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An agenda change BC: (Before Cantu)
Dennis Wyatt

Manteca’s graveyard of political history involves periods that would make President Trump seem like the proverbial snowflake.

The granddaddy of them all was the no-holes barred bruising take-no-prisoners recall of 1983 that saw then Mayor Trena Kelley and council members Rick Wentworth and Bobby Davis recalled over the firing of popular Police Chief Leonard Taylor. It may indeed have been justified — Taylor’s firing — but hindsight is always 20-20.

The ill will and infighting from the recall poisoned Manteca for years and didn’t really dissipate until 1998.

Then there was the mid-1980s where it took the council — as bizarre as it may sound — some times more than an hour just to approve the minutes of previous council meetings.

Next came the Big League Dreams smack down.

Then Mayor Carlon Perry seeking to derail the BLD project that he sincerely believed was a bad deal for Manteca’s taxpayers and was what he termed “corporate welfare”, moved citizens’ comments from the end of the meeting to the beginning. There were also no time limits enforced.

This allowed strident BLD opponents to hammer the council every meeting about the sports complex proposal that was originally proposed for Woodward Park even when it wasn’t on the agenda. Rarely did a council meeting end before 11 p.m. Meetings running past midnight were common with one going to 2 a.m. and another lasting until 3:15 a.m. 

Needless to say not much productive happened after 11 p.m. The level of civility was in the basement.

It got so bad at one point that then Councilwoman Denise Giordano filed a police complaint when BLD principal Rick Odekirk, while making a strident remark about how he would not back down, “aggressively” pointed his finger at her. The district attorney ultimately decided there was no threat per se and no charges were filed.

The damage, however, was done.

Manteca’s Council meetings had the feel of three-ring circuses. Businesses bringing jobs to the South County avoided Manteca like the plague as the level of animosity at the council level became an albatross around the city’s neck. The sideshow events — including hiring outside counsel to investigate fellow council members and having a blue ribbon panel on the golf course that’s biggest finding was the men’s bathroom being untidy — pulled staff’s attention from other civic duties.

A low point was reached when then Police Chief Willie Weatherford relayed how his department was having a tough time filling officer vacancies. One candidate from Southern California who had been offered a job turned it down after his grandmother who lived in Modesto warned him Manteca was a rather unstable city based on the lack of decorum at the council level that severely crippled employee morale.

When Weatherford became mayor, he flipped citizens’ comments to the end of the meeting and limited them to two minutes. That started the council back on the road to more civilized behavior.

When Steve DeBrum became mayor, citizens’ comments limited to two minutes went back to the front of the agenda.

Since 2010 only two City Council meetings have gone past 11 p.m.

Now that you have the background, here is this month’s candidate for curious timing. The current city council — in what was their last scheduled meeting — unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance that is designed to prevent meetings from dragging on. The policy — if it is adopted on Dec. 18 on a second reading by the new council — will not allow the council to tackle any new item after 10 p.m. unless four fifths of the council agrees to do so.

The council could move items around and even opt to start meetings earlier than 7 p.m. such as at 6 p.m.

The proposed ordinance makes a lot of sense as it assures more of a business like and civil approach to issues by avoiding dragging the meeting on and on.

As Councilman Gary Singh noted at Tuesday’s council meeting, productivity starts to diminish as meetings drag on.

There is also the issue that three of the new council members still work and are not retired or semi-retired. They have to get up and go to work the next day.

Now for the timing issue: It seems more than a bit of a coincidence that the move to codify the length of how late council meetings go essentially has come up in what is basically the City Council equivalent of a lame duck session between the election and the swearing in of newly elected officials.

If Ben Cantu coming in as mayor triggered the move is open to debate.

That said Cantu is no Carlon Perry and Carlon Perry is no Cantu.

Cantu just like DeBrum, Weatherford, Bill Perry, Carlon Perry, Jack Snyder, Frank Warren and Trena Kelley, the directly elected mayors before him, has his own style.

Cantu has said after he gets settled in he’d like to look at how the agendas are put together which is one of his few prerogatives as mayor. Of course, how the meeting is run sets the tone for a lot of things whether it is how the public’s business is conducted or the image the City of Manteca portrays.

There is no percentage in creating chaos to reach a goal. 

That doesn’t mean Cantu won’t want to walk a different path.

As it stands now, the meeting ordinance has at least two votes for a second reading — that of Singh and Councilwoman Debby Moorhead.

The question is whether it has the support of Cantu as well as incoming council members David Breitenbucher and Jose Nuno.