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Weatherford: Mantecas real life Andy Griffith
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Willie Weatherford is an “aw shucks” kind of guy.

His demeanor strikes some as being part country bumpkin.

But make no doubt about it. He’s clever, perceptive, and as smart as a fox.

He is the Andy Griffith of Manteca politics.

Andy Griffith from the long-running TV show as well as Weatherford have a lot in common. First, the obvious. Both were at one time in the roles of the top cop in their community. Both use folksy humor to make points or to defuse situations.

Both at times he can come across to opponents as someone who may have just fallen off the turnip truck or for those a bit younger someone who is a few fries short of a Happy Meal. But make no doubt about it. Weatherford is no Barney Fife.

There wasn’t a general high expectation of Weatherford when he was elected mayor in 2002. Manteca had just gone through a rather nasty City Council Era that - looking back - was the tail end of the animosity that consumed virtually every municipal decision and election since the brutal 1983 recall of Mayor Trena Kelley and council members Rick Wentworth and  Bobby Davis.

Weatherford had been part of the silent majority of the council in the previous four years when the minority was allowed to control the agenda after council decisions were made.

Immediately Weatherford changed the tone of the meeting, shuffled around the agenda so Manteca’s well entrenched Greek Chorus didn’t dominate the first hour or so with repetitive vicious attacks under citizens’ comments under, and led the new council on an “investment spree” in Manteca’s future.

That “investment spree” has been described by detractors as a spending spree, corporate welfare, and a giveaway of tax dollars.

Call it what you like but the result has been to strengthen Manteca’s bottom economic line and position the community to take full advantage of the recovery when it starts to pick up steam.

The spending spree was actually growth fees that were bottled by council infighting over the previous four up plus years. The minority- although not by design - essentially set the stage to make the new council look brilliant in terms of community investment. It was happening with the power of growth fees and not new taxes. The city was able to make a big splash because nothing had been done with the money in previous years and there was a pile of it around that was in danger of being eaten up by construction inflation.

Corporate welfare, of course, is the moniker opponents used to describe redevelopment agency loans. Almost all of the RDA loans to encourage economic investment by private business are paid back with interest.  That’s in sharp contrast to the RDA loans that go to senior housing and other housing related projects that aren’t paid back as long as the recipients meet the guidelines and follow through.

The tax dollar giveaway refers to splitting future sales tax - with a cap - to lure key retailers to Manteca. Including was Bass Pro Shops where 97 percent-plus of the sales tax they generate would never have been spent in Manteca as they are from people within 100-plus miles. It also refers to Costco which was able to retrieve $600,000-plus in sales tax being spent by Manteca consumers at Modesto and Tracy stores and then generate more from neighboring communities whose residents now shop at the Manteca Costco instead of in Tracy or Modesto.

Those deals were championed by Weatherford along with fellow council members against all sorts of opposition. Given the amount of venom created by some foes over the mechanics of Manteca’s investment spree, last Tuesday’s vote was a pretty clear sign that a strong majority of the voters have no qualms with how Manteca has gotten to the point it is today.

Weatherford used the same out-of-the-box thinking when he was city manager/police chief in Galt. It was there that he parlayed a low-key flea market in a city park into the biggest and most successful flea market in the Northern San Joaquin Valley. It generated millions upon millions of dollars to fund Galt parks and recreation programs.

There were a few in the just completed campaign who - while dripping with sarcasm - called Weatherford “an Andy Griffith” including from the podium at a council meeting in the belief they were insulting him. Weatherford’s response was just to smile, impart a few bits of small town-style wisdom and move on.

In a greater sense, that is what Manteca has now done after suffering through two decades of having councils laced with residue toxins from the 1983 recall.