“The Animal Farm” mentality — as well as the “Animal House” chaos — appears to be going the way of dial up internet service at Manteca’s city hall.
One sign of the new direction is actually the absence of signs.
Interim City Manager Mike Harden directed that the signs designating reserved parking spaces at the Civic Center for the mayor and council members as well as department heads that went up in the depth of the pandemic be removed. Some of the department head signs remain for now in the parking lot between the senior center and police station.
The signs were a solution for a problem that you could argue didn’t exist. Worse yet, months after the city was crying wolf and asking voters to tax themselves to the tune of an additional $12 million via a one cent sales tax increase the city was spending north of $1,000 plus workers’ time to create reserve parking places even though pandemic lockdowns had banished the public from accessing their city hall.
Mayor Ben Cantu, who was not behind the sign placement nor were any of the council members, at the time defended the city management given the small amount and dismissed the need to debate whether it was a sound move as there were bigger fish to fry.
But spend enough on $1,000 or so expenditures for things of dubious value and pretty soon you have $20,000 you can use to extend the pavement life of the 3.4-mile Tidewater Bike Way.
It doesn’t help matters that the mayor — who pushed hard for sales tax increase voters rejected — wasn’t paying his fair share of the city’s tax burden by deliberately not renewing his business license.
The mayor admitted to not renewing his license that also has a tax attached to it based on a business’ gross receipts during a budget workshop. He called it “an experiment” to see whether the finance department was doing their job that he believes is to make sure all businesses ante up.
Given all levels of government from the federal level with the IRS down to cities with business license renewals rely heavily on voluntary compliance, his experiment was at best poor judgment. The city, like the IRS, when they eventually come across someone that hasn’t paid taxes or fees then sets about to collect them with penalties.
Rest assured that is what will happen with the money the mayor owes the city.
Some may rationalize that the mayor purposely not paying a license fee that he as mayor expects all business to pay to the collective tune of $900,000 annually so he can pursue projects such as buying entrance statues to the city made of bronze, is a piddling matter.
The optics, however, are extremely poor.
That brings us back to the reserved parking signs at city hall.
The previous city management, led by Miranda Lutzow who is now apparently preparing to sue the city after the council that took a chance on her with no previous city management service per se rejected a claim for damages, made a big deal of how they were putting together one big happy team at city hall.
Nothing says “we’re a team” better than conferring special parking privileges on top management.
Management at the time was quick to justify it by pointing out other jurisdictions that do the same thing. Funny, but when a council member like Dave Breitenbucher points out that other jurisdictions do an outside search for city managers he was ostracized by the same top city management.
So not only is the “Animal Farm” lesson translates into “all workers are equal but some workers are more equal than others” when it comes to employee parking spaces, but it is also a case of situational ethics.
They also referenced an issue of safety in terms of department heads sometimes having to work late at night to earn their six-figure salaries.
It is never a bad thing to take extra precautions and if having a reserved parking space that is closer to one’s office door that tells the entire world whose car is parked there makes someone feel safer one can’t argue with that.
However it makes no sense that you are willing to place a target on your car believing that will make you safer.
It was just a bunch of nonsense to justify a trappings of power move that irked, surprised, and startled those that didn’t fall into the “don’t care” camp or those who shrugged it off as just another example of people in top management posts or consulting jobs who are passing through Manteca for resume building being completely clueless.
And if it wasn’t and Manteca was that unsafe, where was the big push from top management for more police officers or actually improving the lobby of the police station on the same campus so that it was secured with bullet-proof glass and such?
Besides the signs being gone, a good share of the craziness seems to have dissipated.
Do not misunderstand. Manteca doesn’t need a city government that is business as usual. But they do need a city government that means business.
And like most businesses, there is a lot of grunt work, heavy lifting, and drudgery work to make things work.
For what whatever reasons that some department head reserved parking signs remain near the senior center, it would be nice if a little thought was given to perhaps placing them somewhere else. That’s so when the senior center gets up and running back to pre-pandemic levels that that seniors have a fighting chance of finding parking spaces within easy walking distance.
An 80-year-old and somewhat healthy woman being forced to park her car in other parking lots and walk across them to the Civic Center campus to reach the senior center so a department head in their late 30s or early 40s being paid $160,000 plus can walk 50 less yards speaks volumes of what that person thinks of the public.
It’s all about them and not serving Manteca’s residents.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org