Saturday, December 27, 2008

The three stooges strike again

Friday December 26, the Sun Post did an article about another "special" closed door meeting that was held by the Lathrop City Council on Saturday, December 20. This was the second special meeting in less than a week under questionable circumstances. I heard about the meeting and expected to see something about it in Monday's Manteca Bulletin, but the topic and the outcome must have been deemed non-newsworthy by them because there hasn't been a mention of it in the daily paper. You'd think spending $1.5 million in taxpayer money might rate a little higher on the newsworthiness scale than spending $250 on a party. While the Bulletin wrote a lengthy article about Lathrop's fondness for throwing receptions and parties, they've been silent on the latest shenanigans engineered by Councilman Robert Oliver and one of Lathrop's biggest developers TCN Properties (Tom and Cathie Luckey).

As reported by the Sun Post, Councilmen Oliver, Dhaliwal and Mateo voted to pay TCN Properties more than $1.52 million to complete a project that was originally negotiated to cost $1.2 million. Mayor Kristy Sayles and Vice Mayor Martha Salcedo voted no. According to Mayor Sayles, TCN is having financial problems and so the council voted to help them out by giving them a few hundred thousand extra for fulfilling their contract with the city. Sounds like the Lathrop ATM machine is still in operation thanks to the three stooges.

The Luckeys were pleased with the 3-2 vote to pay them the extra money and thanked Councilmen Oliver and Dhaliwal who negotiated the deal which reportedly includes some concessions to keep TCN "in the black." Once again, rookie councilman Chris Mateo sided with the Waterboy to stage a rushed vote on an issue favorable to local developers involving taxpayer money.

Some things to ponder: We've got the special meeting Oliver called to push through the hiring of a developer's employee as city manager and now the special meeting to approve a contract to pay money that Oliver says is owed to a developer (despite the city saying TCN owes them). Who's being represented? You, the average citizen? or special interests?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Lathrop citizens enjoy "party politics"

Here's a view of the infamous "waste of public money" cake. If you look closely, you'll see it's not even a cake, it's a space-station like conglomeration of cupcakes. That saves money from having to cut it, provide plates, etc. On the sides you can see some of those "donut" balls. None of this is any significant expense. Yet the Manteca Bulletin finds fault with this "extravagance!" Sounds like someone has run out of things to criticize.

Maybe the decorative icing is the problem? But how expensive can that be? Apparently you can get a cake inscribed with happy birthday Adolf Hitler for a few dollars at Wal-Mart.
I've noticed this is a common "complaint" or attack. The uninformed complain about some tiny insignificant expense and never complain about the vast waste of tax dollars being spent somewhere else. Sort of like what Bastiat called the "seen vs. the unseen." The "seen" is complained about but it's usually the "unseen" that is more important.

I normally hate the argument that something is such a small expense it doesn't matter -- after all, every penny does count. But keep things in perspective: in the time it takes you to walk from the back of the room to the podium or fill out a purple complaint form speaker slip, the city spends more money than on that plate of cupcakes. It would probably cost more to stop the party than to have it.

Minor expenses are important but the distinction here is that it provides some public benefit. Note in the photo at right citizens get to meet their elected leaders. Shown in the background is the extravagant punch fountain -- which was actually a cheap plastic thing that ran out of punch about 5 minutes into the event. I couldn't fill a thimble with what was dribbling out of it.

The Bulletin writer screeches about "throwing a party without sending an invitation to those who foot the bill, namely the taxpayers." Au contraire -- the reception was published in advance and the doors were thrown open at 6 pm and anyone could come and partake in the goodies. You, the taxpayer, were invited and people did come by.

Instead of complaining about a plate of cupcakes worry about the millions being spent keeping land developers, civil servants and union bosses happy.

Instead of complaining about inviting us to a party let's ask why other cities like Manteca have their parties in secret. They have them, but we're never invited. Maybe they learned that if you invite the tax payers to the party someone will invariably complain about the "waste" and extravagance.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Road to Serfdom

Here is the economics lesson from Friedrick Hayek in the cartoon form I mentioned at the Manteca City Council meeting. (It was previously mentioned in the entry on 5 Dec.)

Lathrop politics as usual

The Sun Post did an article Friday, December 12, featuring Joe and two other political activists in the area, Georgianna Reichelt and J. "Chaka" Santos. I'd put a link to the article here, but the Sun Post hasn't been online for a couple months. You remember Santos, the angry mayoral candidate whose frequent outbursts at Lathrop city council meetings make him the person I'd most like to see voted off the island. I think the most interesting thing out of the entire article is the information that the Sun Post interviewed Santos in the offices of TCN Properties, the developer who is rumored to have funded much of the vicious campaign to unseat Mayor Kristy Sayles in November. The article doesn't say why Santos was interviewed in their offices (does he work there?) but it does say that Santos doesn't see his involvement with them as a "conflict of interest." Hmm.

The last Lathrop city council meeting was a festive occasion compared to the previous one. The mayor and new city council members were sworn in, everyone's families were there. New guy Chris Mateo seemed totally shocked and in disbelief that he had actually won the election and was almost speechless. I met Mr. Mateo in person two days later at the Lathrop Christmas tree lighting and he still seemed in shock, though he was very nice and friendly and was even able to name an economist! I hope Mr. Mateo is an independent thinker and doesn't get ensnared into the dirty politics that plague Lathrop.

That might be too much to hope for.

Word on the street is that Councilmen Oliver, Dhaliwal and Mateo are are in a big hurry to hire a new city manager. Their choice is Glenn Gebhardt, a former city employee who, since 1999, has worked for the group behind River Islands development headed by Susan Dell'Osso, another of Lathrop's landed gentry developers and a friend of Laura Thimler.

So let's see. You have a dissenter and bully regularly attending council meetings, who has some kind of ties to TCN Properties, a big developer who has made no secret of the fact that they feel they have been treated badly by the Lathrop city council. Now you have an employee of another big developer in the running for city manager and there's some kind of urgency to hire him.

I think whenever there is any kind of hurry to get something approved in the absence of a real emergency, that it's usually to get something done before anyone has a chance to question it or think about it. Make an end run around any objections before they can occur. The waterboy strategy. Mateo has been on the city council less than two weeks but he's already been corralled by Oliver into pushing an early vote to hire a new city manager.

The next Lathrop city council meeting is Tuesday, December 16 starting at 5pm with the closed session regarding the hiring of the city manager. The regular meeting starts at 7pm.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Main screen turn on.

This is a view inside the school district's new office building. I was just joking earlier about there being a penthouse control room -- but now I actually got to see this!

Top picture is the foyer outside the superintendent's office. I was expecting Mr. Messer to bark out for Dee to "open a hailing frequency to Lathrop High" and put them "on screen!"

If you notice, the display is colorful and on the left depicts some kind of schedule of meetings, with a news crawl below that (general news, like you see on CNN or Fox news); the right side has video of some local event, below that is a map of the building and an animated "you are here" symbol; below that is the weather report and clock and calendar. All electronic. All those feeds aren't cheap either!

Pictured below is the first floor common area. Shown is school board trustee Nancy Teicheira(L) getting some guidance from the screen. I did ask about the cost of this boondoggle and how the district could afford such a thing and yet couldn't videotape the meetings and she just "shrugged" and nodded I think in some agreement.

(Darn I had the shutter on 1/1000th from outdoors that's why the screen looks a little odd but it's identical to the one on the 3rd floor)

Friday, December 05, 2008

A tree lights in Lathrop

I was hoping to get a picture of Mayor Sayles throwing a big knife switch with sparks flying as she lit the Lathrop Christmas tree, but that wasn't in the plan. I was told some guy in the back "plugged it in" at the right time. But it worked. And as you can see there was a tree and a party with lots of free goodies. I was told by City Clerk Caldeira that I must find a spot to see that star at the top of the tree. They were very proud of that star.

I also got a chance to speak with the new guy, Councilman Chris Mateo. He was easy to talk to, open and answered every question, no matter how dumb. Sorry I didn't have a video.

He said his reason for wanting to be on the council was to "improve the quality of life" in Lathrop. I asked how might he do that. He mentioned "crime." I asked if he thought Lathrop had a lot of crime and he said "no." So then I asked why does he want to [expend resources as a priority] reduce it? He was quick with an answer that the crime rate was "non-zero." Hmm. I may have met my match in answering dumb questions.

To be elected, he said he went door to door and met people. He expressed how exhausting his campaign was.

Next I hit him with the same question we asked the other candidates, "who's your favorite economist?" And without missing a beat he responded "Galbraith?" John Kenneth Galbraith? Eww..., sorry, that wasn't the right answer. The correct answer was Milton Friedman but I would have accepted Ludwig von Mises, Friedrick Hayek or Henry Hazlett or even Ronald Reagan or Adam Smith. But he still scores higher than most because he was able to actually spit out the name of an economist. I asked why didn't he just pick John Maynard Keynes? He said that was another of his favorites. Eek! I mentioned (half kidding) in other words "we're doomed."

There is hope though because he did express general support for the mayor's initiative to loosen the restrictions on businesses displaying signs and banners advertising their services. He said that was something to be open to because "the economic times are tough." He's right about that!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Enquiring minds want to know

Dennis Wyatt's column in Tuesday's Bulletin "Sexual orientation & age should not be campaign fodder," was a potentially juicy read but unless you've followed Manteca politics for the past 25 years, you'd be lost. Wyatt makes insider references to warring "factions" on the last city council but only names some of the parties involved and we're left to wonder who he's not naming. Come on Dennis, don't be coy, enquiring minds want to know!

I've lived in Manteca over 20 years and though I didn't follow local politics closely until about 5 or 6 years ago, I remember there being a lot of turmoil before Mayor Willie Weatherford and his posse gained power. Much of the disagreement seemed to be over Woodward Park and Big League Dreams. No doubt big developer money helped get Weatherford and the rest elected and with the appointment of Woodward Park's biggest supporter, Jack Snyder, to an open seat on the council those two huge projects sailed through with unanimous votes. For years we've heard the Bulletin praise this council for their ability to "get along" and "get things done." They've gotten things done all right.

I don't want a city council that gets along and gets things done. When the government gets things done, that means they're spending your money (our tax dollars). Debby Moorhead is the first new council member in 6 years and I think the voters made a wise choice. It was time for "new blood" on the governing board and if I can step into my feminist shoes here for a moment, it was time for a woman to be on the council.

Wyatt's column brings up the question of ageism in the election since some candidates repeatedly mentioned Snyder's age. Though that probably did factor into some voters' decisions, anyone who knows Snyder or has watched him in council meetings knows that he is perfectly capable of serving in public office and that some of the wisest comments from the dais have been spoken by him. It was just time for someone new.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Sayles, Salcedo, and some guy sworn in

Mayor Kristy Sayles was sworn into a second term as the leader of Lathrop, California. The mood was festive. Unlike the cheapskates at Manteca who held their swearing in ceremony at what appeared to be a museum quality replica of Hitler's underground bunker, there was a nice spread of sandwiches and cocktail shrimp, punch, cake and coffee at the Lathrop soirée.

Shown at right, Mayor Kristy Sayles flanked by her minister(L) and husband Thomas (R) after taking the oath of office. (Councilman Sonny Daliwahl is shown in the background.)

In addition, Martha Salcedo, previously appointed to the council by Mayor Sayles, was overwhelmingly approved by the voters in her first election. Salcedo takes her place on the council for another four years.

The other guy is believed to be Christopher Mateo, a dark horse candidate who somehow appeared on the ballot and received 0.51 percent more votes than the incumbent. He replaces Councilman Steve Dresser on the council. Good luck!

Moorhead coronated amid electrified throng

Manteca City Council: "Debby" Moorehead installed Monday, 1 Dec 2008.

The council chamber was packed with people and and the crowd seemed excited by the prospect of getting a new leader.

There were so many cameras and flashes going off, the photo above was taken by me but illuminated by another photographer's flash! (most likely came from Hime Romero of the Manteca Bulletin) This means the two pictures had to be taken just about simultaneously.

I've been told people watching at home could sense the excitement. Councilman Moorhead has her work cut out for her. Good luck!

Oh, I almost forgot, Councilman "Steve" Debrum was also re-oathanized.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Code enforcement officer gets $1.01 million in 6 years

Last month I made a "prediction" that the cost savings in the police re-organization would evaporate "in a few months." I was wrong. It only took two weeks.

The chief discovered a "mistake" in the original request. He didn't mean to say the code enforcement guy was to get a raise from $141,905 to $156,500. Did I say only 156K? No, that's an insult! His raise was supposed to be to $169,900!

That's over a $ 1million for the next 6 years. And is:
  • 5 or 6 times the pay of a soldier fighting in Iraq. 3 or 4 times the pay of his commanding officer. Several thousand more than the General in charge of the whole operation in Iraq and on whose decisions rests the fate of civilizations.
  • More than a U.S. Congressman or Senator
  • Above the average pay for a doctor (not a specialist), a judge, teachers, (but about on par for the already overpaid administrator of the entire Manteca Unified School District but at least he has the responsibility for the quality of education for over 21,000 students)
  • More than the average working person in Manteca ($35,528)
I could go on... I'll spare you. The qualifications for the "code enforcement supervisor" seems to be he had to go to high school. And perhaps a 3 month summer camp of training. And how many does he "supervise?" You got me; so far as I can tell it's zero, he supervises himself.

The issue will be discussed tonight at 7 pm at City Hall, 1001 W Center.