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Mayor Addresses Chamber Members
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Mayor Virginia Madueno spoke frankly with the assembled crowd at the Riverbank Chamber of Commerce's "Lunch with the Mayor" on Friday.

Tackling a controversial subject at the start, Madueno said in reference to City Manager Rich Holmer's dismissal after allegations of sexual harassment, she had felt compelled to act and follow the law for the protection of the city.

"There was a law we had to obey. Many people say we should have ignored (the allegations). But people brought information to me. I had to act on it or risk the city getting into trouble later when they said we told you and you did nothing," she said.

Going on to a more pleasing subject, Madueno said the city had reacted quickly on hearing Tuolumne County had approved a rock quarry that would mean several ore-laden trains a day passing through Riverbank and possibly blocking its road crossings. Riverbank had protested and taken the matter to court. She was happy to report that just the other day the city's representatives had a legal pre settlement meeting with the county and quarry owners that suggested, "we will get everything we have asked for and will recoup our legal fees."

She herself is a business owner and supports business, she said, "but not at the expense of safety."

Apologizing for sometimes rambling in her talk, Madueno said she prefers to speak from notes or even talk off the cuff rather than follow a written text.

"I am human, vulnerable and make mistakes. But I always speak from the heart," she said.

Talking about the human side of Riverbank's negotiations with the Army to convert the old ammunition plant to an industrial park, Madueno related how she got to chat with the Pentagon's chief official the day before they were due to meet at the negotiating table. He eventually remembered Riverbank from his travels as the place where a business owner at the industrial park - "an extraordinary man" - had invented a metal that had been approved by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and might replace beryllium on spacecraft. He also gave her his cell phone number that proved very valuable in solving later problems with the Army, she said.

Having heard Police Chief Bill Pooley's crime statistics earlier that week, Madueno reiterated there had been 23 drive by shootings in the city so far this year, something she termed "a shocking figure."

"It is our responsibility to educate our kids to give them the opportunity to avoid getting into gangs," she said, mentioning Pooley's plans to set up a police and community gathering at Castleberg Park to tackle the criminal street gang problem.

There are vast changes sweeping through government and communities, she said.

With the housing boom ended, local governments can no longer afford drastic urban change but still can strive "to create walkable, bicyclable communities."

Young workers too are seeking a different type of housing. They no longer want 3,000 square feet of space. Bay Area workers are tired of the long commute. They don't want to have to travel so far and might settle for a smaller home and lesser wage if they could work locally. State authorities recognize and encourage this trend.

As to talk about possibly merging Riverbank and Oakdale police services, Madueno repeated she has had just one meeting with Oakdale's mayor and police chief. That is all, but the topic is set for formal discussion at a proposed joint Riverbank and Oakdale meeting later this month.

"I'm just one vote (on the council)," she said. "We're talking cooperation. There may be a better way. Maybe this isn't the best solution. But it is our duty to review it. In regional transportation, ROTA too, is looking at restructuring.

"We have to make sacrifices. We cannot continue to run government as before. We're asking for responsibility and accountability. It's not the easiest of roads. We're not here to make friends. We're here to do a job. We need to hold the bar high and make officials accountable."