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Marenco takes final run as chariman for county board

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Posted: Thursday, January 5, 2006 10:00 pm

Dario Marenco this week began his final turn as chairman of the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors, but stepped into a position far different than his first time at the reigns in 2001.

When San Joaquin County Supervisor Marenco first thought he would be voted in as chairman in 2000, he was passed over by a bitterly divided board.

In 2001, after he was made chairman as part of a new revolving chairmanship system, he dominated because the power on the board shifted dramatically.

Marenco's turn to lead the board has come again - in his last year before he is termed out - and it will most likely be a different experience for him because there are no more clear sides.

"I suspect we will continue to have issues that divide this board - that's a given," Marenco said at the meeting. "But it is not important to have unanimous votes. It's important to stay true to ourselves."

A rocky climb to the top

The 75-year-old's time as a supervisor has not always been without controversy, fellow supervisors said. He was elected in 1994 to represent a large chunk of Stockton and the area between Stockton and Manteca, east of Highway 99.

By 2000, the board was bitterly at odds on most issues. Marenco and Supervisor Steve Gutierrez, who represents all of south Stockton and French Camp, were the minority.

The majority included former supervisors Ed Simas (who represented the area west of Stockton to the county line, Lathrop and part of Manteca) and Bob Cabral (who represented Tracy, most of Manteca and everything south of those cities), as well as current Supervisor Jack Sieglock (who represents Lodi, Escalon and the entire eastern portion of the county).

Simas and Marenco hated each other and never agreed, Supervisor Leroy Ornellas said. And, when Simas ran for re-election that year, Marenco ran Victor Mow's campaign against him.

It was a dispute over campaign signs that foiled Simas' campaign. The incumbent had a huge lead in the polls when he got upset at Marenco, and asked for and received permission to place a Mow campaign sign on a private property where Simas had one.

Simas demanded that Marenco remove Mow's sign, and when Marenco did not, he tore it down himself. But Marenco had a private investigator videotape Simas tearing up the sign. The story made national news and ruined Simas' career.

Mow won.

Cabral also ran for re-election. No one opposed him, and he won in the primary election earlier that spring. But in October 2000, he died of a heart attack.

Former Governor Gray Davis named Lynn Bedford as Cabral's replacement.

"Bedford absolutely adored Marenco," Ornellas said.

And suddenly, Marenco had a majority: Gutierrez, Mow and Bedford - only Sieglock remained from the old alliance.

But the new monopoly did not last long. Bedford was indicted for fraud and extortion along with former Sheriff Baxter Dunn in 2002. He was forced off the board.

"When I got elected to replace Bedford, it completely broke up Marenco's monopoly," Ornellas said.

Asked Tuesday if he expects a difference from his first time as chairman and this time, Marenco said he saw only one: "I don't expect unanimous votes each time.

"It's not important for us to all be on the same side," he said. "This is a better board than the one (Marenco led in 2001). Nothing is hidden. Business is done up front.

Leading his own way

Marenco, who has been the most subdued of the supervisors in the second half of 2005, said he would not lead the board like outspoken Gutierrez, the former chairman.

The biggest issue in 2006, Marenco said, will be whether to let the city of Stockton annex the land under the Stockton Metropolitan Airport in order to have the city pay for the airport's water and sewer service. If the city was allowed to annex the land, city staff might also want to be responsible for providing fire protection and police services.

Marenco does not know of a clear answer to this problem, but that it has to be resolved this year.

"You can't leave it up in the air anymore," he said.

His second biggest concern is Measure K, the half-cent sales tax dedicated to transportation projects in the county, which is up for renewal this year. The collected money belongs to the county but is administered through the San Joaquin Council of Governments.

"I will oppose this (the renewal)," he said this week. "There has been misuse of funds. It was a mistake to hand the money over to the council of governments."

After Marenco was unanimously voted in as the new chairman Tuesday, and Mow the new vice-chairman, Marenco was given a standing ovation from fellow supervisors, his family and various county department heads.

He and Gutierrez then switched chairs, with Marenco moving to the center of the crescent-shaped table.

Afterward, he said being passed over by his peers in 2000 has not had any effects on his career.

"I have never thought about it. I just do my job as best as I can."

Contact reporter Roman Gokhman at romang@tracypress.com.

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