using taxpayers’ money. She could have collected more signatures but didn’t have enough time to do it, Valencia said.

Mac Neilage said the vice mayor “expressed my feelings two weeks ago” about the issue.

But in an e-mail version of the petition addressed to “Dear Lathrop Neighbor” that he helped circulate, he asked, “Is now the time to send people to D.C. to hobnob with elected officials that have offices right up the road in Sacramento? In my home, we have been forced to tighten our financial belts and conserve resources. This trip does not sound very smart to me when rates, gas and groceries are being raised, lay-offs, cutbacks, larger classrooms, less teachers and the like. Where does it end? Haven’t they heard that we are in a recession?”

The e-mail petition then encouraged those who agreed to forward these concerns to each of the council members, then invited them to attend the council meeting to ask for an explanation.

“I believe that our elected officials should lead by example. Flying to Washington, D.C., and staying in a $300 a night room plus meals and expenses for a week to talk to 2 people that have offices right up the road is not being responsible!” Mac Neilage stated in the e-mail.

But the numbers helped retain the convictions of Council members Sonny Dhaliwal, Christopher Mateo and Robert Oliver to stick by their original vote to send the city’s two One Voice delegates.

While earlier staff reports indicated that the city has received about $900,000 in federal funds in the past eight years as a result of these lobbying trips, the interim city manager said the actual number is $1.6 million. In contrast, the city spent a total of $45,606 since the One Voice inception in 2001 to send delegates to D.C.

“We can’t run the risk of isolation” by not sending any representatives from Lathrop to this trip, Dhaliwal said citing one of the reasons why he voted in favor of this city expense.

The mayor said she has always filed a report of the daily agendas during the One Voice trips she has taken in the past, and that she will be “happy to continue doing that.”