LATHROP – Unit cohesion is something that has come easily for Omar Khweiss.
While serving in the United States Marine Corps he was always assigned the motley crews in an attempt to square them away. He focuses on unity when he serves on boards and places a heavy emphasis on interpersonal respect and mutual understanding.
So when he saw the cracks starting to form in the relationships between the five members of the Lathrop City Council – each of whom he has individual relationships with – he realized that something needed to be done.
“I feel that there’s a lot of potential on the dais, but there’s so much conflict – a level of professionalism is lacking,” Khweiss said. “I think that they have respect for one another as council members, but not as people. And as long as things stay like that I don’t see there being any long-term results.
“I think that I have the ability to work well with the others on the council and bring that unity that is so lacking right now – returning that level of dignity that is so badly needed.”
A native New Yorker, Khweiss ended up stationed at the Marine Corps post at Sharpe Army Depot and fell in love with the quaint community when he had finished his military commitment.
Getting the chance to slow down and appreciate life, he said, was a foreign concept to him while growing up and he took to the relaxed pace and the friendly demeanor of the residents in his new home.
But he also felt the need to get involved.
Through work with local non-profits he began to get plugged into the community, and that eventually led him to the chambers of the Lathrop City Council. It was the beginning of his local political education and the first step towards making a play for one of the two vacant seats up for grabs in November.
And he definitely has a platform on which he hopes the public can relate.
With other South County communities experiencing a rise of crime, Khweiss said that he’s most dedicated towards ensuring that public safety staffing levels remain adequate to stave off any potential future problems that could arise.
“We’re surrounded by all of these communities that have an upswing in crime and if we don’t get in front of it we’ll end up inheriting a lot of those problems and issues,” he said. “I think that it’s important to have peace of mind and a sense of being able to feel safe in your own community – having those big city problems is something that we should work on avoiding at all costs.
“I don’t think that it’s an immediate threat, but the potential for a major issue could occur if we don’t address it.”
Bridging gaps is also something he wants to bring to the table not only in theory, but also in action.
This week Khweiss is organizing a charity basketball game that will pit the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District and Lathrop Police Services against the Manteca Fire and Police Departments – honoring those that lay their lives on the line every day by holding it on Tuesday, Sept. 11.
Giving adequate recognition to emergency service workers has been his top priority, but the rocky history between Lathrop and Manteca – pitted with lawsuits, broken agreements and generally standoffish behavior – is something that he wants to show can be put aside for the sake of charity.
“It’s definitely to honor our firefighters and police officers, but it’s also kind of an audition for Lathrop – a chance to show that that unit cohesion that is so badly needed right now.”
To date Khweiss has served as the chairperson for Lathrop’s Memorial and Veterans Day celebrations, represented the city on the San Joaquin Mosquito and Vector Control District and taken a proactive role in other community assignments.
The more he learns about Lathrop, Khweiss says, the more he’s driven to do.
“I’ve received a lot out of this community, and the more that I receive the more that I want to give back,” he said. “I’m fortunate to have relationships with each of the people on the dais, but I get the sense that relationships with each of them individually is stronger than the relationship between them as a council, and that isn’t good for the community.”