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Term limits threaten privatization deal

Excerpted from article by Cheryl Miller
Record Staff Writer
Published Monday, June 9, 2003

Stockton candidates are lining up  to run for four City Council seats. Term limits will force Mayor Gary Podesto, Vice Mayor Gloria Nomura, and Councilmen Richard Nickerson and Larry Ruhstaller from office in December 2004. Their departures will make room on the seven-member council for a new majority that will decide how Stockton grows and pays for services demanded by a booming population.

The new members will oversee a controversial, $600 million, 20-year contract -- one of the largest in the nation -- with private water-utility operator OMI-Thames.

On a 4-3 vote, the council approved the deal, arguing that a private company could upgrade and run Stockton's water, wastewater and stormwater systems more cheaply than the city. The new council majority will be charged with ensuring that happens.

The council nomination period doesn't open officially until November. But seven candidates already have said publicly that they want a voice in that decision.

Mayoral candidates

Former Councilwoman Ann Johnston, termed out of office last year, announced months ago that she would run for mayor. A vocal challenger of Podesto's policies while on the council, Johnston opposed utilities privatization and has complained that the public too often is left out of important city decisions. Johnston, 60, a former Lodi Unified School District trustee, owns The Balloonery party-supply shop.

Stockton Police Chief Ed Chavez, also 60, is Johnston's only announced
challenger to date. A 30-year veteran of the force, Chavez has said he will not campaign for mayor until he retires from the Police Department in October. He is backed by Podesto, however, and is expected to receive support from Stockton's business community.

* To reach reporter Cheryl Miller, phone (209) 546-8252 or e-mail cmiller@recordnet.com