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Howard's miscue: A lesson learned?

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Posted: Tuesday, July 22, 2003 10:00 pm

Mayor Susan Hitchcock has to be overjoyed with the recent antics of Vice Mayor Emily Howard.

Hitchcock is under the gun for going against the other council members wishes by continuing to attend and, to some extent, even participating in meetings before a federal mediator relating to the long standing groundwater contamination litigation.

Hitchcock's conduct will be discussed at the Aug. 6 meeting where she faces possible censure or even removal as mayor.Bob Johnson

This unprecedented scenario may have to share the spotlight now that Howard has created another firestorm.

It appears that Howard may have used her council status to subtly pressure City Manager Dixon Flynn into initiating an investigation of longtime city employee Charlene Lange.

Lange, who heads up Hutchins Street Square, was apparently accused of running a hostile work environment by a former employee whose cause was championed by Howard. Lange was ultimately exonerated of all charges by an independent investigator hired by the city at a cost of nearly $2,300.

Such serious claims have to be investigated, but the kicker is that such investigation aren't typically pushed by council members who have control over the city manager, city attorney and the city clerk.

Only Flynn has the ultimate authority over all other city employees, including department heads. Flynn has stated he has authorized similar investigations of department heads twice in the past.

Let's give Howard the benefit of the doubt and suggest she was somewhat naive and didn't realize that she shouldn't be delving into personnel matters. If that was the case, then the city manager and the city attorney should have politely advised her that she was overstepping her authority.

Perhaps she was even more naive when she failed to advise the other council members that she was injecting herself into an area not of her concern. Such naivete may even be excused as a lesson learned. But not even naivete can explain the boneheaded maneuver that Howard pulled next.

When questioned on the matter by a reporter for The Record, Howard tried to stonewall by suggesting the matter wasn't one of public concern and demanded that the reporter stop interviewing anyone connected with the investigation. Howard even threatened to call the top brass at that newspaper if the reporter continued to stir the pot.

Such antics demonstrate a serious lack of common sense by the vice mayor. When she realized she was in over her head, she should have backtracked gracefully. Instead, she arched her back and attempted to intimidate an experienced reporter who reacted to her protestations like a bull to a cape.

Howard was wrong and unfortunately didn't have the guts to admit it. This lapse of judgment is scheduled to be discussed by the council at a future date. Hopefully, Howard will come to understand that her position as a council member doesn't invest her with extraordinary authority.

Assemblyman Alan Nakanishi, R-Lodi, made an abrupt about-face on some recently resurrected legislation in Sacramento.

The California Professional Firefighters, one of the most influential labor unions in the state, has been strongly pushing for legislation that will force cities and counties to accept binding arbitration when it comes to labor negotiations.

Most communities and the League of California Cities vehemently oppose such a bill which they contend will significantly raise payroll costs.

If memory serves me correctly, Nakanishi - and the other then council members - objected to this bill when it was first introduced. At the time, Nakanishi constantly portrayed himself as a strong proponent of local control and felt this and similar legislation would tie the hands of the local elected leaders.

For whatever reason, Nakanishi turned his back on his home town folks and recently voted for the latest version of this bill as it came out of committee.

While still contending to be an advocate of local control, Nakanishi feels that the bill is "fair" to all involved despite the contention of local governments that we are choking on soaring payroll and pension costs for public safety. He points out that 21 cities in the state now accept binding arbitration. He apparently ignores the hundreds of other cities which think that such legislation is a bad idea.

It looks like the firefighters union can put another notch on its gun.

Possibly one of the most observant people in town in is "Mayor of Sacramento Street" Clay Saylor.

After listening for years to the complaints about conditions on Sacramento Street, Saylor points with pride to the fact that there are currently more places on School Street to get a drink than there are on Sacramento Street.

My, my, how the world does turn!

Bob Johnson, an avid observer of Lodi's political scene, is a former Lodi City Councilman and a long-time member of the city's Parks and Recreation Commission. He may be contacted by e-mail at value@softcom.net.

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