The four “chiefs” — Willie Weatherford, Charlie Halford, Dave Bricker, and Nick Obligacion — are one of the things that makes Manteca unique.
All four served as Manteca Police Chief. All four retired in place. And all four stayed involved in the Manteca community after their retirements.
You won’t find very many other jurisdictions that can make that claim.
Weatherford, the dean of the retired chiefs, calls it “old school.” By that he means the four didn’t treat being a peace officer as just a job and working in Manteca as a step to somewhere else and then when they reached retirement age load up the moving van and hit the road. It was — and still is — about their community. They not only put their life and soul into Manteca but they also were willing to put their lives on the line to keep it safe.
Obligacion can be seen flipping pancakes for kids at the Boys & Girls Club and helping carve up 200 turkeys for a community Thanksgiving meal to feed 1,400. Bricker still works to help raise money for the Police Chief’s Foundation that invests heavily into youth activities to keep kids on the right path. Halford is everywhere. Setting up for the Great Valley Bookfest — he’s there. Flipping pancakes for a non-profit event on griddles on loan from the Manteca Rotary — he’s there. Anything that needs to be done at the Boys & Girls Club — he’s there.
Keep in mind that while all four were police chiefs — and even on patrol and moving up the ranks — they were involved in a long list of community endeavors. In other words, Manteca was never just a job to them. It is their community.
Weatherford has slowed down a bit these days. That comes from swinging for the bleachers one too many times and fielding unpredictable grounders from his passion — recreation softball.
Weatherford after retiring from a 30-year career in law enforcement got elected to the Manteca City Council in 1996. He served until 2014 including 12 years as mayor. Weatherford is the longest serving mayor in Manteca history.
Why they are driven to serve and why they often came up with innovative solutions to stretch Manteca’s seemingly always paper-thin resources when they were police chiefs has a lot to do with the reality check one gets working the streets.
Call it the Andy Griffiths smarts.
Weatherford recalls as a young officer. A higher up in the department fielding a question from a citizen about Manteca’s biggest pressing problem responded that it was burglaries.
Weatherford remembers thinking to himself burglaries were important concerns — there were about six a month back then — but what was irking most Manteca residents back then and creating all sorts of issues from close calls and accidents to uncivil behavior was the fact Yosemite Avenue was Highway 120. That meant traffic backed up to Tracy Friday nights and then on Sunday heading west being a crawl starting just outside of Escalon to handle the great weekend migration from the Bay Area to the Sierra and back.
It’s a combination of having been on the ground as patrol officers — the entire city is their office — and thinking on their feet to defuse serious situations or try to maximize the dollars you’re given to protect the community.
That perspective served Weatherford well when he helped craft two untypical deals to help two communities — Galt and Manteca — address the age-old dilemma of providing recreation facilities without draining general funds.
During his stint as police chief in Galt he was called on to be acting city manager for an extended period of time. Weatherford saw a diamond in the rough in the old Sacramento County fairgrounds deeded to the city for the purpose of recreational uses. As the fairground use was winding down a two-day a week livestock auction had given birth to a flea market on a nearby dirt patch.
The city continued to allow the flea market to operate to generate upwards of $35,000 a year to Galt for recreation. Weatherford figured adding pavement and providing electricity with some additional support facilities vendors would be willing to pay more for space and the flea market would be more attractive to shop. Within a year, the city revenues tripled benefiting the recreation programs.
Weatherford — given the endless slams he took for seven years as the main target of those who opposed the Big League Dreams proposal in Manteca — will forever be joined at the hip with the sports complex.
The BLD complex has become a popular recreation spot that has regional draw, it provides top-notch facilities for city residents that they wouldn’t have had, avoids the city spending $500,000 plus a year on maintenance and operational costs from the general fund and has a $220,000 plus cash flow each year into the general fund given the complex that is leased to BLD was built with redevelopment agency bond receipts.
Manteca has been blessed with a number of public servants who have viewed working for the city as more than just a way to get a paycheck. This is their town and they proved it by sticking around after retirement.
The city has a lot of things today thanks to innovative thinking that comes from having city employees with the moxie to raise the bar while operating within Manteca’s means.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.