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The road to victory is long, the road to good government is even longer
John Lazar
Turlock Mayor John Lazar

This is a remarkable time to be the Mayor in the City of Turlock.  It has been observed that the passage of time is what keeps things from happening all at once. We often fail to appreciate how incremental accomplishments, large and small, form a mosaic representing substantial momentum and achievements for Turlock and Stanislaus County.

John F. Kennedy said that “for time and the world do not stand still. Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.”

Turlock is not the community that entered this century or even the same one that existed when I first took office.  Longtime residents, newcomers and visitors to Turlock inevitably comment on both the beauty and vibrancy of our community. They see the physical transformation and recognize this reflects many significant accomplishments.  I would like to spend a few moments reflecting on that progress and expressing my thoughts about the future ahead.

Twenty-two years ago, I was sworn into office as a city council member and eight years ago I took the oath to serve as Mayor. I've heard it said during campaigns before that "the road to victory is long, but the road to good government is even longer." I think that's true. But the road to good government is much shorter when we do things the right way — remaining committed to cooperation, even when we've disagreed.

During those 22 years, we have accomplished much and achieved things that have set our course for years to come. The way we govern really does matter. It matters a lot and it has taken all of us, both inside and outside of government, supporters and critics, to help create a culture of governing that works. As I look back on more than two decades of public service, there are five points that keep coming back to me.

First, we have learned as a community that good government, government that works, is open and collaborative. Time and again we have seen that taking the time to hold meetings, listening to folks' concerns, suggestions, while explaining why we sometimes might go in another direction, leads to better outcomes. Those of us in a position to govern are there because people have placed a tremendous amount of trust in us. The people of Turlock put us in office to get it right for the community, not for ourselves. In other words, it is more important that we have gotten to the "right answer" than to "our" answer — often the answer we started with.

Second, good government is for the long term. Our decisions have consequences that reach well into the future. A friend told me when I first began as a young city council member — "Be careful. The decisions you make will be around for a long time." He was right. We have to make sure future mayors and future councils do not find themselves bound by poor decisions made just to get something off of our plates or for short term advantage. Thinking only in terms of the next quarter's stock price has led many companies to failure. There are real lessons for us in government when we look at decision making in that context.

Third, we have all stayed well focused on the fact that we are constrained by financial realities. Expenditures and revenues must match up so we often have to say "no" to great projects. Council and City directors and employees, and citizens have used great discipline in helping us keep from getting carried away during the good times. It sure has helped when times got tough.

Going forward we must use great discipline with our budgeting. We live in a competitive environment. Families choose where they live and businesses choose where to locate. Our goal is to make Turlock, the Jewel of the Valley, the greatest city to live, work, play, and raise a family. To do this we have to be financially strong with a solid infrastructure. We must provide excellent city services.

Fourth, we have concentrated on the core of the city. It has become increasingly apparent that healthy cities have healthy cores. An economically sound heart of the city provides jobs and cultural and social life to folks all throughout the region. It provides an economic engine rather than a drain on local resources.  We must keep our eye on the prize in developing the downtown of Turlock. Working in tandem with private developers, we have had great success downtown. The core of the city provides us with great opportunity to use existing infrastructure to provide great living and working space. We are making great progress, with such notable additions to downtown Turlock with Dust Bowl, Memos, the University, Carnegie Arts Center, Public Safety Facility, La Mo, the new Vintage Lounge, and others. We also see new growth in our commercial power center — Monte Vista Crossings with the addition of Joann’s Fabrics and Crafts as well as Dick’s Sporting Goods.  The Geer Road commercial corridor saw Walmart Grocery reuse the former Mervyn's building.  Enhancing shopping choices and opportunities is Turlock's new mantra!

Economic development is more than just infrastructure, jobs, and buildings. It is a pathway to a fiscally sound City. As the economy continues to improve in the coming years, it is essential that Turlock is recognized for its assets and is known as a welcoming and effective city in which to conduct business. Our Turlock Regional Industrial Park is a unique asset with which we can uniquely market ourselves as the Silicon Valley of Food processing. It is another prominent jewel in the crown of our community.  Expanding job opportunities for Turlock's citizenry is a recipe for success!

Lastly and most importantly, over the past five years we have become keenly aware that our citizens are our customers. They pay for government and our services have to be responsive, fair, and, above all, effective.  We don't really get the opportunity to judge our own performance. Of course there is no shortage of other folks more than willing to do that. But I am so proud of all of us — city employees, the press, the public, and I want to also emphasize City Council - we have worked hard at government and it has been very rewarding. There is a new sense of pride in our City and confidence in our great potential.  Together we have all grown as a community. We have not only learned to agree and work to get some really great things done; we have also learned to disagree in civil and constructive ways. Both are critical in developing a culture that works. We must never lose sight of that. My most disappointing council meetings were those in which a difference of opinion appeared to reflect a lack of respect.

Like everything else that we work to do, all of these accomplishments took a lot of effort, creativity and more than a few disagreements. But in the end, doing government the right way - not just my way - produced some wonderful results. As we emerge from this Great Recession, Turlock is clearly on a distinct track, set apart from many other communities’ here in the San Joaquin Valley. A new day has dawned for Turlock. Our City has awakened with not only the hope that surrounds a new morning and the opportunities it brings, but also a track record that demonstrates achievement and the reflection of a strong vibrant community. Bold new ideas are emerging and City Hall resonates with customer service in everything we do to serve our community.  The City’s growth and development are being reinvigorated. Turlock is truly a City on the move.

On a final note as we moved forward, one of the greatest challenges we face is to keep from pitting one area against another and one group against another.  Our tradition has been non-partisan city government and elections.  City politics shouldn't be a place for party politics.  I think most will agree Americans get a steady douse of this from our state and national leaders.

If we look at success as a zero-sum game, where one's gain is only at anther’s loss, we really don't benefit.  Council has generally tried to maintain a delicate balance, recognizing the importance of individual groups and interests, while not ever losing sight of the greater good for our citizenry. There have been other public agencies that have at one time or another lost sight of this goal and their community has paid the price. I am hopeful that keeping our collective eye on the greater good is the tradition our future leaders will uphold.

As I close this chapter on my time with the Turlock City Council,  I can only say that it has been a privilege to serve the town I was born, attended school and college, and — along with my wife, Nellie, am raising our family.   When I first took office as a new city council member in December 1994, I knew it would be an honor to serve our community alongside many capable fellow council members.  I can't sign off without thanking them for working with me — Curt Andre, Maurice Palmberg, Ron Hillberg, Carolyn Ratto, Larry Rumbeck, the late Marty Yerby, the late Billy Wallen, Beverly Hatcher, Kurt Vander Weide, Kurt Spycer, Ted Howze, and Mary Jackson. Also, current Council Members Forest White, Amy Bublak, Bill Dehart and Steven Nascimento — have made recent years meaningful.  It has also been a pleasure to interact with talented city management and staff, capable city commissioners, task force and committee members.  I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with committed public servants, and proud of the things we have been able to do together.

President Kennedy also said, “rising tides lift all boats.”    The jewel of the valley has become the pride of California's Central Valley!