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Editorial: Rising to the challenges presented by what may be Lodi’s most crucial job

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Posted: Saturday, January 25, 2014 12:00 am

We’re losing a capable city manager with Rad Bartlam moving to Chino Hills. It’s never easy filling such a crucial position, yet Lodi may have a strong natural replacement in City Attorney Stephen Schwabauer.

Schwabauer has been named interim city manager, a move he says was unexpected. But he also says he is excited by the challenge. The city council has suspended any search for city manager candidates.

It is clear that, at this point, the city manager job is Schwabauer’s to lose.

We’re among those who didn’t see this appointment coming, but we’re cheering for Schwabauer. He is a long-time Lodi resident with deep ties to the community.

He’s open-minded and bright, a very good listener but also a fellow who can and does speak his mind.

As the city’s labor negotiator, he knows city staff, including both rank and file and management. From what we hear, he has the respect of both.

He is also a problem solver.

We were impressed by Schwabauer’s swift mastery of the infamous PCE pollution suits in 2004, soon after the city council handed him the responsibility of settling the complicated litigation. It was a difficult situation for the Lodi News-Sentinel, as we were defendants in a legal morass. Schwabauer played a dual role of plaintiff against citizens like us and defendant, being forced to settle with state authorities under federal law.

He was staunch advocate for Lodi taxpayers while maintaining a business-like relationship with defendants such as ourselves. The fact that the contamination is being cleaned up attests to his problem-solving skills.

He helped lead the community from the quagmire of that litigation with skill and persistence.

Moreover, we sense about Schwabauer a decency and earnestness, a sense of “what you see is what you get.” He cites as one of his mentors Judge Bob McNatt, a former Lodi city attorney, also a fellow known for his intellectual depth and integrity.

We’d be surprised if Schwabauer plans on using the Lodi city manager job as a stepping stone to another position. We’d also be surprised if he has some kind of political or personal agenda.

Schwabauer is not an expert on the city budget, or planning, or fire or police. As a city attorney, he’s a generalist. As a city manager, he’ll be a generalist, too, albeit one with a keen sense of curiosity and the ability to learn quickly.

We’ll also note that Schwabauer is open to the press and public. Agree or disagree, he is a responsive and respectful communicator. On matters of public records and public meetings, city attorneys can exercise substantial discretion. Our take: Schwabauer’s instinct has been toward sunshine, not shadow.

Schwabauer is an avid cyclist. He’s completed some Herculean adventures, including the so-called Death Ride in which participants struggle over five Sierra passes, pedal 129 miles and climb over 15,000 feet.

Schwabauer, by all appearances, is willing and able to take on challenges.

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