Woman, 77, keeping an eye on Atwater leaders

April 12, 2010 

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SUN-STAR PHOTO BY MARCI STENBERG Ruth Oosting MMM

MARCI STENBERG — Merced Sun-Star

ATWATER -- When 77-year-old Ruth Oosting walked into City Manager Greg Wellman's office for the first time last week, she sat down and said, "I know all about you."

And she did.

That's Ruth Oosting.

She cradles a binder full of newspaper clippings pasted neatly onto three-holed paper. When she wants to know something, she researches it. She knows all about Wellman's 40-year public service career.

She thinks the Atwater City Council makes too much money, so she researches. She knows the rules of engagement for demanding information from the council. To prove her point, she's called other cities to request how much their councils are paid.

Each Atwater councilmember receives at least $1,600 a month in salary, plus stipends that provide a car allowance, cell phone reimbursement and cash in lieu of health insurance. Together, the council will be paid more than $136,000 in the 2009-10 fiscal year.

When Oosting recently took the lectern to speak before the council, she was so well-versed on the regulations of how to ask for information that Wellman suggested privately that she might have been coached by someone.

False.

"My thing with Atwater's City Council is I just don't think they deserve that kind of money," Oosting explains. "I didn't know who else to go to so I thought I would do it on my own."

And there's no sign Atwater's going to shake off Ruth Oosting anytime soon.

"I will go stand with petitions in front of the stores to do something about this," she said. "I think it's wrong. There are so many people without jobs."

The councilmembers' $700-a-month car allowance really rubs Oosting the wrong way.

"I just think it's an awful waste of our money," she said. "I really want people in Atwater to get help with this. We are not that wealthy."

Oosting worked 31 years for American Home Products, now known as Wyeth, as an assistant to the personnel director. She has lived in Atwater for almost 15 years. She was a constant volunteer until a scare with breast cancer slowed her activities. And it was an October 2009 Sun-Star story on council pay that sparked her latest passion.

Wellman said it's not often he sees a concerned citizen who goes to Oosting's level of research to tackle a problem.

Asked if his recent meeting with her about council salaries might be the end of her inquiry, he chuckled. "I am sure she will be back," he said. "I anticipate she will probably do some research and call me again, and make sure what she has is accurate."

In Atwater, Ruth Oosting matters.

Reporter Amy Starnes can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or astarnes@mercedsun-star.com.