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Manteca’s municipal election is over, now for the $6M question
Jason Campbell

Despite what some political candidates – and even some letter-writers to this newspaper – will tell you, the 2020 Presidential election and all that comes with it is effectively over.

There are no more ballots to be cast. Virtually all of the ballots that have been cast have been counted, and by this time next month the Secretaries of State – or the equivalent position in each individual state – will have certified the results of those elections and those that came out ahead will ascend into the positions that they were elected to.

And that’s when the real work will actually begin.

While the circus of the Presidential race and what is supposed to be the peaceful transition of power will continue for weeks – potentially right up until the Jan. 20 swearing in of the next president – all of the other candidates will be quietly assuming their roles and getting to work on the things that they campaigned on.

The wheels of democracy will grind on.

But this is just the beginning for many of those that are assuming elected positions for the first time.

While people like Gary Singh will continue being advocates for the community and an example of what transparent leadership looks like, newcomers like Charlie Halford – a longtime community servant that’s as plugged in as anybody that has been elected to the council – will have to hit the ground running to be effective in their roles as legislators at the helm of a city that is facing real, honest problems.

To say that there has been tumult at Manteca City Hall since the 2018 midterm elections would be an understatement, and Singh and Halford will join the remainder of the council – Mayor Ben Cantu and Councilmen Jose Nuno and David Breitenbucher – in trying to right things as the city heads into an uncertain future.

The elephant in the corner of the room?

The COVID-19 pandemic and the financial Armageddon that is undoubtedly coming as a result of it.

While there are still ballots that have yet to be counted, it doesn’t look very promising for Measure Z – the one-cent sales tax increase that was put before voters that would have raised an additional $10 million annually for the city based on the tax revenue rate during the pandemic.

The political polarization is likely to blame for its failing, as is the fact that misinformation was plentiful and conspiracy theories abounded when it came to certain elected officials and their motivations for supporting it.

Although it’ll do no good now to clarify some of that misinformation, I still that it’s important for the truth to be known.

First, Measure Z was not an attempt by the city to raise money to pay for the “settlements” that most people believe are coming as a result of shakeups at city hall under the current administration.

That’s not how the process works.

While a settlement may in fact be reached by former employees that have filed a suit against the city, money from the general fund typically doesn’t go to cover those – those amounts are paid from a risk management authority that the city belongs to. Think of it as legal insurance – Manteca pays money along with other cities and agencies in the county so that in the event that a settlement is needed, the money is there to pay for it without depleting the very fund that pays for police officers, firefighters, and other essential city services.

For some reason people seem to believe that claims that are made in legal filings that are not adjudicated should be taken as gospel.

Again, that’s not how the process works.

As we are now seeing in federal and state courts across the country, anybody can file a lawsuit for any reason alleging just about anything That doesn’t mean that the claims have merit, or that they’ll result in the settlement that that aggrieved parties are seeking. That’s why there’s a court process – where evidence is presented and evaluated in a way that ensures a sense of fairness and truth.

Much the same way that people are innocent until proven guilty beyond the shadow of a reasonable doubt, claims made don’t instantly become truth just because you happen to like the person that is making them.

It’s a shame that some “journalists” haven’t learned that very basic lesson.

No, the mayor doesn’t have the ability to outright “fire” anybody on his own without the backing of the majority of the council, and even then, it’s only the city manager.

And based on the way that things shaped up during this election, I can’t help but think that the race for mayor in two years is going to be a crowded field that may include some of those that will take their seats after the election is certified next month.

That doesn’t bode well for what is actually needed at this point in time – which is a cohesive council that can come together to solve the issues that the city is undoubtedly going be facing when the COVID-19 bill comes due at the end of the fiscal year.

It may not seem like a big deal on the surface, but closing a $6 million shortfall – attributed entirely to a downturn in tax revenue from the pandemic – and depleting reserves by that amount of money without any guaranteed way to replace the money used is going to require a council that can work together making difficult decisions without any care or concern with how those decisions are going to play in the political realm.

If two or three members of the council have their aspirations set for the mayor’s seat in 2022, all of a sudden what is politically expedient becomes a priority and the “roll up your sleeves and get to work” approach goes out the window.

I hope that’s not the case.

Manteca missed a golden opportunity with Measure Z as the committee that was formed should have hired a professional political consultant to handle the rollout to quell any concerns that voters may have had.

The committee should have been more effective at squashing as misinformation that began to fly in the final days of balloting. Facebook postings and a few signs don’t win an election.

With all of that said, hopefully the council can work together to ensure the long-term economic viability of the growing community they represent.

It won’t be an easy task, but the residents deserve elected representation that puts the community’s interests first.

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.