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Look beyond Cantu being Cantu & see what his long-term impact on Manteca will be
Ben Cantu is shown in an interview during his unsuccessful 2014 campaign for mayor when he noted, “I was in the library the other day and it literally stunk. It was designed for a city half of Manteca’s size. It has a feel of a second-hand store.”

Stoning Ben Cantu with cutting words on social media has become an obsession for some.

It’s an inescapable fact for any elected official that heads up any level of government that they are going to become the proverbial punching bag for frustrated and/or irked citizens.

Even if they aren’t much more than a figurehead in a general law city like Manteca.

The mayor, however, often doesn’t help his own cause.

He can’t resist the urge to lecture.

His tendency to seemingly think out loud has some thinking he’ll vote a certain way. Then when he doesn’t they think he is flip flopping or lacks a rudder.

If you think Cantu is the proverbial devil then give him his due.

There is nothing Machiavellian about the man.

You might not share his vision for Manteca but it comes from his heart.

And it is clearly shaped — given he has repeatedly told us so — by observing 40 plus years of what he perceives as severe misfires compounded by his belief Manteca at times was done long term damage by spinless leadership.

If you are not a big fan of Cantu as mayor, hold the slice and dice impulses for a second.

Cantu has been clear about one thing since he was sworn in back in December of 2018.

 As much as he wants a second term, he can accept not getting re-elected as long as he does right by Manteca.

You may not see if that way, but he’s been consistent on that point even if you disagree with his  vision and how to get there.

That said, there is one thing he deserves credit for.

And it’s not high profile projects like his predecessors in the mayor’s seat.

It’s not making sure Spreckels Park raised from the ruins of a shuttered sugar beet factory as the late Bill Perry did.

It’s not landing Bass Pro Shops or Costco as Willie Weatherford did on his watch.
And it’s not leading the charge to secure Great Wolf as Steve DeBrum did.

Cantu has lauded those accomplishments pf previous councils but aptly calls them “once-on-a-decade” endeavors.

He has repeatedly said Manteca needs such significant endeavors on a yearly basis and not every 10 years.

What Cantu has set in motion is the ability for Manteca to pull off “big things” going forward on an annual basis.

Cantu turned over the rock that brought  a lot of chaos to light in terms of the train wreck known as Manteca’s municipal  finances.

Yes, Cantu was part of the folks that installed a revolving door on the city manager’s office.
And yes — depending upon your perspective — he had a role in cleaning house in the ranks of senior management or taking a chain saw to the situation when careful pruning was needed.

It can be argued that what he did — and could only do with a majority council vote — by putting a city manager in charge with marching orders to change the culture at city hall cost a lot of money.

Settlements and exit packages from the senior management team weren’t cheap.

And while putting city hall management on a different path even if it is merely switching off the automatic pilot can be considered by many a major accomplishment, that is not what is shaping up to be Cantu’s legacy achievement.

It was shining light on  Manteca’s municipal finances — and how the money was spent or wasn’t spent.

In a way, it would have been easier to grasp and resolve if the mess was attributed to embezzlement and similar malfeasances.

Instead, it was sloppy bookkeeping.

Failing to keep track of — and paying back — interfund loans.

Double entering project costs in budgets.

Dividing set aside dollars between 100 things instead of 10 that could actually be tackled over multiple years.

Avoiding water and sewer rate increases for 13 years.

Failure to add automatic inflation adjustments to growth fees.

Squirreling away restricted money for specific purposes without executing or even establishing a well thought out plan to allow projects to proceed.

Getting municipal finances in order is key to a better future for Manteca.

It also is essential for the wise expenditure of tax dollars and fees.

No one is saying the Cantu Era — which includes the majority of the council that set things in motion — didn’t add to the financial dysfunction.

But Cantu had a gut feeling that something wasn’t right.

Manteca was a city that didn’t even stop growing during the Great Recession when every other California city was paralyzed.

Yet Manteca never seemed to have adequate funding to pump up service levels and tackle wanted and needed amenities.

Cantu kept pushing for an outside review of the city’s finances that went beyond the annual audit that simply makes sure all dollars were accounted for.

And once he succeeded and a new “set of eyes” were brought in, the mess was uncovered.

Keep in mind much of the day-to-day accounting issues happened in a relatively short period of time after former Finance Director Susan Mallory stepped down.

It was the result of councils — in concert with city managers — nixing requested finance department positions, whacking away at continuing education expenditures for employees, and basically understaffing the finance department as they did every other department.

The appearance of lean and mean as determined by how tight one held on to dollars and not how effectively they were maximized came back to bite the city big time.

Various examples predate that time period.

They run the gamut from not having the courage to raise rates when justified, failing to keep growth fees at maximum levels allowed by law, and assuming it was wise to save up 100 percent for projects instead of borrowing with growth fees paying off loans when construction costs were increasing at rates higher than money sitting around was earning.

Manteca is now clearly headed in the right direction.

There are still adjustments being made internally.

The biggest — and most painful for the public — still have to be made.

Those are increases to the water and sewer fees and likely solid waste rates as well.

And in all honesty it also includes some type of tax increase if the city wants to do more than just maintain service levels that most — even those that don’t want to pay for them – seem to believe aren’t high enough for what the community needs.

The real accomplishment Cantu can hang his hat on in his bid for a second term on Nov. 8 is putting in motion moves that are designed to shore up Manteca’s long-term foundation to thrive as a city.

 When it is completely in place it will represent a tectonic shift for Manteca.

But given it isn’t something that people can see or appreciate when they drive on streets that are cracking up and services don’t live up to their expectations, Cantu may have a hard time translating his efforts into votes on Nov. 8.


This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at