Opinion Columns & Blogs

Herbert A. Opalek: Changing of the guard

Herb Opalek

If you have ever visited either Arlington National Cemetery or Buckingham Palace in London you have been treated to the spectacle of the changing of the guard.

These soldiers are trained in such an exacting manner that their performance is an extraordinary and exacting one.

Here in Merced, we are in the throes of our own changing the guard.

In this new electoral cycle, we are losing a veteran mayor (Ellie Wooten) and two long-serving City Council members (Joe Cortez and Jim Sanders).

In their place we have Bill Spriggs as mayor and Bill Blake, Josh Pedrozo and Mary-Michal Rawling as City Council members.

Added to this mix is the fact that we have a relatively new, but effective, city manager and have lost the experience of John Carlisle as mayor pro tem.

While we may quibble over the effectiveness of the last leadership of our fair city; there can be no doubt that Wooten and her cohorts served our city to the best of their abilities. You name the event and Wooten, Gabrialt-Acosta, Carlisle, et al were there.

In the vernacular of the advertising world, you could "always reach out and touch" them.

Wooten was a workhorse for us and is deserving of praise and our thanks. While not always agreeing with Carlisle on issues such as the Wal-Mart distribution center, I believe he has been an effective advocate for some very unpopular community position such as his advocacy for the homeless.

Sanders came to his council seat with a rich background in community benefit organizations while Cortez brought years of police and involvement in our Hispanic community. Both asked penetrating questions during council sessions but, unfortunately, never took the lead in suggesting appropriate solutions.

This leadership has not accomplished all that it had undertaken.

To name a few, the Wal-Mart issue, through no fault of their own, is still not over. Homelessness will continue to be an issue for the new council. The economy is such that Merced will have to revisit ongoing budgetary concerns.

Spriggs has shown himself to be a well reasoned and articulate city leader. One can only hope that his visibility will be high and that he will indeed take the reins and lead.

John Bramble has proven himself, in his capacity of city manager, as a superior technocrat and, hopefully, he can maximize the skill and capacity of city staffers to be more effective.

The three new council members bring much experience to their new jobs. They combine experience in police, education and nonprofit, and these skill sets will only enhance their effectiveness.

It will wait to be seen if they are politically on the same page and if they can mesh well enough to further us along.

We are on the cusp of great change in our city, county and state. One can only hope that this new group of leaders will forge complimentary alliances with our Board of Supervisors, at least less hostile than the last leadership and move together to grow Merced.

I know that this new city leadership's performance will be less flawless than the soldiers who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers or the Queen of England. That is to be expected.

The terms guard and watchman are often interchangeable. We have set new guards and watchmen over our city and I am reminded of the words of the Psalmist:

"Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city the watchmen stand guard in vain."

I pray that God grant this city more blessing and opportunity with these our new watchmen and guards.

Herbert A. Opalek is CEO of the Merced County Rescue Mission.