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Lodi City Council shakeup wasn’t a surprise

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Posted: Tuesday, December 9, 2003 10:00 pm

By her own admission, Carol Robbins is a political neophyte who isn’t really certain where the Lodi City Council meets.

But even she knew an upset was in the making when she stated that “Everybody in town knows what is going to happen except the vice mayor.”

She was referring to the political blockbuster that landed in the Carnegie Forum last Wednesday evening when the council, by a 3-1-1 vote, dumped Vice Mayor Emily Howard and elected Larry Hansen as the new mayor of Lodi.

Bob Johnson

Typically, the vice mayor ascends to the top spot. But periodically, tradition takes a back seat to reality and that happened last week.

For whatever reason, John Beckman, Larry Hansen and Susan Hitchcock figured Howard lacked the “stuff” to lead the city through what most City Hall observers feel will be an extremely difficult year. The groundwater contamination suit looms on the horizon, budget shortfalls are a distinct possibility and there may even be personnel layoffs as well as curtailment of some essential city services.

The new “Big Three” apparently felt that Howard, who has been at odds with every member of the council in the past, just wasn’t up to the task.

With Howard being pushed aside, it remains to be seen what impact, if any, she will have during the coming year. The possibility exists that she may be totally irrelevant during her final year in office and some wonder if she will even run for re-election in 2004.

A final commentary on the demise of the vice mayor: I just hope that someone had the class to let Howard know that she wouldn’t be moving up the ladder. While she seemed to handle the news gracefully, it would have been a terrible blow to her family and friends to find out about her demotion without any advance warning.

While politics in Lodi may be coming more dog eat dog, hopefully we can do it with some compassion.

***

During her final meeting as mayor, Susan Hitchcock unveiled her plan to implement a greenbelt between Stockton and Lodi.

A 15-20 member committee of interested citizens will be working to create what the cities of Lodi, Stockton and the county of San Joaquin failed to accomplish.

For almost three years, these governmental agencies tried to pound out an agreement satisfactory to all concerned.

The result was less than optimistic with Stockton and then San Joaquin County pulling out of the discussions. Even the farmers and landowners in the proposed greenbelt seemed disillusioned with the effort by claiming they wanted their property rights (and potential profits) protected if they chose to sell to developers.

At the meeting, several interested parties spoke pro and con on the matter. Perhaps one of the most astute was Dennis Bennett, a local developer, who cautioned the newly created committee that the cost of such a greenbelt could be millions. This committee might be well served by reviewing Bennett’s comments several times.

***

It doesn’t often make sense to butt heads with your boss — but then again, I’ve never been known to be the brightest bulb in the box.

Recently the News-Sentinel printed an editorial questioning a presentation to the council by locally based Valley Management Group, which has suggested the city look toward a lease-buyback as a method of financing capital projects in these tight money times.

Projects under consideration were needed fire stations, an animal shelter and various projects. Valley Management suggests that such a financial structure can pencil out.

The editorial suggested that the city might not have the cash on hand to make the monthly payments required by the lease-purchase concept. If my bosses are correct, the concept makes little sense.

There are, however, other aspects to the Valley Management proposal — ones which deal with concepts known as value engineering and guaranteed maximum price. Value engineering suggests that rather than accept a design that calls for a top of the line $300 pump or a $75 light fixture, perhaps you can reconfigure the project to work with fixtures that cost quite a bit less, but will accomplish the same result.

Guaranteed maximum price means just what it says — all involved in the project (designers, general contractors, subs etc.) buy into and agree as to what goes into the project from the beginning. If everybody knows up front what to expect, the need for unnecessary and expensive change orders should be eliminated.

Sorry, boss, but the Valley Management proposal deserves a long look — especially in such troubling financial times.

Bob Johnson is a member of Lodi’s Parks and Recreation Commission.

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