Ed Miller, who is a member of Citizens in Action, the local Tea Party organization, has been keeping a watchful eye on the city of Lodi's strained budget.
While the Tea Party has drawn considerable attention for its national politics and activism, Miller has made a difference at the local level.
Miller attends almost every Lodi City Council meeting — both Wednesday night and Tuesday shirtsleeve meetings. He is constantly questioning expenditures and suggesting ways to save money.
"He does his homework. He's level-headed and he raises good questions," said Councilman Bob Johnson, who served as mayor in 2011.
Miller moved to Lodi about 4 1/2 years ago with his wife, Linda, who was born in Lodi. He spent 40 years in the San Jose area as a manufacturing engineer and project manager for a high-tech business that made semiconductor manufacturing equipment.
He joined Citizens in Action because he was frustrated with the money the federal and state government were spending.
"Nothing seemed to work with either party, and the Tea Party seemed to be the way to go. When I checked it out, I found that the people were the same as me. They don't really want to do this, but they feel like they have to," Miller said.
When he lived in Milpitas, he occasionally went to a council meeting but was not a regular. In Lodi, he decided to become the council representative for Citizens in Action, and it has turned into a passion, he said.
"I started because it would give me a chance to find out more about Lodi, because I haven't been here that long. It turned out to be something that interested me, so it just sort of stuck," he said.
Johnson credits Miller with quietly advocating on behalf of the citizens and taxpayers. He recalled one dollars-and-sense discussion in which staff members starting speaking in "bureaucratese."
"Mr. Miller respectfully reminded them that they were speaking in a language only the staff and those close to the staff really understood," Johnson said. "He is always respectful, but he is not afraid to ask questions and raise issues."
Miller led the push for the Lodi City Council to consider a public-private partnership for the water treatment plant. He researched other cities that have privatized the operation of water plants but still owned the plant. Through a series of emails, he convinced the council to take a look at outsourcing the employees at the plant.
Miller was inspired to push the council to consider another alternative because one of the guiding principals of the Tea Party is a fiscally responsible government, he said.
"The year had started with a big upset about the cost of pensions and benefits and how they would have to get concessions from bargaining groups, and then they turned around and said we want to spend $1 million to hire employees under the same arrangements," Miller said.
The council ultimately decided to hire more city employees to run the plant after a confusing bid process with two private companies.
Miller's next push is to ask the council to draft standard policies for the next time the city considers outsourcing services.
That's a goal Johnson also sees as worthwhile. For the water treatment staffing, the city was, in effect, both a bidder and the arbiter of bids.
"That was frustrating to both of us," Johnson said. "But when the dice don't fall your way, you have to move on to the next roll."