Here at the Tracy Press, we continue to research a story on city-issued credit cards for staff. We do not yet have all of the facts, and seriously doubt whether anyone else does either. Still, there are a few people around town who are ready to throw City Manager Leon Churchill out of his job.
We were in the process of investigating that story when Churchill announced at the Feb. 4 City Council meeting that he had been counseled more than once by the council for his use of city-issued credit cards for personal items. According to Mayor Brent Ives, Churchill reimbursed the city for any charges for personal items. Ives also said that he felt the City Council handled the issue appropriately, privately discussing it as a human resources issue. Further, Ives said there was no evidence to suggest malfeasance.
In the public meeting, Churchill admitted that he had made mistakes, but he and Ives publicly agreed that there was no intent to defraud the city. “If for one minute we thought there was any deliberate attempt or any truly devious attempt to try and defraud the city, then we would have certainly taken other actions,” Ives said.
That satisfied some observers and not others. Dave Helm, owner of Helm’s Ale House in downtown Tracy, brought the issue to a council meeting in January and remains in hot pursuit of Churchill. Helm said he thinks the city is trying to sweep the matter under the rug.
It’s an election year. Ives is retiring as mayor, and there are two other council seats up for vote in November among the five-member City Council. The local economy is rebounding, and with that comes a revival of activity and interest in commercial and residential development.
When the economy was in the tank, it was no coincidence that political rhetoric cooled for a few years. Now, once again, there is much at stake in local politics — and old wounds have not fully healed. Issues surrounding the growth control ordinance, Measure A, passed in 2000, remain controversial, with forces lining up on either side.
We hope that this year’s election in Tracy will remain issue-oriented and debates will take place in the spirit of people of goodwill airing their differences out in the open.
Additionally, we hope that Tracy does not degenerate into a reflection of Washington, D.C., where important matters take a back seat to political paybacks to whichever party is in power at a given time.
By all accounts, including an otherwise stellar recent employee evaluation, Churchill has done a terrific job in six years as city manager. Tracy is financially healthy and poised to grow into a model community as more good job-producing entities seek to locate here, despite the limitations of the residential growth control ordinance.
Obviously the city should carefully review its policies and procedures on use of credit cards to reduce the possibility of future problems. Unless there’s more to the story than we’ve seen so far, we support Churchill and believe the community should also give him the benefit of the doubt.