Georgiana Reichelt has been called a lot of things over the years.
But the one thing her distractors rarely — if ever — have called her is right.
There was agreement among a few at the last Manteca Unified School District board meeting that Reichelt had “nailed” the district a few years back when it came to the slight-of-hand maneuvers used to justify using Mello-Roos taxes collected within the Weston Ranch community to build the three-story district office complex.
Reichelt in recent years has stepped back from her role as the quintessential community activist. Reichelt takes her role as a citizen seriously. She was a familiar speaker at Manteca Unified, Manteca City Council, Lathrop City Council, San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors meetings as well as a fairly frequent voice at other public forums that ran the gamut from the South San Joaquin Irrigation District to the Lathrop Manteca Fire District.
The Mello Roos maneuver was devised by a long departed district business manager who somehow managed to “discover” a loophole in the community facilities district law that no other government agency in the entire state could find. He’s long gone as is the rest of the top administrative team that bought into his “creative” use of Mello Roos taxes. In fairness to the current Manteca Unified administration, none of them played a role in the decisions leading up to the financing of the district office building.
While Reichelt was arguably the only voice at the time speaking out against what is now being slammed as abuse of Mello Roos taxing authority, there were other times she was joined in lashing out at financial shenanigans.
One such high profile incident was the assertion by former Superintendent John Reickewald and then business manager Michael Dodge more than 16 years ago that spending $1 million or so of tax dollars on wireless towers would pay for itself by district residents paying for Internet service.
It was a ludicrous argument as Reichewald proclaimed he could do what Verizon couldn’t at the time do — justify investing in wireless Internet technology in the Manteca area.
As it turned out the district’s business model ran afoul with Federal Communication Commission regulations as they tried pricing their Internet service at below cost and therefore participating in predatory pricing. Making matters worse Verizon within a year had better and more cost efficient technology allowing it to enter the Manteca market with wireless service. At its peak the Manteca Unified Internet service had less than four dozen paying customers.
What made it worse was an open admission by some of the players that they had duped the board into supporting what at the time was an ungodly expenditure to put the initial district wireless Internet backbone structure in place.
They argued it was necessary in the belief the board at the time wouldn’t have supported it.
It is such fast and loose play by key bureaucrats and politicians that is helping fuel the discord that rocketed Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump onto the national stage.
At the end of the day for Reichelt it has been about doing the right thing and not adhering lockstep to some party line.
Granted, “the right thing” from her perspective may not have always matched the general will and desire of the community. And you could make the case from time-to-time that her interpretation of law or situations were miles off base.
But as Manteca City Attorney John Brinton once observed it is always wise to listen carefully to points Reichelt makes because sometimes she is onto something that no one else either considered or sees.
Reichelt is the Babe Ruth of Manteca’s long tradition of community activists. She made a record number of appearances at the plate (podium, if you will). She also parked more balls than anyone else through such wins as her successfully getting the state Supreme Court to force the city back in 1990 to require an environment impact report on what was ultimately built out as the Chadwick Estates neighborhood in northwest Manteca. And just like Babe Ruth she led Manteca activists in strikeouts. That is a badge of honor given you can’t reach for homeruns if you have fear of striking out.
Reichelt played a role in steering Manteca down the path to get where it is at today. It’s safe to say she doesn’t embrace all of the results and perhaps not even a majority of them. At the same time she had some severe overreaches including one where a court ruled she couldn’t speak out again on the River Islands at Lathrop project until such time that the last home is built.
That, however, is not the point. Reichelt as a government watchdog has at times prevented those in power from taking certain actions in the belief that the ends justify the means. Given her sensibilities she probably isn’t crowing about being right about her solo stand against spending Mello Roos taxes from Weston Ranch on the district office complex because ultimately she’d say the taxpayers lost.
In a nutshell Reichelt stands for the working stiff or little guy who dutifully pay their taxes and have a blind faith the system will work as they have little time to make sure is does between raising families and struggling to stay afloat. It’s a thankless calling that can make you the least popular person in the community.
Her legacy though puts her among those who strive to keep government on the straight and narrow.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 209.249.3519.