There were five adults on the dais in the Manteca council chambers Tuesday morning.
Well, actually there were only four physically present given Jose Nuño phoned in after an attempt to unmute a Zoom call where the bad camera angle made it appear the councilman was bobbing around as if he were channeling Kenny on the South Park animation series.
Anyone who is a student of modern-day, post 1980 recall city politics knew the moment was ripe for a three-ring circus that had the potential to deteriorate into a verbal slugfest with “gotcha” players on one side and thundering self-righteous indignation on the other.
And perhaps it was the 10 a.m. start time, but the room – physical and virtual – was clear of frustrated citizens eager to put their two cents in about the “Miranda Lutzow Era” at city hall.
Even though Mayor Ben Cantu made it clear he had to swallow a bitter pill to set aside some issues he had with it, the council meeting was done in 17 minutes once Nuno’s technical difficulties were resolved.
Given it was the official council response to the San Joaquin County Grand Jury handing down its verdict in the form of stinging observations complete with recommendations it viewed as wise for Manteca to pursue in regards to the most contentious period at city hall since the 1990s, it came across as a genuine mea culpa moment.
The carefully crafted 10-page response by City Attorney Dave Nefouse after Interim City Manager Mike Harden oversaw a citywide collection of thoughts struck the right balance between being specific yet vague. It has a hat-in-hand read to it and left the clear impression the city was dealing with its faults real and perceived.
The Grand Jury made 30 plus points. The majority of the responses fell into the categories of the city agreeing with the Grand Jury, indicating they have already implemented some recommendations, agreeing with recommendations yet to be implemented, and partially agreeing with criticisms of the citizens’ panel that serves as a government watchdog.
In three instances the responses indicate the city disagrees with points the Grand Jury made, indicated three conclusions from observations were not warranted, and clearly states another three recommendations won’t be implemented.
And on the most tempting “bait” for council members of opposing thoughts to snap at — the statement the council failed to essentially follow prudent practices in recruiting a city manager that the Grand Jury concluded “caused community-wide turmoil while they struggled to learn the job” — no one bit.
Ok, so the mayor did confess he was thinking about taking a nibble.
Cantu alluded to how he wanted to respond after he saw it and how his 92-year-old grandmother reacted after reading newspaper headlines after the Grand Jury report was made public and.
He clearly took exception to the word “turmoil” being used by the Grand Jury.
From Cantu’s perspective — as he made clear with one of his shortest council meeting soliloquies on record — it wasn’t turmoil that happened per se but the reaction to change at top levels of city management that he firmly believes was long overdue. Those are changes he has been adamant for years were needed in order to move Manteca forward to provide services and amenities worthy of a city of 89,000 that is on pace to surpass 110,000 residents by the end of the decade.
Councilman Dave Breitenbucher could easily have held up the original report and the city’s response to proclaim to the world he was “right” by being the lone voice of opposition for nearly two years. But he wisely refrained from using the dais as a stop on a personal redemption tour as others past and present have been known to do.
Gary Singh and Nuño took the pragmatic path a tad farther than Breitenbucher by adding this was an opportunity for the council and city to learn from its mistakes and move on. They, unlike Cantu, refrained from adding an “asterisk” to their votes on embracing what are now the city’s official responses.
Charlie Halford who got a seat at the table by campaigning heavily on the points the Grand Jury made almost a year before the citizens panel came to the same conclusions, had virtually no role in what unfolded. To his credit he opted not to ride the raging stallion called Self Righteousness.
How things went down Tuesday morning was just what Manteca needed. Whether it will last is an open question but every one of the five council members clearly put the welfare and future of the city above their own egos.
It means Toby Wells can start the task of managing the city on Thursday without his five bosses that can only legally act as one engaged in scorched earth politics.
It also provides a matrix offered by an outside group — the Grand Jury, that isn’t a paid consultant making sure they don’t lose their seat on the Manteca gravy train — to measure the city’s success at addressing internal procedures. They represent boundaries and legal considerations that are critical in allowing 400 plus workers on the municipal payroll conduct the public’s business in the most productive and efficient manner possible.
The only thing missing from the motion on Tuesday was a council request for a monthly status report on how the items are being resolved or implemented that were noted in the Grand Jury response as works in progress.
Perhaps there might be council consensus at the next meeting to do just that to prove the mea culpa was authentic and that they want to provide the public with complete transparency and accountability.
As hard as it may have been for them to check their egos at the door Tuesday morning, the real work is just starting.
Regardless of how each one perceived the last three years as being one where things were coming off track, finally getting on track, or somewhere in between, they now have to make their case to the jury that really counts — Manteca voters.
This will require staff — based on clear cut directions the council provides on policy level matters and the ranking of goals— being able to deliver visible signs of “little things” being addressed such as illegal truck parking to “big ticket” items getting underway such as real and lasting congestion relief for the Main Street corridor whether it is through the flawless synchronization of traffic Sunday’s or having four lanes of traffic.
The sentiment Cantu expressed about “garbage still being picked up” and so forth to soften the word “turmoil” the Grand Jury used to describe its take on the status of Manteca municipal government is not an acceptable standard for a city that — along with neighboring Tracy — is the fastest growing city in a political subdivision called California that, if it were to stand alone, ranks as the fifth largest economy in the world.
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 email@example.com