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Board refuses to pull plug on Lathrop police service contract
Lathrop Police

The San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office will remain the agency responsible for providing police protection to the nearly 30,000 residents of Lathrop.

For now, anyway.

On Tuesday, the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to reject a proposal by San Joaquin County Sheriff Pat Withrow that would have terminated the contract between the county and the City of Lathrop after 180 days – which could have left the city without police protection for up to five months while the city works to start up its own police department.

The rebuke from the supervisors centered on the fact that they didn’t want to create a situation where Lathrop was unprotected. And since a contract is already in place and no formal transition agreement between the sheriff’s office and Lathrop is in place, leaving things as they are seemed like the logical step to take.

Supervisor Robert Rickman – the former Tracy mayor who now represents the portion of the South County that includes River Islands – said that wasn’t in favor of the proposal without having something else in place to ensure that the residents of his district aren’t left to fend for themselves.

“Before we cancel a contract of this magnitude involving policing services for an entire city, we should have a transition agreement in place,” Rickman said. “I want to make sure that the citizens of Lathrop have the level of safety they have come to expect, and a transition agreement achieves that.”

Board Chairman Tom Patti, who represents the portion of Lathrop north of the San Joaquin River, opened the discussion by calling Mayor Sonny Dhaliwal up to the dais and informing him that he would be advocating for a 30-day “cooling off period” while discussions are undertaken to advance what is in the best interest for Lathrop’s residents.

Patti also said that he was advocating for the disagreement between Lathrop and the county over the overhead costs outlined in the contract to be fast-tracked towards mediation – noting that he understood that the city was simply waiting for the matter to be resolved and ruled on before paying the disputed amount.

Over the course of 28 months, that total has grown to be more than $1.5 million.

“We are not in any way, shape, or form saying that Lathrop is unwilling or unable to pay,” Patti said. “It’s just a matter of working it out.”

It was that financial dispute – the withholding of which by Lathrop accounts for approximately 5 percent of the total monthly bill they send the county – that caught the attention of Supervisor Chuck Winn who said that he thought that Withrow was taking two separate issues and combining them together in his proposal to terminate the contract.

The fiscal matter, Winn said, will be resolved through the appropriate channels, and with a contract already in place through the period that Lathrop says that it needs to stand up its own police force he said he couldn’t see himself voting to change that.

“I feel like we’re making this more complicated than it is,” Winn said. “Keeping things the way they are now will not only help the sheriff’s office, but more importantly provide the necessary protection for the residents of Lathrop.

“I don’t see these two (the financial dispute and the request for termination) as connected – I see them as separate issues.”

And Winn wasn’t the only one that saw the matter that way.

For Supervisor Kathy Miller, there was a “concerted effort” to link them – potentially to the detriment of the residents of Lathrop.

“What that says to the citizens of Lathrop is that in 180 days you may well be without police protection if your city manager can’t negotiate another term,” Miller said. “When they dial 911, they expect to get a healthy response.

“They expect all of us electeds to work these things out so that happens.”

Lathrop City Attorney Salvador Navarrete said that in withholding the funds every month over the contested charges – which loosely amounts to about $30,000 every month out of a $500,000 bill – the city was simply following the language outlined in the contract. There was no specific mechanism for reimbursement, he said, if the city were simply to keep paying under objection, so the decision was made to put the money into an account every month until the matter could be settled.

The Board of Supervisors will now meet in closed session to discuss their approach towards mediation and whether to designate County Counsel J. Mark Myles to act on the board’s behalf in negotiating with Navarrete and the agreed-upon mediator in the case.

If that happens – and if Navarrete is granted the same powers by the Lathrop City Council – the settlement agreement can be reached without having to send the matter back to the respective bodies for approval.

The motion to dismiss Withrow’s proposal was made by Rickman and seconded by Winn, and when asked by Patti if his motion was to simply continue the matter until later – as was suggested by Supervisor Miguel Villapudua – or reject it outright, Rickman said that his motion was to deny the termination request.

Rickman is a Sergeant with the California Highway Patrol, and Winn is a retired CHP Commander that ran the agency’s Modesto office until his retirement in 2005.

In his comments to the board on the matter, Withrow said prior to the vote that if nothing else his proposal got the Lathrop City Council and the City Manager in the room with the Board of Supervisors and allowed for a healthy dialogue to take place and steps be made to clear the fiscal logjam that has created ongoing issues between the two entities.

“It’s good that we’re all in the same room,” Withrow said. “I don’t think that I’ve seen that since I’ve been sheriff.”

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.