Wastewater, decals spark comment

Wastewater, decals spark commentBy BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

The Ridgecrest City Council pulled two discussion items from Wednesday night’s agenda – wastewater and the placement of “In God We Trust” decals on emergency response vehicles – both of which still became discussion items during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Vice Mayor Wallace Martin explained that the items were pulled because he hadn’t correctly identified them as action items before they were added to the agenda.

“I don’t want to have an hour-long discussion and not take a vote,” said Martin. “It’s my bad.”

Member of the public Stan Rajtora used his public comment time to address wastewater anyway.

The city has long been working on a lease agreement with the Navy for the construction of a new wastewater treatment facility. The city council voted in 2012 to raise sewer rates in preparation for the new facility, but has yet to break ground on the project.

“I’ve heard a number of times we have a tentative agreement with the Navy,” said Rajtora. “I’ve requested it probably two-three-four times. I’m not going to stop requesting it. I haven’t heard anything or any reason why that tentative agreement shouldn’t be made public.”

City Manager Ron Strand reported at a previous meeting that the agreement was close, but that discussing it in public might tip the city’s hand in regard to negotiations. But Rajtora stated his opinion that transparency and public input would “far outweigh” any potential damage from informing the public.

“The reason for raising the rates was to garner funds to build a new plant,” said Mike Neel, also during public comment. He said he understood the desire for a healthy wastewater reserve fund, but that $27 million was unreasonable for the rates being charged.

“We need to cut back the sewer tax rates and be fair to the citizens,” said Neel.

Strand didn’t give an update on the lease agreement, but he announced near the end of the meeting that the city attorney had completed a draft of the operational agreement, which was provided to the Navy that morning. The next scheduled meetings between city and Navy representatives are on July 8 and 11.

The second item was a discussion to place “In God We Trust” decals on police cars and firefighting vehicles. The item was to be presented by Martin and Police Chief Jed McLaughlin. The initiative as proposed would not use any public funds but would be accomplished through donations and third parties.

Member of the public Bob McDermott opposed the initiative. saying that “it runs counter to the founding fathers’ separation of church and state.” He also said that it incorrectly assumes that we all share the same beliefs and that the officers all share the same beliefs.

“To place the motto ‘In God We Trust’ in any tax-supported place is not a unifying principal – it’s coercive and divisive,” said Dave Burdick. “Whose god are we talking about? Christian god, Muslim god, Jewish god, Hindu, animism, monotheists, polytheists ...”

Burdick suggested that the city stand by the separation of church and state and consider a motto like “In Law We Govern.”

Others pointed to the fact that City Hall already displays an “In God We Trust” banner and pointed to the Judeo-Christian influence of our nation’s founding.

“Read the writings of the founding fathers,” said Neel, who argued that Christian values were the impetus for our society’s laws. “Our standards like don’t kill and don’t steal – they didn’t grow up as a child and decide that. They got it from another source, and it’s not too hard to figure out what that source is.”

“During the Constitutional Convention, the Bible was mentioned 58 times,” said Ron Porter. “Probably 80 percent of our founding fathers wrote letters on why we needed a moral foundation.”

“We can get along, just because this person doesn’t believe in the Lord. Nobody is out there saying you have to go to church. But they’re trying to tear down the church. Christians and pastors heavily influenced our government – practically founded our government.”

Porter also suggested using “In the Creator We Trust” to be more accurate to the term used in the Constitution.

Member of the public Stephen Birdwell also opposed the decals. He cited the Treaty of Tripoli, signed in 1796 with modern-day Libya, a largely Muslim country. “As the government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility of [Muslims],” said the treaty.

Martin asked that both items be placed on the council’s next agenda as action items.

Story First Published: 2019-06-21