Sept. 11, 2001. I will never forget. Will you?
Walter Pruss is a mild-mannered senior citizen who frequents City Council meetings. Periodically Walt delivers a comment or two to the council. Last week he made a simple request for information and was, in return, blown off by the mayor.
Pruss asked that he be provided with a breakdown of city indebtedness - how much do we owe in total, what do we owe broken down by various indebtedness; are the debts in the form of COP's or bonds etc. His request was not unreasonable and I'm convinced the information could have been gathered and sent to him without too much effort by city staff. Pennino advised Pruss that the information he requested was contained in the annual city budget, an inch thick document filled with single space numbers. Pennino went on to say that he would have a copy of the budget sent to Pruss and that he could read it on the upcoming Literacy Day.
Vice Mayor Susan Hitchcock was a little more understanding. She pointed out the complexities of the budget document and noted that it often takes council members years to fully understand the contents. She said that a simple response was all that Pruss wanted and that it should be sent to him without delay.
With an election just a few months away, I'm surprised that Pennino isn't a little more politically astute. At the very least, he owes Walter Pruss an apology.
It looks like the Eastside Redevelopment Agency may be DOA. At a recent council meeting, numerous speakers mentioned that they didn't trust the council and that they had no confidence in the plan to revitalize the Eastside.
Clearly the council was on the defensive. At the end of the multi-hour hearing, the best that could be accomplished was that the matter be tabled for several months so a possible compromise plan could be worked out. This could be a difficult task.
The opposition is organized and aggressive and stressed two points: They don't like the possibility of the city using eminent domain in the process and they felt the issue should be put to a vote.
Eminent domain is typically a vital tool in a successful redevelopment effort. Without it, the agencies' options may be limited. In an effort to reach a compromise, Councilmember Keith Land proposed removing eminent domain when dealing with residential property. This might work since most of those who mentioned eminent domain did so when speaking of their own homes.
Land ruffled the feathers of opposition organizer Jane Lea when he challenged the speakers to show the council a better plan. "Give us $200,000, a team of consultants and unlimited staff time and maybe we will," Lea told me. A unique idea but not likely to happen.
My best bet is that, if the council continues to push redevelopment, it will go to a vote, most likely as a single issue on the ballot. If it does the measure will most likely fail. The opponents have the momentum and it will be difficult to arouse interest from the rest of the city on an issue they will feel doesn't concern them. As Councilmember Land said; "It could be an Eastside - westside issue." That would be a shame.
After my last column in which I commented on the Lodi Fire Department push to enter the ambulance transport business, I received a phone call from Richard Hanner, the editor of the News-Sentinel. It was almost like being summoned to the principal's office.
Hanner asked if I had a relative who worked for AMR, the large ambulance company which covers the Lodi area. I told Rich that my oldest son works for AMR and asked him the reason for the question. He told me that he had received calls from City Hall that suggested that the relationship should have been disclosed and that my commentary on the matter might be biased.
The critics are correct in one respect. I should have disclosed the relationship to the readers. I have made no secret of my son's employment at AMR and am very proud and grateful for the work he and others in the emergency medical field provide all of us. Many people including city staffers and Lodi Firefighters Union representatives knew of it. Now you know it.
As to whether my commentary on the matter is biased, I will let you decide.
Those of you who have followed my somewhat checkered political career know that I have long been concerned about unnecessary growth in city government. I have also been a strong proponent of private enterprise. Watch what happens when a community hits an economic slump and jobs are lost - streets aren't swept, parks close, library hours are shortened, code enforcement is curtailed etc. It is the jobs in the private sector that creates the economic base that allows us to afford government.
I am not a fan of political correctness. If something needs to be said, I will say it. It shouldn't matter where my son works.
Bob Johnson, an avid observer of Lodi's political scene, is a former Lodi City Councilman and a long-time member of the city's Parks and Recreation Commission. He may be reached at email@example.com.
Bob Johnson, an avid observer of Lodi's political scene, is a former Lodi City Councilman and a long-time member of the city's Parks and Recreation Commission. He may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.