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7 questions with Tony Amador

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Posted: Monday, October 18, 2010 12:00 am

Q: If the city budget worsens, where would you cut? Please be specific.

A: The question about which city service would be cut if the city budget worsens does not offer an analytical approach to good governance. The first thing to be done would be to challenge both management and labor to make effective recommendations to the council as to what services should be cut. Also, the public plays a key role by giving their input as to what services they would recommend cutting and/or eliminating.

I am assuming that the city budget worsens and that the leadership of the city, specifically, the council members, have not planned for such an eventuality. Draconian measures made arbitrarily and unilaterally by the council is the very reason the public is disenchanted with the city fathers. Public input is vital to gaining the trust of the taxpayers. Though the council members are expected to set the final budget by policy decisions, it cannot be done in a vacuum.

Should the city budget worsen, I have the courage to cut where needed as my philosophy is that there are no "sacred cows" in government services. A top-to-bottom assessment would have to be conducted prior to eliminating any services.

Q: As a member of the council, how would you work effectively with other members whose perspectives conflict with your own?

A: After 40 years of government service, I have had various positions on how issues should be resolved, which have conflicted with my own view. A win-win philosophy in human behavior is different than a win-lose philosophy. One does not always get their way, and compromise for the good of the citizens of Lodi is a good character trait.

This does not mean that I will not fight for a position contrary to other council members' positions. However, being discourteous, rude, or disrespectful to others does not demonstrate leadership. Leadership requires that one is able to follow as well as lead. The public should also be treated with dignity and respect, as arrogance has no place in the public domain.

I have great confidence that my many professional and personal life experiences will aid me in helping others understand my positions. The electorate expects no less from their elected council members than to work effectively with other members whose perspectives may conflict with my own.

Q: Many cities are looking into outsourcing or privatizing some operations. What could be outsourced for the city of Lodi?

A: As a general philosophy, outsourcing or privatizing some government operations may at first blush be viewed as an "easy fix" in saving taxpayer money. However, upon closer analysis, many city functions require a level of trust similar to that of a fiduciary that private enterprise cannot guarantee.

I recall, in my experience, the state using incarcerated individuals to book airline reservations for state employees and others. This was a disaster from a confidential and security standpoint. I can unequivocally state that I am not a proponent of outsourcing police, fire or any functions that requires management direction over a critical city function.

Another example of keeping functions in-house that are of a sensitive nature may be revenue collection, disbursement and bookkeeping. We have seen ample evidence of private enterprise lacking requisite allegiance to their company as would be the case of a city employee.

Without further analysis, it would be foolish to list any service that could be outsourced. I must make it clear that there are functions that can be effectively performed by private enterprise at a cost-reduction to the city. When you factor in benefits and cost to the city, we should not be a full-employment opportunity provider of a government job.

Q: What is you vision in 10 years and, as a council member, how will you work to achieve it?

A: My vision for Lodi would be one where Lodi is a tourist destination spot that will entice people to come to the city and enjoy its atmosphere. This vision requires that in 10 years, we do not neglect the Eastside of the city and that we include our diverse cultures into the city fabric.

The city of Lodi has changed dramatically over the past 10 years, from a small city population to one of 60,000-plus residents. This population increase has brought various ethnic groups to the city. We have the rich cultures of Pakistan, India, Mexico, Germany, Portugal, Italy and various other countries.

The challenge in the next 10 years will require strong leadership to meld the contributions of many into a safe and attractive city. I envision in 10 years that the city will have encouraged residential development, support for small business development, and an infrastructure that can support its growth. In 10 years, I envision a city with a performance arts center, not unlike the Mondavi Center in Davis, but perhaps on a smaller scale; or an art museum, such as the Crocker Center in Sacramento. These are not "pie in the sky" goals, but rather those of a visionary and not a dreamer.

Q: Outline specifically how you would bring new jobs to Lodi. If part of your plan is to hire an economic development director, specify yardsticks to insure the position is cost-effective.

A: Bringing new jobs to Lodi requires that Lodi enjoy a reputation for being business-friendly. We cannot "nickel and dime" to death our present businesses, and we need to have, at the very least, an ombudsman or an economic director to recruit and retain new jobs to Lodi.

Incentives to draw new business to Lodi are just as important as taking care of our present business. Lodi needs to adopt a business friendly attitude. Presently, it is viewed as an obstructionist to expand or change from many of our local businesses. The permitting process should not act as a hurdle to vault, but rather, a facilitator and expediter of business expansion.

An economic development director carefully selected could act as the facilitator between current businesses and new businesses. By what standard would the position be measured as cost-effective? By what standard is a police officer or a fireman cost-effective? As far as the latter, is it response time or a decrease in crime? As you can see, it is difficult to measure a cost-effectiveness of an economic development director.

Q: How can city payroll and pension costs be controlled?

A: Public employee and payroll and pensions have been controversial subjects as costs have risen to a point of where the public views their taxes as too high to pay for these benefits. The federal government offers a pension system that is less than most cities in California. However, they do offer a 401(k) program that allows employees to contribute an amount that is matched up to 3 percent by the government. The individual can manage where his/her contribution is invested. This flexibility that is tax free until withdrawn has saved the federal government money.

The Los Angeles Police Department has gone through, at least, five pension revisions within the past 20 years. Previously, an employee was required to work 20 years before being eligible for a pension. The system had no return of contribution, no reciprocity, no portability and no social security benefits.

My background in labor relations will enable me to seek methods for controlling city payroll and pension costs. My previous positions as a member of the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, member of the Public Employee Relations Board, coupled with my J.D. degree from McGeorge Law School, University of the Pacific, will enable me to seek methods to control city payroll and pension costs.

Q: The city's electric utility is now recovering from a financial crisis created by burdensome debt. How can near melt-down in this operation be avoided in the future?

A: When assessing any business enterprise, such as the city of Lodi Electric Utility, a top-to-bottom audit needs to be conducted. What created the financial crisis? What created the burdensome debt? What future meltdowns in the operation can be foreseen and avoided in the future?

Electricity rates in Lodi are one of the most complained-about services that the taxpayer is "disgusted" with. Individuals have relocated out of the city into adjoining suburbs to beat the costs of electricity. An assessment of the utility company and its cost-effectiveness needs to be reviewed. What savings are being passed on to the ratepayers? What decisions are being made by management in the operation of the utility company that results in fee-burdens being placed on the citizens of Lodi? Has the City Council been allowing the "tail to wag the dog"?

Without drawing any conclusions, I, as a councilman, will study this issue with great interest. The ratepayers of Lodi deserve a councilman who will look into all matters.

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