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Mayors tenure nears end
Weatherford stepping down after 18 years on council
Mayor Willie Weatherford waves to an acquaintance while in downtown Manteca. - photo by HIME ROMERO


• WHAT: Roast of Manteca Mayor Willie Weatherford retiring from 18 years of elected office with all proceeds going to furnish the new VFW post home

• WHEN: Thursday, Oct. 23, social hour at 6 p.m., dinner at 7 p.m.

• WHERE: Manteca Senior Center, 295 Cherry Lane

• COST: $25

• FOR TICKETS: Call Roz Leon at 239.1572

Government doesn’t — and shouldn’t — have all the answers.

It is a philosophy that has driven Willie Weatherford through life whether it was as a poor kid living in a tent in Lodi during the grip of the Great Depression, 29 years in law enforcement including serving as Manteca’s police chief, more than two years as Galt’s city manager, and 18 years as an elected  Manteca city official.

“People sometimes expect too much of government,” the mayor said, noting often the community banning together can do things more effectively, efficiently and less expensive.

The 72-year-old Weatherford is winding down his public service career. When December dawns, the Galt native will end a 12-year stint as mayor. He is Manteca’s longest serving mayor eclipsing friend Jack Snyder by two years. A roast in his honor is being conducted Oct. 23 at the Manteca Senior Center.

Weatherford said he was inspired to run for the council in 1996 by watching firsthand the uncivilized behavior and political drama that marred council meetings for years.

It was so acrimonious at one point when the council was still meeting on Monday nights that Weatherford said people would actually go back and forth between live cable coverage of council meetings and Monday Night Football even when the San Francisco 49ers were playing.

“You never knew what was going to happen,” the mayor said. “Council members were accusing each other of wrongdoing, threatening each other, pointing fingers and investigating each other.”

At one point the council spent $20,000 to hire special counsel to investigate two council members for allegedly divulging information with others from closed sessions.

“It was $20,000 the city definitely did not have at the time,” Weatherford recalled.

And he watched all of it with a front row seat as police chief often sitting through council meetings that went on for six hours.

Because of how little got down when there was strife at council meetings, Weatherford’s advice for the next mayor is “to remember (the council meeting) is a business meeting to conduct the city’s business.”

To that extent he said council members and the mayor should ask questions of staff and research agenda items before they come to a meeting.

Weatherford said citizens need to keep Manteca’s overall wealth in perspective in terms of what the city can and cannot do.

“Manteca is still primarily a bedroom community although we have made great strides in recent years to get retail and other jobs,” Weatherford said. “We’re not a Lafayette where homes start at $1 million and increase in value every year.”

In wealthy communities like Lafayette property tax receipts are hefty enough that there is more than adequate funding for municipal services.

Weatherford’s father was in the military during the Great Depression. His wages as a soldier weren’t enough to support his family forcing his mother to make do for a period of time housing her family in a tent as part of temporary shanty housing dubbed Hooversvilles by critics of Herbet Hoover who was the president when the Great Depression hit.

“Growing up in that situation you learn to read people,” Weatherford said. “You also understand that nobody owes you anything.”

Self-reliance was drummed into him by the actions of family members including his grandfather who was part native Indian meaning he could have applied for government assistance.

“He refused to take it,” Weatherford said. “You want to know why? Because he said he was an American.”

“(Today) we rely too heavily on government for everything,”

Weatherford’s lifelong passion for playing baseball started at Galt High where he was an all-leaguer playing outfield and pitching for the Galt Warriors. That led him to playing Legion baseball for the Karl Ross Post in Stockton where a coach helped him land his first fall-time job as an 18-year-old at the Richmond-Case Cannery in Stockton.

He started the day he showed up for the interview immediately handling swing shift duties.

“I was making $3.25 an hour when my friends were making $1 an hour,” Weatherford recalled.

After serving in the Air Force, Weatherford started working as a police officer in Manteca in 1966. Back then there were 12,000 residents — 60,000 less than today — and the only traffic signal had just been installed at Yosemite Avenue and Main Street.

His monthly salary was $447. The only way he could make ends meet with $410 he got from the GI Bill to attend college while working.

“We kept busy back then,” Weatherford said. “There were six bars in a two block area in downtown.”

His career included working in Galt as police chief and then as city manager.

In Galt, he was on the founding board of the Boys & Girls Club just as he was in Manteca.