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Ex-fire chief now oversees sales tax funding source for LM fire district

Gene Neely was at the helm of the Lathrop Manteca Fire District for more than a decade.

And now he’s on the committee that oversees how the money generated from a sales tax increase – 40 percent of which goes the Lathrop Manteca Fire District – is spent.

Last week the Lathrop City Council voted 4-1 to appoint Neely – a decades-long employee of the Lathrop Manteca Fire District and the former fire chief – to the board that provides oversight to the Lathrop City Council about how the money generated from Measure C should be spent.

Lathrop voters overwhelmingly approved Measure C in 2012 to help support the financial position of both the City of Lathrop and the Lathrop Manteca Fire District – both of which were hammered by the collapse of the housing market and the falling value of homes in the South County.

While there is no verbiage in the actual wording of the measure that dedicates a portion of the funding to the fire district, an agreement was made before the measure went to the polls that the fire district would work to help get the measure passed in exchange for financial support.

The fire district had previously tried unsuccessfully to get a new parcel tax increase approved, and the failure of that measure led to a number of firefighters being laid off and the district being forced to “brown out” stations – take them out of service temporarily in order to preserve manpower at more critical locations.

Since Measure C was passed by voters it has been used to purchase a used fire truck with an aerial ladder to replace a similar piece of apparatus that had its ladder decertified, and has been used to pay for firefighters as well as battalion chiefs – supplementing the district’s existing staffing to ensure that response times stay within acceptable ranges.

Neely, who formally retired earlier this year after being placed on paid administrative leave, is currently drawing a monthly check from the district for more than $14,000 and will continue to do so through June of next year thanks to a separation agreement between himself and the district’s board.

That amount is in addition to his retirement through San Joaquin County’s retirement system – which could exceed $13,000-a-month for the rest of life based on his age, length of service, and salary at the time of his retirement.

An exchange between Neely and his wife Rozelle and Diallo after the meeting concluded last week resulted in a currently ongoing investigation by the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office after reports were made that it was “contentious.”

Reached for comment on Thursday, San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Jenn Cline said that there is an open investigation into the matter but declined to provide any additional information.

Diallo has been outspoken about her ongoing support for Lathrop Police Services – staffed by the sheriff’s office on a contract basis – and has expressed skepticism about the city being able to get all of the pieces in place to transfer power from the sheriff’s office to the city’s new standalone police department by next year. In comments made during the meeting Diallo said that she would be voting no on Neely’s appointment based not on his previous employment with the district, but on a video that was shared in a local Facebook Neighborhood Watch Group – the reported focus of the “contentious” conversation that occurred after the meeting.

It was a picture Neely’s wife posted on social media of a structure with comments questioning the response time of the Lathrop Manteca Fire District who husband once oversaw.

Despite the fact that the city has requested police presence at council meetings, no representatives from the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office were present last week for the meeting or what may have transpired after the fact.

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.


LM dire district