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The Book- Chapters 2 and 3- My first few days and September 11

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The Book- Chapters 2 and 3- My first few days and September 11

The second in my series on Winters and my experience as City Manager……………..

Chapter 2- My first week in Winters…………..

I flew from Ontario into the Sacramento Airport the night of Saturday, September 8, 2001. The  plan was to stay a couple weeks with my brother, Jeff in his apartment in Sacramento until I could move into the double wide mobile home off Highway 128 which would become available at the start of October, just before Kathy and the kids would arrive. We had listed our home in Grand Terrace and I had purchased a lot for a new home to be built in the Silver-ridge Development on Roosevelt Ave. The prospect was the home would take until March to build, so we would live in “the country” for a bit because there were no places to rent in town.

The day before the first day and my “City car”…………

On the Sunday, Jeff and I drove from Sacramento to the home of Dave and Nanci Mills, where I would pick up the keys to my “City car” which I was assigned to drive. We arrived around 11:00 and Nanci invited us in for a visit. The Raiders were playing the Kansas City Chiefs and it was Dave Mills and Dave Lorenzo in the family room watching the game.  Nanci  offered us each a beer and we sat and talked and watched the game.

The welcome from Nanci and Dave was so warm and reassuring. On their walls were all sorts of hunting and fishing photos of Dave’s sporting conquests. Dave Lorenzo has a pretty sarcastic and a little dirty sense of humor which was awesome. We hung out for a little over an hour then we left to go pick up my City vehicle which I had never really asked about in my contract negotiations as to the type of vehicle. Nanci said it was a “white Chevy” parked in the lot directly across from City Hall. “You cant miss it”!

Jeff and I drove to City Hall and sure enough, there it was, my “City provided vehicle”, a converted 1998 Chevy Caprice police car, with side mounted lights, radio and cold license plates. Yup, I was driving a police vehicle with a giant 400+HP corvette engine, pursuit suspension and gun mounts in the front seat. Nope, I was not in Southern California any more and the glitz and glam of being the City Manager was a car Winters bought used from the City of Colfax when they disbanded their police department. Jeff was laughing hysterically as I slid behind the wheel of car. I looked like a 5 year old kid in the drivers seat. Just hilarious!

Again, it was Sunday and the only business open in Downtown was the Putah Creek Café. We decided to head back to Sacramento.

I left town headed east on Russell/Covell in my City Manager/police vehicle. The corvette engine was awesome but the cop suspension on the car made it rock like a boat. I hit Highway 113 and turned on the on-ramp and decided to see what the car had in it and it and there was no disappointment, the car just hauled and I was up to speed in no time. We merged on to 80 and the cars in front of me parted like the Red Sea thinking I was an unmarked cop car. Jeff tucked in behind me and we just cruised to Sacramento completely unimpeded. When we pulled into Jeff’s apartment complex a couple guys turned and hustled into their apartments. There was a new sheriff living in the Howe Avenue Apartments and it was me!

My first few days on the job and some perspective on changes which have occurred …………….

My first day on the job was September 10, 2001 (the day before 9-11). I left Sacramento at 6:00 to get into City Hall early, empty some boxes I had brought and to take a drive around town. My wife, Kathy had sent me with some homemade baked goods so I could make a good first impression with the Staff.

Downtown that morning was basically empty and quiet except for a couple gentlemen drinking coffee in the Putah Creek Cafe. The Masonic Building (Adry’s, El Pueblo, Bike Shop), the Cradwick (Winters Healthcare Medical), Opera House (Palms, Scoop), Winters Winery (Berryessa Gap), Smiths Memorial Funeral Chapel (Devillibus Room, Spin a Yarn, Jewelry), Yolo Traders (now Yolo Traders), 18 Main (now Keller Williams RE), RR Antique Shop (Turkovich and ARC Guitar), 206 Railroad (eventually Irish Pub now “Preserve”) WERE ALL EMPTY.

Main Street Village did not exist and was a semi truck yard and  an old wool processing shed. The location now hosts Steady Eddies, Ficelle Restaurant, Hooby’s, Edward Jones, JMS Construction and 6 lofts. Rotary Park was only the gazebo and a small grass area, surrounded by the metal building of the Winters Farmers Coop and a truck scale.

The Trestle Bridge was a chain linked off structure of overgrown blackberry, bramble of trees and weeds. The rear of the Community Center was a very small lawn and an empty lot overgrown with blackberry. There was no way to see the creek, no trail and the area was pretty sketchy.  Today, we have an iconic entry structure in the Trestle Bridge, a new car bridge, amphitheater, the North Bank Trail where hundreds walk daily and a restored creek where thousands of salmon now spawn annually and the public can enjoy recreational opportunities.

Side Note on the Trestle Bridge: The first project we did was the Trestle Bridge and I credit Nanci Mills and Gloria Marion for the direction on that. Before a function one evening, Gloria, Nanci and I were sharing some wine in the back of the Community Center and I asked them what was one project we could do to really spark an interest in the revitalization of the town. Gloria didn’t event blink and led me to the window to look at the bridge. “Wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to walk out and actually see the creek”? Gloria asked. Thus, project 1, the trestle bridge!

On this first day I met Police Chief Steve Godden, Fire Chief Dave Kidder (kind of grumpy) and a Deputy Fire Chief named “Scotty” Dozier. I got a tour of the Police Station in the garage of the former City Fire Station garage and Steve explained how we typically had only a single officer on duty each shift. Dave and Scotty explained to me that three paid staff covered the City/District from 8-5 mon-fri and “volunteers” covered overnight and weekends. They told me they were decertifying the local ambulance because they could not staff it and that ambulance response would go back to 20 minutes 90% of the time. I thought this was all insanity. Without question, Steve, Dave and Scotty earned my eternal and undying respect and quickly moved public safety up on the priority list as areas to improve upon. Today we have the Public Safety Facility, 4 minute ambulance service and 24/7 fire service with multiple police staff on every shift.

My second day on the job was 9-11 and is a completely other story. Chapter 3 which is next!

My third day on the job involved a night meeting at the Winters Library on First Street to discuss Measure B, to build a new Downtown Library. We sat at a table in the children’s reading area which was a mildew infested area with water destroyed ceiling tiles and a smell which complimented the overall ambiance. The meeting at the library was where I met a number of folks who I would later learn were members of what I think is one of Winters best organizations, the Winters Friends of the Library. Sitting around the table were the likes of Carol Scianna, Rebecca Fridae, Charlotte Kimbal, then County Librarian Mary Stephens, Jack Graf and Mary Jo Rodolfa.

Two months later Measure B did not pass. 6 years later, we walked into the brand new Winters Community Library on the Winters High School Campus because some of us never gave up.

Nanci Mills had set up some meetings with people she felt I needed to meet and get to know. This included having lunch with an extremely assertive and mildly bossy lady named Bobbie Greenwood who talked with me about the Winters Swim Team. Following the 2003 swim season, the community pool at WHS was condemned by the Yolo Health  Department leaving the town without a pool. As the City Manager, I was told to get a new pool built. In 2006, we were swimming in the newly christened Bobbie Greenwood Swim Center.

I also met with a former Mayor named Robert Chapman. He came up to my office and we sat and talked about each others backgrounds, shared a little philosophy but mostly we seemed to have an instant connection. Bob was a “Winters guy” having lived here his entire life except for military service. Ill talk about Bob more, later.

Chapter 3- September 11, 2001

I watched the second plane go into the second tower of the World Trade Center when I was getting ready to come to work on that Tuesday morning at my brothers apartment in Sacramento. He had the Today Show on and mentioned a plane crashing into one of the buildings. We watched in horror as a news camera picked up the second plane roaring through Manhattan and exploding into the second tower.

I jumped into my City car, fumbled with the radio and found a talk radio station which was talking about the attack. On the ride to Winters I heard about the attack on the Pentagon and that they were shutting down all air traffic around the Country. Simply surreal.

When I arrived at City Hall, I ran into the building looking for a television. It was janitorial day and the two people looked at me like “who the heck are you” when I asked them for a tv. I spent a couple minutes trying to convince them that I worked here. Finally I showed the one guy that I had a key to my office and he bought that I was a new employee! The City only had a single, 13” television, no cable with a really cheap antenna with only a 2’ cord on it. I put the tv on a chair, found a bay area news station and got a horrible, but watchable picture and things unfolded.

Staff began to arrive to work that morning a little before 8. We all gathered in the upstairs conference room and watched the news reports and the eventual collapse of the World Trade Center Towers. What I remember most about the moment of the first collapse was our Recreation Coordinator Gloria Marion grabbing and holding on to my hand as the first building went down. We all stood there in silence, me and Gloria holding hands as the massive dust cloud erupted like a volcano on the New York Skyline. The ghostly figures walking from the streets, covered in grey ash in utter shock. We all had a tear in our eye and nobody really said anything.

Later that morning, our Police Chief, Steve Godden came to my office. He told me that all the government offices in the area were closing as a security measure against terrorism. I told him, that being the new guy, I had to ask why Winters would be a target for international terrorism. He mentioned the dam and we talked it out a bit and decided that we would keep the doors open for folks to come by with any questions.

Gloria Marion was one of the most social people I had ever met. From the theatre productions to her side job styling hair, she seemed to know everybody (and she did). That day it seemed like hundreds of people stopped by City Hall to check in. Most of the people were older, many just looking for someone to talk and visit. I think many were as in shock as all of us and just looking for a little reassurance to share some sorrow. Gloria had an incredible personality and a deep, assuring voice. I can only imagine the number of people she gave solace to that day but it was awesome. She and Nanci Mills held court downstairs and made a difference for many.

Because it was a Tuesday, the town was basically closed during the evening. The Buckhorn was open but nobody was there. Downtown was very different that night than people see it today with the Buckhorn and Tienda Liquor Store being the only businesses open in Downtown. The place was just empty.

We had turned off the little City Hall tv and I remember working late into the evening. I called my wife Kathy and we decided that we did not want our kids to watch the television of what had occurred, so she read to them that evening.

Being from Southern California, Winters seemed just pitch black dark as I exited City Hall that night. The only lights on were the front light on City Hall, our flag pole light and a light burning in front of the Fire Station. I looked up at the stars and was amazed. Because of the mass of the City lights, they really don’t have stars in Southern California!

As I got into the car to head to my brothers apartment in Sacramento, I ran into Gloria walking up the street from a hair appointment she had with a customer. I pulled over to offer her a ride (she lived only a block from City Hall but I did not know that) and she politely declined. I thanked her for being there for so many people who visited City Hall that day. I also thanked her for holding my hand that morning as things unfolded. She looked at me and said “You looked scared”. We both smiled at each other, laughed and I proceeded to drive off. I knew at that moment that I would really like working with Gloria. And she was right, I was scared!

The warmth of a small town sometimes comes out in different ways. When horrific events happen, its nice to know that we have the type of place where when people have some fear and need comfort, they know they have a place to come.

9-11 also brought my first opportunity to see the community come together for something important and meaningful, which did not disappoint.

The Thursday (September 13) was supposed to be the night I flew back to Southern California to be with Kathy and the kids. All flights were cancelled, so the plan was for me to drive my brothers car south on Friday and drive home again on Sunday night. Instead, we called a town hall meeting for that evening for people to come out in a program which was sponsored by all the local churches ministerial group to talk about our national tragedy.

I walked from City Hall to the Community Center and the place was packed to overflowing. Chairs were set up theater style and every single one was taken. The perimeter was standing room only with the entire rear filled with the Winters Volunteer Fire Department all wearing their uniforms. I was blown away by the turnout and even more surprised when I saw that I was on the program as one of the main speakers (time to think of something to say).

The first speaker was a gentleman named Hank Jones who a couple months later would move into the house next store to my family. (Hank was a retired Marine Corps Brigadier General and one of those missionaries who smuggled bibles into Muslim nations where Christianity is banned). Hank was a kind yet powerful speaker who brought a strong religious platform to his speech. Following him was tough, but then it was my turn.

As I took the podium (four days into my new job), I decided to share my impression of what I thought Winters was all about. Family, community, service and the place where someone wants to raise their children. From meeting with the “Chiefs” I learned that Winters was a community which could overcome even the scarcest resources and be successful. It was a community which in the time of 9-11 needed to come together as our nation needed to come together and support one another.

I ended my talk by recognizing the Winters Fire Volunteers who were standing in the back of the room and thanked them for their service. The entire room both inside and out erupted in applause and cheers which seemed to just roar and last forever. Pride just beamed from the volunteers with the well deserved recognition.

The meeting ended in typical Winters fashion (my first experience) of everyone folding up their chairs and putting the room away.

In 10 minutes, the room was clear and I was walking back to City Hall. People were walking up to me with kind comments and treating me like I had been here forever. A number of Fire Volunteers came up to me and introduced themselves. The charge I got from the community was amazing.

I got in my police car to drive to Sacramento and called Kathy to share my experience of the evening. When I told her that everyone helped clean up the place afterwards, she thought I was lying. I told her that I really think coming to Winters was a good decision. Good people!

Oh, and nobody in Southern California ever cleans up after an event………………

John


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