Steve Salvatore does not need defending.
The Lathrop city manager was called everything but a snake in the grass during a disturbing rant delivered by San Joaquin County Sheriff Pat Withrow earlier this month that took place at a public council meeting.
The public attack — that one hopes is out of character for the county’s top law enforcement officer although social justice enthusiast and district attorney Tori Verber Salazar may dispute that title — can’t be allowed to simply fade away as if nothing happened.
Not only was it a full-out assault on Salvatore’s reputation but it took a wide swipe at Lathrop’s elected leaders.
Salvatore and Lathrop deserve better because they are better. Actually they have done quite well.
The flap is rooted in the fact Lathrop, after being incorporated 31 years as a city when July 1 rolls around, is financially sound enough to establish its own police department.
Up until Withrow’s very public verbal assault on Salvatore’ integrity, there has never been an official strain as vicious as this one between the city and the sheriff’s department. No one has questioned the professionalism, integrity, commitment, or the job performance of a single deputy assigned to Lathrop Police Services under the contract with the sheriff’s department.
That said the move by Lathrop to establish its own police department is about even more accountability as well as being more cost effective to the point the city will be able to have more resources on the street to protect and serve the community for the same dollar amount as the contract with the county.
The 28,000 residents of Lathrop can hold five people who are their neighbors accountable for what a city police force does or doesn’t do. That’s because the four council members and mayor are the collective boss of the city manager who they hire and fire. The city manager has hiring and firing powers over the police chief.
No matter how many “whereas” and “therefore” are sprinkled in a contract, the citizens of Lathrop have no real power at the ballot box to “fire” or “hire” a sheriff as the city’s population is 4 percent of the overall population of San Joaquin County.
Yes, there is the matter of $1.2 million in the contract is being contested. Lathrop’s leaders do not believe it is a legitimate charge. The sheriff does.
Given their respect for the law, the city has set aside the money for the charges in question plus potential interest if a judge or mediator ultimately decides they must pay it.
Based on Withrow’s words at the Lathrop City Council meeting, he apparently has no faith in the legal system rendering the correct verdict — or at least correct from his perspective — concerning the $1.2 million charge that is in question nor does he feel the legal process designed to resolve the dispute needs to be followed given his very public attack on Salvatore which is also an attack on his five bosses on the city council. It’s not good optics for a lawman, especially one that is the face of the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office.
Rest assured Lathrop’s voters who also pay county taxes will remember the fact the sheriff has publicly refused to enter into any working relationship with the future police department to pay for potential services such as dispatching as long as Salvatore remains as city manager.
If the last decade or so are any indication, Lathrop voters would be crazy to cast ballots for council members running on a platform to fire the city manager.
Let’s look at just how well Salvatore, his predecessors, the current council, and those that have served Lathrop in a similar capacity have done for the last 31 years.
Lathrop before it started on its cityhood journey was somewhat adrift. There was a strong sense of community but there was little control of being able to shape their own destiny as it was simply an unincorporated area of the county where 5,000 people resided.
The first city hall was in spare office space in a wing of the Simplot fertilizer plant with a commanding view of both the railroad tracks and the factory.
There were more than a few skeptics outside of Lathrop that questioned whether what at the time what was a small, and somewhat rag-tag base of industrial firms as well as essentially being nothing but residential save for a small market, several restaurants such as Don Luis, a barber shop, and a few other retail concerns would ever be a vibrant or strong city financially.
Today Lathrop has been repeatedly pointed out by the California Department of Finance as one of the most fiscally sound cities in the state.
It has a solid list of nationally known companies with distribution or factories within its city limits including tech darling Tesla.
And it arguably has the best planned community ever to grace the Great Central Valley if not the State of California in the form of the 11,000 home River Islands. It is a planned community, by the way, that without a penny in government help has put in place more robust flood protection than can be found in Stockton, Sacramento or virtually any other area in a floodplain west of the Mississippi River.
It is why as cheap shots go, Withrow delivered the cheapest when he inferred that Lathrop was cut from the same cloth as Bell, the Southern California city that was riddled with corruption and where the city manager was paid as if he were a CEO of a robust tech firm.
It is as wild, as baseless, and as cheap a shot as someone contending the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department is no better than the infamous Los Angeles Police Department Rampart Division scandal in the late 1990s that has gone down as one of the most corrupt moments in modern American policing history.
If there was any question whether Lathrop’s elected leaders are making the best possible decision for the community they govern, Sheriff Withrow removed all doubt.
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