New voting methods will work

I have voted in every General Election for the last 20 years, and since that time I’ve been shocked at the number of people I’ve encountered who have said that heading to the polls has been a hassle for them on election day.
It’s been a lot of people.
I had coworkers at the Independent Newspaper group in Burlingame lament about how much time was taken out of their day to go to the polls, even though they lived less than two blocks from a polling place. Instead, they opted to be an absentee voter, mailing their ballots in by a certain date for their vote to count. To me, that would be more of a hassle, because you have to remember to get to the mailbox to cast your vote. Maybe I’m in a small minority, because I’ve let mail sit on the table for weeks before I remember that an important bill is due tomorrow. Given my habit — which I’ve lately been able to correct by putting notes on a calendar (even though sometimes I forget to do that!) — I’d be afraid my absentee ballot would never get mailed in.
In addition, if I recall, you had to apply to be an absentee voter and have a very good reason, such as being permanently disabled.
But that will all change in a few years, as the Secretary of State has announced legislation that would allow all voters to vote by mail if they choose. Your vote-by-mail ballot will be mailed to you, and all you have to do is send it in by Election Day. Sounds easy enough.
I, for one, love going to the polls to vote. It feels like I’m accomplishing something. It feels like I’m actually making a difference. Not that voting by mail isn’t accomplishing anything, because you are still making a difference when you send your ballot in by mail.
I understand the need to change the way Californians vote. Very few people vote anymore. they’re not heading to the polls, and many don’t want to fill out the application to vote by mail.
According to the Secretary of State, just 30.9 percent of Californians voted last November. However, the State of Colorado, which has employed a similar voting model since 2006, had 56.9 percent of its residents casting ballots last November. In 2008, 70.7 percent cast ballots, and in 2012, 70 percent cast ballots.
The new model seems to be working, and our county’s Registrar of Voters wholeheartedly supports the move.
Not only will we all get to vote by mail, we can go to any polling place in the county. I like that.
I’d always have to stop in at the polling place on my way to work when I lived in Pacifica, which wasn’t bad because it was a block away from my house. However, there was one year I forgot to stop in the morning and had to rush home from Milpitas — a good 60-minute drive — to vote before the polls closed. For times when residents won’t have time to stop in at the polling place on their way to or from work, this is great. There will now be one near your place of work, most likely, so you can head on over during the day to cast your ballot.
In addition, polling places will be open 10 days prior to election, and drop off boxes will be located in various places for you to place your ballots. These are great measures for those on the go with little to no time to head to the polls.
As for me, I’m still going to go, stand at my booth and mark my ballot before feeding it to the counting machine, which is always the best part!

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My past journalistic experiences with crash suspect

Monday was a rare occasion in which I was able to cover a court appearance for the Record.
I’ve covered court cases before, including the Gwen Araujo murder retrial in Alameda County, a few small-time bank robbery arraignments in the same county, as well as the arraignments for the pipe bomb suspect who was arrested in Lodi earlier this year.
On Monday though, I was covering a court appearance of Ryan Morales, the Lodi resident who is accused of plowing into a family at the corner of Ham Lane and Vine Street, killing six of them.
Judge Seth R. Hoyt denied the defense’s motion to drop the murder charges. Morales’ mother sobbed as she walked out of the courtroom. While she wouldn’t go on record and speak to me or reporters from KCRA and Fox40, she did express feeling that her son was “unconscious” at the time of the accident on Oct. 22, 2013. She felt that because her son has no recollection at all of the accident, he shouldn’t be charged.
This is not a case of a poor unfortunate man. Morales has had a history of displaying wanton disregard for other people.
He has a criminal record dating back several years, and he’s had several stints in various county and city jails.
When I covered the city of Fremont for Bay Area News Group’s weekly Fremont Bulletin, I wrote about one of Morales’ run-ins with law enforcement.
Here it is :
I remember speaking to Fremont PD’s PIO at the time about this case. When it was all said and done, Morales allegedly told Fremont officers that he drove recklessly because he knew from watching a lot of the television show “COPS” that police terminate pursuits when they become too dangerous.
If I recall, he also climbed up on the roof of a business — which turned out to be a 7-11 in this case — because police usually get tired of waiting a perp out when they get up on rooftops. He learned that on “COPS” too, according to Fremont PD.
Morales had been arrested in Fremont a few other times on suspicion of beating the mother of his child. He’s been arrested in Fremont and Union City on drug and burglary charges, battery and petty theft. I remember printing his name numerous times while at the Bulletin.
In the Fremont pursuit, he admitted to knowing there was a warrant for his arrest, which is why he tried to evade police. The warrant, according to court records, was for failing to appear in court.
He served the majority of 16 months in San Quentin for the pursuit, according to court records, and was released about a month prior to the collision.
Prior to the accident, he had allegedly downed an entire bottle of vodka with his father and then jumped in the vehicle that killed the Miranda family. Just minutes before the crash, he almost caused another collision at Ham Lane and Lodi Avenue.
As Morales was led from the courtroom to another department on Monday, he gave reporters a one-finger salute and smirked.
While I understand the grief his mother was going through Monday, to think he should be let off because he was 17 sheets to the wind and has no recollection makes me scratch my head.
Morales will appear in court again Aug. 31, when his murder trial begins.

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It’s a small world

Today I received a call from First 5 San Joaquin executive director Lani Schiff-Ross. When she identified herself, I thought she was going to note a small error in a story I wrote regarding the Head Start Development Council’s plan to pursue a grant through her agency (that small error will be clarified in another Head Start story I’m preparing for Thursday!).
That was not the case. It seems after perusing my blog she and I hail from the same neck of the woods, graduating from the same high school, although she graduated some years before I did.
It was fun to wax nostalgic about a city that once considered asking Chrysler for royalties because one of the automaker’s vehicles shared the same name as the town.
She wanted to know how often I go back and if anything had changed, to which I happily explained that the Taco Bell on the beach is still there (the first question people ask me is if I’ve ever eaten at the Taco Bell on the beach when I tell them where I’m from), our two-screen movie theater is now a Walgreens, and the other high school in Pacifica, once a football powerhouse that produced former Raider Kevin Gogan is now an academics-focused structured school, among other changes.
I never thought I’d run into — so to speak — anyone from my hometown in San Joaquin County, although Rich Hanner, who I had the pleasure to work with for about a year during my stint at the Lodi News-Sentinel, had worked at the Pacifica tribune long ago.
Some interesting facts about Pacifica: comedian Rob Schneider hails from there, and his older brother is a former city councilman.
Former NY Mets first baseman Keith Hernandez attended my high school for about a year before transferring out of the district.
Parts of the town are mentioned in Amy Tan’s “The Joy Luck Club,” and it played a huge role in the movie “Jade” the film David Caruso left NYPD Blue to make in order to kickstart a failed movie career.
Pacifica also inspired the fictional town of Corona in the novel-turned-movie “The House of Sand and Fog.”
My conversation with Lani just goes to prove, in a way, that it is a small world. I wonder if after this entry I’ll get more calls or emails from former Pacificans.

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Head Start rumors

Since my last article about the Head Start Child Development Council ran, I’ve received a couple anonymous phone calls from employees alleging the agency is charging them $8.50 to attend a close-out picnic June 13.
I’ve contacted HSCDC executive director Linda Butterfield this morning for a statement or response to this claim. She confirmed there is an $8.50 charge, but only if employees choose to eat from a catered taco bar. This was approved by the HSCDC Board of Directors after taking a vote from staff to see if they wanted a potluck or catered event.

Butterfield said the majority wanted a catered event. Those attending who don’t want to pay $8.50 at the picnic can bring their own food, according to a flyer Butterfield emailed me today.

This isn’t the first time during my time writing about Head Start that I’ve received anonymous correspondences from program employees or people related to employees with claims of deception and lies.
Just days prior to my first article about the program in April, I received an email from a former employee’s partner claiming the program was completely ending as of June 30 because a new grantee had not been identified to take over program operations. The source said employees had been sent termination notices confirming this.
I contacted some HS sites, and employees either didn’t know anything about any letter, or said what they received were WARN Act notices.
Employers with more than 100 employees are legally required to send WARN notices to employees 60 days in advance in the event of proposed layoffs. At an April meeting, the HSCDC and its board of directors said there were no layoffs, and they were unsure if any were going to happen.
What they were sure of was that the HS program would not be ending. And it won’t be. Two grantees — most likely the San Joaquin County Office of Education and Community Action Partnership of Kern County — will be operating the HS program in July.
Where some of these allegations I receive from employees who wish to remain anonymous is a mystery. And the thr HSCDC and its board of directors have labeled these claims rumors.
Another anonymous employee I spoke to last week said the Record never printed anything about alleged wrongdoings committed by former executive director Gloryanna Rhodes and former human relations director LaJuana Bivens.
The Record did, in fact, print something last fall.
I am beginning to suspect that some of these employees are angry or scared and are looking for someone to blame. They have every right to be scared and angry. A transitional period when it comes to employment creates a lot of stress.
However, to bring allegations against their employers and then not want to go on record will not bring their claims to light — unless they have a union representative speak for them at a HSCDC board meeting or file formal complaints.
I’d love to write something on this claim of picnic admission, if only the Head Start employees would want to come out of the shadows to tell their story.

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News-Sentinel sold

I was at lunch today in Lodi with my excellent Record colleagues when members of the Lodi Police walked in and congratulated me on today’s sale. I guess they thought I was still at the News-Sentinel, even though they had congratulated me when it was let out I was moving onto the Record!
Through the power of the Internet my co-workers Googled News-Sentinel sale — or a similar phrase — and we learned the publication had been sold to Central Valley News-Sentinel, Inc. We had never heard of it. It appears to be based in Canada, with properties in both countries.
Record business writer Reed Fujii is writing something up for tomorrow’s edition.
I spent a little more than a year at the News-Sentinel before coming here in April. Before you ask — no, I did not know what was going down prior to my departure!
Although I am no longer there, I am kind of in shock. Other times I’ve seen publications sold to larger companies, layoffs follow. It happened when Media News Group bought the Alameda Newspaper Group — another former employer of mine — more than 10 years ago. When that happened, layoffs occurred at the company’s Oakland Tribune and Hayward Daily Review properties. There may have been some at the Fremont Argus and other dailies as well. I was at the weekly Milpitas Post, which was apparently off-limits to the cutbacks, from what I remember.
What is also shocking to me is what little is known about the new owners. I was expecting a company like Gannett or McClatchy to be the buyer when Lodi’s finest broke the news to me this afternoon. Hopefully more information will come out about Central Valley News-Sentinel, Inc.
I hope it will be a smooth transition for my former co-workers at the LNS, and I hope this new company will keep them around.
Check out the article we print very soon. Hopefully we can find out all we can about the new owners.

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Stockton’s library deficit

Last night I attended the San Joaquin County League of Women Voters’ annual meeting, where new city librarian Suzy Daveluy and Strong Libraries=Strong Communities chair Mas’ood Cajee spoke about the Stockton/San Joaquin County library system.
Cajee brought up some interesting statistics about libraries in other cities and compared them to Stockton.
What I found most interesting — and was unable to calculate the exact costs while nearing deadline last night — was how much Stockton spends on its libraries compared to other cities.
According to Cajee, Stockton spends $15 per resident on its libraries, compared to $90 spent per resident in Seattle and Portland. He said San Francisco spends somewhere around $110 per resident.
This morning I crunched the numbers. If you take 2013 population information from the U.S. Census Bureau website, you’ll find Stockton’s population was 298,118. Using Cajee’s spending example, that means Stockton spends just $4.5 million on its libraries within city limits.
Maybe it’s not fair to compare Stockton to Seattle, Portland or SF, considering their populations are nearly three times greater.
Seattle’s population in 2013, according to the Census Bureau, was 652,405. that means it spends $58.7 million on its libraries. Meanwhile, Portland — population — 609,456 in 2013 — spent $54.9 million. And with a population of 837,442 in 2013, San Francisco would have spent $92.1 million, using Cajee’s examples.
Cajee also said that Stockton — with just four branches in its city limits — has one library for every 75,000 residents. He compared that to Sacramento and Salt Lake City, which both have one library for every 25,000 residents.
Sacramento had a population of 479,686 in 2013. That means it would have 19 libraries (although the city’s website reports 28). Meanwhile, Salt Lake City, with population of 191,180 in 2013, has eight libraries.
That caught my eye: a city smaller in population than Stockton has more libraries. Now, if the city takes into consideration the public’s urge to reopen the fair oaks Library, as was discussed at a city council meeting last night, that would give it five.
Even if the Fair Oaks Library were to reopen, I think Stockton would be on par with cities of similar size when it comes to providing libraries.
The City of Fremont — population 224,972 in 2013 — only has four libraries as part of the Alameda County Library System. Chula Vista, population 256,780, has four libraries. Irvine, population 236,716, has three.
Daveluy expressed interest at the LWV meeting last night in opening satellite branches in the future. Although where and when remain to be seen.

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Moving supervisors meetings?

Last week Stockton City Councilman Moses Zapien released a statement calling for a new start time for San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors meetings.
It’s an interesting idea. Zapien would like to move meetings from their current 9 a.m. start to sometime in the evening, preferably after 5 p.m. He said it would give county residents a better opportunity to become more involved in county government, given that many residents are at work when meetings are held.
At first, I liked the idea. After all, city council meetings start in the evenings. Most of them — at least all the ones I’ve covered in my lifetime — have started at 7 p.m. The majority of residents have been able to attend and give input, because they’ve come home from work and eaten.
However, many county boards of supervisors meetings begin in the morning. It seems like it’s a common rule for supervisors.
Just because these meetings begin at 9 a.m. doesn’t mean they aren’t well attended. In the handful I’ve covered so far, many are well attended by residents who have genuine concern about meeting items that may affect them, and many have approached the podium to speak.
Just last week, about a dozen or so county residents — mostly farmers — attended the board meeting to voice concern over a small water fee the county will begin charging to cover costs for water level and conservation investigation.
In January, many residents in District 1 attended meetings to voice opposition to Chairwoman Kathy Miller’s appointment to lead. There was much discussion about the topic from the dozen District 1 residents.
And after speaking with Miller and county counsel J. Mark Myles about the possibility of changing meeting start times, I have to agree with them that it really isn’t feasible.
Firstly, there’s the matter of getting your fellow supervisors on board with the idea. Second, there’s the matter of choosing a set time. Zapien said 5:30 p.m. would be good, as that is when Stockton city council meetings begin. But he also said he was open to 6 p.m. or 7 p.m.
While supervisor meetings don’t always include an afternoon session, many of those later sessions involve public hearings or labor disputes or property disputes. I don’t think the parties involved in those discussions want to be at board chambers late into the evenings. Given the fact some meetings can last six hours — with at least an hour break — moving them to the evening would make them last at least until 11 p.m. if they were to begin at 5 p.m. Starting at 7 p.m. means a 1 a.m. adjournment, Additionally, you wouldn’t be able to provide that hour break in the evenings either, which is good, but then public hearings over land and labor are pushed until 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. That is, unless the agendas are completely reworked to place said public hearing near the start of an evening meeting.
Then there’s supervisors’ schedules. Many of them sit on other boards and commissions, which also hold meetings on Tuesday evenings. Because a lot of them are also involved with the Council of Governments, that means frequent trips to Sacramento, San Francisco and Southern California throughout the year — some of which are overnight trips.
There’s a lot to consider when proposing a meeting change. It will be interesting to see if Zapien’s idea gathers any steam as he campaigns for a seat on the board.

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Reader reaction to Memorial Day listing

I received a few calls today from residents asking why I didn’t include certain Memorial Day ceremonies or why a lot of information was left out of an entry in today’s “Showing Respect” article —
I feel bad, but what was listed today were all the events submitted to us by cities and organizations who planned the events. If there’s an event you feel is missing, then whoever is organizing it never sent the Record word it was happening.
As for some things being left out — that was a space issue once again. Sorry, but it happens.
In one case, however, it appears we left out a guest speaker. Why is that? Apparently, this particular event is being put on by American Legion Ed Stewart Post 803, with help from Veterans of Foreign Wars Luneta Post 52. The listing I received was from the latter group, and the guest speaker for Monday’s 8:30 service at MLK park in Stockton, was not mentioned in said listing.
Nikki from Post 803 let me know that Councilman Moses Zapien will be the guest speaker at the event.
Again, I feel bad, but I only printed what came across my desk. I hope in the future more groups submit their event — no matter what holiday — to

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Lots of events planned for Memorial Day

I think a lot of people take Memorial Day for granted. to many, it’s just another day off from the grueling work week — at least, that’s how it felt to me growing up on the Bay Area’s San Mateo peninsula. You’d be hard-pressed to find a memorial ceremony down there.
Out here in San Joaquin County, I’ve seen a lot of events take place to honor our veterans on Memorial Day, which I think is awesome. If you’d like to go to one, I’ve compiled a list of Memorial Day events taking place throughout the county:

-The California Department of Parks and Recreation announced this week that veterans and those on active duty will be given free admission to state parks on Memorial Day.
-The Veterans of Foreign Wars Luneta Post 52 and American Legion Ed Stewart Post 803 are hosting a service at the Vietnam Memorial in MLK Park across from the Civic Auditorium at 11 a.m., and then heading to a wreath-laying ceremony at Parkview Cemetery, 3661 French Camp road in Manteca at 1 p.m.
-Members of the Go-Devils G.I. Jeep Club and the Military Vehicle Collectors of California will participate in a convoy starting at Cherokee Memorial Park at Hwy 99 & E Harney Lane in Lodi 9 a.m. They’ll make stops at Lodi Memorial Cemetery, Stockton Rural Cemetery, Temple Israel Cemetery in Stockton, Park View Cemetery in Manteca, Union Memorial Cemetery in Manteca and Collegeville Cemetery in Stockton.
-Cherokee Park & Funeral Home at Harney Lane and Highway 99 in Lodi will host the 58th Avenue of Flags Memorial Day Service at 10:30 a.m. Flag displays include 999 large Veteran flags lining the avenues of the cemetery; 7,293 small flags marking the burial sites of veterans; a Field of Flags honoring 6,847 combat veterans killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan; and a flag and name plaque tribute honoring 34 local veterans killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan.
-San Joaquin County Supervisor Bob Elliott will be the guest speaker at Lathrop’s Memorial Day Ceremony at 11 a.m. at Manuel Valverde Park, 15557 Fifth Street in Lathrop. Elliott is a retired colonel with the U.S. Army’s Green Berets and represents Lathrop as part of District 5 on the board.
-The American Veterans Traveling Tribute will be on display at Woodward Park in Manteca from 12-3 p.m. on May 25. The tribute is an 80-percent scale replica of the Vietnam Memorial, the World War II tribute Collection, the Korea War tribute Collection, the 9/11 Tribute, police and fire tribute panels and the Fort Hood Tribute Panel.
-The American Legion’s Karl Ross Post 16 will host a Memorial Day ceremony at 1 p.m. at 2020 Plymouth Road in Stockton.
-The Lodi Elks Lodge will host a Memorial Day Ceremony at noon at 19071 Lower Sacramento Road in Woodbridge. Admission is $5, but veterans will be admitted for free. Lunch is at noon, and the service will begin at 1:30 p.m. at the Masonic Cemetery on the corner of Lower Sacramento and Turner roads.
-Kautz Family Farms owner John Kautz will unveil a 7-foot-tall bronze statue of a soldier at Micke Grove Park Monday. The statue, created to honor World War II veterans, will be flanked by a wall made of bricks engraved with the names of fallen soldiers. A ceremony to honor veterans will begin at 4 p.m. Admission to the park will be free. A complimentary dinner will follow the ceremony on the big lawn at SJC’s Historical Museum and is open to all attendees.
-The Calaveras County Community Band will present a Memorial Day concert may 25 at 6:30 p.m. in Murphys Community Park. There is no admission. The band will perform a mixture of patriotic songs, Sousa marches and show tunes, as well as oldies. Attendees are encouraged to pack a picnic dinner.

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Further on on the water fee approved this week.

I’ve been with the Record a little more than a month, and I finally have my own blog, which i will use to provide additional information to you regarding some of the articles I write.
I tend to write lengthy pieces coming out of County Supervisor meetings as there is much discussion on many topics. However, There’s not always enough room in the paper for what I report to you.
For example, a county resident I quoted in my water fee story today said I failed to inform you that this fee does nothing to help those who are paying it. Well, I had originally written that in my article. But due to space constraints, it was omitted. So, I will provide the original copy of my article below:

A new fee enacted on all county residents will take effect in July that is geared toward helping fund critical water conservation efforts in San Joaquin County.
The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to approve a county-wide property related fee for water investigation at its May 19 meeting.
With the approval, county residents – including those who reside in incorporated city limits – will be charged the annual property fee.
According to county public works, the $1.25 million generated from this fee will be used to fund costs associated with groundwater monitoring and maintaining regional water rights.
The fee will replace a 25-year-old voter approved assessment that expires June 30, 2015, and will be based on land use, acreage and estimated population per property as of July 1.
As an example, a single family residence on a half-acre lot will pay an annual fee of $5.25, while an agricultural use on 640 acres could pay $275.10 a year.
About a dozen residents spoke during a public hearing required by Proposition 218 to voice their concern with the fee, as well as the county’s method of outreach.
Proposition 218 requires local governments to give property owners the opportunity to vote on any new or increased assessment before approval, as well as send proper notification to residents at least 45 days prior to a public hearing.
The measure also requires agencies to accept protest votes in response to rate changes or increases. If more than 50 percent of the population votes ‘no,’ the proposed change does not take effect.
Interim public works director Michael Selling said notifications had been sent to all 217,699 property owners in the county. Only 37,398 protest votes had been received by a noon deadline Tuesday.
Several residents in attendance were frustrated with the fact the county modeled fees after similar rates in the San Francisco-San Jose-Oakland consumer price index, a monthly collection of data on changes in prices paid by urban consumers for certain goods and services collected by the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Kimberly Walsh said the proposed fees are too high for residents in the San Joaquin Valley and should stay in the Bay Area. Walsh was one of many who suggested the county impose a fee based on water usage rather than parcel size.
“We don’t have the salary bases or incomes like they do in the Bay Area,” she said. “We’re all farmers. We don’t water all year. It’s your schools, businesses and industries that are using water every day.”
Selling told supervisors Tuesday that there are only three consumer price indexes in California – for the San Francisco Bay Area, the Los Angeles area and the San Diego area. Staff chose the CPI closest to San Joaquin County, he said. There is no CPI published for san Joaquin County, he said.
Rick McMaster argued that the fees collected at the end of the year will be used on administration and personnel, rather than replenishing the area with water, which is what the county really needs.
“There’s nothing in the notice you mailed out that says this fee will help maintain or restore our groundwater,” he said. “It’s getting out of hand. If the money really does go to restoring our groundwater, then that’s where it should go.”
Selling maintained the funds will go toward costs to investigate groundwater levels and make sure local water districts are able to keep their water rights and programs.
Last year, the state legislature mandated that local water districts and agencies submit annual groundwater sustainability plans to the Department of Water resources.
If local water agencies cannot manage their water resources to the state’s liking, then the state will move in and take control of the program to ensure water is being managed effectively.
Davis Gillingwater said sending notices out and only allowing one voter per property was unfair and not a proper way to gauge the community’s opposition to what many in attendance called a new tax.
Gillingwater urged the board to postpone any decision on the proposal until it could be retooled and presented a second time.
“You need to rewrite this, put it in the general election and let people vote on it,” he said. “Then you’ll get an accurate count of people who really do want it or not.”
Selling said state law prohibits the fee from being voted on in an election because it deals with water. He added that the new fee will not be significantly different than the assessment residents had already been paying for 25 years.
While the funds collected will not be used to purchase water or brig more water to the area, vice chairman Chuck Winn said the fee will help the county maintain its current supply so the state doesn’t take over.
“We are all trying to do everything we can to make sure the future is brighter, and that we have water for all residents,” he said. “I think we can come up with a plan that will better serve our needs and address (residents’) concerns.”

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