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Blair King was more than just a budget balancer

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Posted: Saturday, March 27, 2010 12:00 am

It's a shame Lodi City Manager Blair King is leaving now.

He has accomplished the difficult and may never be appreciated for the rewards Lodi will reap because of his professionalism and perseverance.

He'll be off in the elite Southern California resort city of Coronado, rising to whatever challenges its wealthy citizenry throws his way.

When he came to Lodi in 2005, we faced a rare challenge — our usually frugal city government was short of cash. Lodi's $41 million general fund, the account that pays for police, fire, recreation and other core city functions, had a paltry reserve of $157,000. Our historical cash cow — the city-owned electrical utility — was borrowing money from other funds.

Today, there's more than $4 million in general fund reserves and the utility department just had its bond rating buffed up.

That turn-around required sacrifice.

Lodians grumbled when sewer, water and electricity rates were raised. No one thanked King for laying off city workers, keeping some vacancies unfilled and closing down city operations to save money. Bargaining with employees to reduce benefits and holding the line on wages is not the work of heroes.

But it was what the times called for.

Not every project he put his hand to was a shining success. King pushed for redevelopment, seeing it as a tool to create a better Lodi. But with no concrete plan for using the money, the voters shot down King and the City Council.

Which brings up an important point: No city manager makes any of these decisions alone. The City Council members who supported King deserve equal billing for Lodi's improved credit rating and sounder bank balance.

On he other hand, King was more than a mere budget balancer.

Real Estate developer Dale Gillespie called King "a one-man economic development department."

Keeping Blue Shield in Lodi makes it possible for many Lodians to have good jobs without a long commute to Sacramento or the Bay Area.

Supporting the coming of Home Depot and Costco gives us more shopping options, to say nothing of a better sales tax base.

The same must be said for the unheralded contribution by King and other city staff members to the showdown over Sanborn Chevrolet. When GM blinked, Lodi kept a major employer and sales tax generator alive.

Perhaps King's most imaginative innovation involved local wineries who wanted access to the city's sewage treatment plant. Downtown Lodi needs tourists. King proposed the city allow rural wineries access to municipal sewage lines in return for locating wine tasting shops Downtown.

It is going to be very difficult for the City Council to find a manager with King's sound judgment and willingness to do what's right rather than what pleases.

But if no one else appreciates what Blair King did for Lodi these past five years, we're sure the next Lodi city manager is going to appreciate his hard work.

The people of Coronado are lucky.

Marty Weybret is publisher of the Lodi News-Sentinel.

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