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Will anything come of police contract delay?
Jason Campbell

A lot of things were said over multiple hours last week in front of the Lathrop City Council. 

Some of them were good things – like when Sheriff-elect Pat Withrow showed the elected officials before him just how much he cared about Lathrop and how much he didn’t want to see the long-standing contract between his agency and their city go away. 

Some of them weren’t so good – like when San Joaquin County Supervisor Tom Patti insulted the consultant hired by the City of Lathrop to conduct an in-depth analysis on the options that lay before them, only to claim he was trying to add “brevity” when the rooms started to turn on his comments. 

But in the spirit of transparency, there wasn’t very much left on the table at all after nearly five hours where supporters of the Sherriff’s Office made their case, and supporters of fiscal accountability made theirs. 

Now what?

The city opted to give Withrow, Patti and the rest of San Joaquin County one last chance to answer basic fiscal questions that they’ve been seeking for months – almost 18 of them to be exact – about why they’re paying so much more for officers under the current contract than what other agencies are willing to charge them for almost the exact same thing. 

And the difference is truly staggering. 

According to the numbers provided by the consultant, Municipal Resource Group, the city stands to save $25 million over the first 10 years of a new contract with the City of Tracy if San Joaquin County’s contract rates keep rising the way that they are. And, as City Manager Steve Salvatore pointed out, there’s no reason to believe that they won’t unless officers in that agency take either a pay cut or a pension cut. The numbers, he pointed out, just don’t add up any other way. 

With that in mind, I have to wonder why the council even bothered to give San Joaquin County another 30 days (more like 45 actually because of the way the meetings align) to answer the sort of basic questions that anybody contracting for services should be able to get answered with a phone call or an email. 

It’s almost as if the answer to those questions won’t be favorable to the pursuit of those trying to salvage the contract. 

It’s important to note here that while Withrow has been the most vocal proponent for saving Lathrop’s contract – save for Patti – he doesn’t actually take office until the beginning of next year. Given the history between current Sheriff Steve Moore and Withrow, I find it hard to believe that Moore would make it easy for the man who beat him in the last election to hold any power until it is given to him through a swearing-in ceremony.

However, he has done more for giving hope to residents that don’t want to see the Lathrop contract go away than his predecessor has, and even working outside of what will soon be his official capacity deserves commendation given the tumultuous back-and-forth between the county and the city over the last several months on this issue. 

So let us break a few things down:

uFor some reason Patti fiercely criticized the numbers presented by the consultant, but yet offered nothing to support his criticism or to calm the fears of the council who was just a signature away from ending a 29-year relationship with the county. If they were wrong, wouldn’t it be easy to prove that they were wrong? 

uMoore, who is still the Sheriff for the rest of 2018, was the one who negotiated and signed the contract with the City of Lathrop. Since he’s gone after his term expires it seems pointless to direct criticism his way, but if anybody should have been speaking for his agency it should have been him – not the man who will take over for him, or the man who is by all accounts his boss. I appreciate Patti’s “buck stops here” position a great deal, but he wasn’t serving in that role when the most recent contract was negotiated, leaving Moore and Moore alone to account for the “discrepancies” in the consultant’s numbers.

uVery little attention was paid to the sorts of services that the Sheriff’s Office provides that can’t easily be duplicated by an outside agency with no institutional knowledge. Residents who claim that they won’t want to see the officers they are familiar with have a valid point, especially since long-term issues like career criminals and gang members have been tracked by the same agency since Lathrop became a city. Surely there will be a learning curve with any new transition, but not enough discussion seemed to focus on this. While saving money – a lot of it – is important, I feel like a price needs to be put on those sorts of things as well and factored into the equation somehow. Don’t ask me how to do that – just seems like the right thing to do.

So where do we go from here?

While I seldom agree with his assessments on a personal level, Councilman Steve Dresser hit the nail right on the head when he voted against offering the 30-day extension, and took Patti to task over what he sees as a run-around without any clear answers. There wasn’t a whole lot of substance in the request – Patti showed up months ago and was asked for the same numbers that he was asked for last week – and I think that the people of Lathrop, regardless of which way they feel about this particular subject, should rest easy knowing that they have a councilman like Dresser who isn’t going to let the city be fleeced (any more). 

I happen to have a very cordial relationship with Lathrop Police Chief James Hood. Sergeant Matt Lindemann and Community Resource Officer Jefferson Dominguez have been nothing but pleasant to work with. And yes, I would be crushed to see men like that ushered out the door for an unknown. 

But as much this is about money, it also appears to be about principle.

Unless the powers that be in that beautiful Downtown Stockton building can come up with a reasonable explanation as to why Lathrop has been paying so much more, I don’t think that there’s much of a choice for the Lathrop City Council to make here at all. 

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.