JoAnne Mounce was appointed mayor in December 2011, serving her second term in the top position since first being elected in 2004.
Mounce works at Dougherty CPAs, Inc., a Stockton certified public accountant firm. She recently sat down with a reporter to talk about her priorities as mayor and what is ahead in 2012, including her plans to run for re-election.
The third-generation Lodian also discussed her thoughts on current union negotiations, accepting donations from unions and businesses, and how battling and beating lung cancer has changed her.
Q: What are your main priorities as mayor?
A: These last six months in Lodi has been an eye-opener for many of the community members because the crime rate has accelerated. We are grateful for our new police chief (Mark Helms). With a fresh look on Lodi, he is going to come up with wonderful ideas on how to address the concerns and problems Lodi has been experiencing — not only the gang members, but increased burglaries and other crimes.
Second, of course, is making it through the year with a balanced budget, and working with the employees on concessions. I'm not sure what that is going to look like yet, but it is something that is at the forefront of my mind.
I've mentioned before the concept of a greenbelt. I know it's a huge priority for the citizens of Lodi, but I believe that it's in the county and the property owners' ball park. I want to make sure that whatever happens with the greenbelt that Lodi's interests are on the table.
Q: As far as crime, is there anything that needs to be done to prevent or respond to it?
A: I sat down with (Chief) Helms when he first came on board with us last year, and I had a few ideas based on my experience with the Eastside Improvement Committee and talking to people who live on the Eastside. Our community outreach is crucial; also, more contact with the property owners. In some parts of town, 75 percent of the occupancy is rental. Often you have out-of-state or out-of-town landlords that don't even know there is a problem.
I'll give an example of a problem on the Eastside with an apartment complex. The property owner lives in San Francisco. Chief Helms and his department worked hard to communicate with them, and the Neighborhood Watch group in that area. That apartment complex is in great shape now. They evicted all the problem tenants. They put up fences. The police did what was necessary to decrease the calls for service because we are so short-handed and short-budgeted.
Q: Do you feel there is less or more public involvement in local politics than when you were on the Eastside Improvement Committee?
A: It really depends upon the topic. The more immediately affected a citizen is by an issue, the more involvement we will have, which makes the most sense because if it is in your front yard or it's in your pocketbook, then it becomes very personal to you and you want to be heard.
That's when people get engaged more. There are two kinds of families and people who exist in Lodi. There are those who are concentrating very hard on raising their families and keeping a roof over their head and food on their table, and then there are those people who have raised their family and they are looking to give back and become more involved in their community. You see more people of that nature getting involved at the city hall level and engaging more because they have the time to do so.
Q: In December during the vote for mayor, I know outgoing Mayor Bob Johnson did not vote for you. In 2010, both Johnson and Councilman Larry Hansen did not vote for you to become vice mayor. Do you think that will create any issues moving forward?
A: No, certainly not for me. I have the utmost respect for my council members, and they have very valid reasons for doing what they did. I always say, "You never know someone's opinion until you've walked in their shoes." And their observation of me, I'm sure is very different than my observation of myself.
We have very different political views on a lot of issues, and I think they had concerns with the fact that I battled cancer last year, and would I be up for the task? When they voted for the vice mayor situation, they didn't realize I was as sick as I was. So they just saw me missing a few meetings.
What they didn't realize is I do all of my homework in the background, that I make sure to be briefed by the city manager. If videos are available, I will watch, and of course agendas and PowerPoint presentations are provided to me any time I'm away from a meeting.
Maybe they felt like I wasn't committed, which is understandable. I respect that. I don't agree with it, but I respect that.
Q: How do you see the city controlling rising employee costs?
A: I have great respect for our employees. I believe that with any organization, you are only as good as the employees you hire, and I don't always respect the approach of looking at them in an adversarial relationship. They are just as important to the organization, from the guy who digs the ditches to the guy who turns on the lights. And respectful, mutually beneficial conversations are what is required to come out with good outcomes.
Our employees have done an amazing job in the last 2 1/2 years. We give them a number, and they say, "OK, here it is," through concessions. I respect that approach, and support moving forward in that direction.
Q: You, as well as other council members, have received donations from the unions during the elections. How can you balance that versus protecting the taxpayer's interests?
A: As a politician — I hate to consider myself a politician — but as someone who wants to serve in this capacity for the good of the community, and knows that it takes a lot of money to be able to get elected to serve your community, I've taken large contributions from businesses and received a ton of criticism. I've taken monetary contributions from labor groups and gotten equal amounts of criticism.
I can honestly say that when I meet with people and I ask them for support, I never promise anybody anything. My promise is this: That I will be here for you, whether you gave me $0 or what you feel you can afford. The point is that by giving me support, you believe in my overall approach in the job that I'm doing, and not that I'm going to say "yes" or "no" to your issue or anyone else's issue. But I will give it 100 percent of my consideration, and I will take everything that is brought to me with complete seriousness. And I will look at both sides of things with a balanced and fair approach.
I've got people who supported me that can't stand some of the things that I've done, but overall they know that from my seat in the bleachers I've made the best decision with the information I had. And they still support me even though they are mad as heck about what I did once or twice.
Q: Are you expecting the unions to have the same level of cooperation they have in the past?
A: By now we are in negotiations. I'm sure you saw the letter that was provided to the council in December that the groups feel like they were promised by the previous city manager that as long as they gave concessions, that (Memorandums of Understanding) would not be structurally changed. I think they believe that, and there is merit to that. A promise is a promise.
Q: Do you think because of the economy we are in and people saying that the pension system is not sustainable, that affects a previous city manager's promise?
A: It certainly has to be in the conversation, but again, one of the things that are our jobs in terms of being community leaders is to validate to the employees that (pensions are not sustainable). If it truly isn't sustainable, show me.
I have a stepsister who is a 911 operator for Lodi, and her husband works in the maintenance department. She is not happy with me, and hasn't been since last year's vote when we kind of forced the concession on her dispatch union, and I made the motion.
People are often concerned with me backing down to the unions. Not only do I not back down, but it was my own sister's union.
It's about what's fair and what's right. In this case, all the other unions have given concessions. Hers was the only unit that didn't want to and what's fair is fair.
Q: What do you think will happen with pensions?
A: I truly believe that pension reform is going to come down from the state sometime this year, and the city of Lodi will have only a certain amount of options, as well as the employees that work for our organization. For us to continue to push or pull, may or may not be a moot point depending on what the state of California decides to do with pension reform.
Q: There has been a lot of talk about privatizing city services. Are there any services you could see being privatized?
A: I like to think more in terms of volunteerism. I don't specifically agree with the privatization of public services. But what I'm not opposed to is a very aggressive volunteer program. You have service groups all over the city of Lodi who are eager to get involved with their community.
Q: Are there any services you would never privatize?
A: I could never see privatizing police or fire, (or) anything public safety in nature. Public safety to me is electric, fire, water, sewer and the majority of Public Works ... Because don't tell me the first time you go to flush your toilet and it doesn't work, that's not a public safety issue.
Q: Are you planning to run in 2012?
A: So far, I've gotten really positive feedback from the community. I've made arrangements for all my billboards already. I have not put any money out or asked anybody for support other than just a few people who have worked on my campaign in the past, and they are all supportive of me running again. So unless that changes, I expect to.
Q: Why do you want to run again?
A: I really love the opportunity to serve the community. It takes a lot of time to really understand the job. I would honestly say it takes a good four years to get a good grasp of it all. I will say that because I spent many nights in the audience doing my homework, I came in with a better understanding than most people who run for office.
Q: Do you ever see yourself running for higher office?
A: No. The reason that I do what I do is because I love Lodi. If you run for higher office, are you losing focus for the love and passion that drives you to do what you are doing?
Q: Where do you see Lodi in 10 years?
A: I suspect that Lodi will have fared fairly well through the economic downturn. We are going to come out bigger, stronger. We will have taken leaps and bounds in our tourism. We will need to update our General Plan again because we will have successfully brought in much industry and manufacturing businesses.
Q: If you could snap your fingers and have one thing for Lodi what would it be?
A: Cherokee Lane completely remodeled — new sidewalks, new roads, new businesses.
Q: What type of businesses do you want to see there?
A: From my perspective, it's free enterprise. I know redevelopment is a poor subject, but if I could have had my way for redevelopment, it would've been the infrastructure of Cherokee Lane. You need to provide the infrastructure for a business — meaning water hookups, sidewalks, all the costs related to updating and moving your business into a sight — and redevelopment would of covered all of that. It would've been a very, very enticing tool for shopping centers and restaurants and things of that nature.
Q: Do you think your experience of going through cancer is going to influence your time as mayor at all?
A: Certainly the way I look at things. I've been faced with a lot of challenges in my life. I've been fortunate enough to overcome them all, including cancer, but it definitely gives you a different perspective in life. You don't sweat the small stuff as much as you used to. You appreciate things much more, love a little more, hate a little less.
As you are driving home, instead of just focusing on the traffic, you actually pay attention to the sun setting, and the things that you are grateful to see every day.