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Bad optics: Councilmembers on the phone as citizens talk

Over the years my editorial desk has received a number of anonymous letters, sent with no name and no return address. Normally the letters are political in nature, a tip for the newspaper to check out something that the person is so concerned about they are unwilling to give me any clue who they are. The letter writer normally wants to remain anonymous because they are close to the system or they don’t want repercussions for whatever reason.

One such letter received last week was six page long, consisting of a four-paragraph letter followed by multiple screenshots from the Ceres City Council meeting.

Before I share what this person communicated, just let me say I’m observant enough to have observed the same thing myself.

This writer is concerned about Mayor Javier Lopez frequently engaging with his smart phone as members of the public speak. He or she also called out Couper Condit for his “rudeness a couple of occasions” and Bret Silveira “seemed to scroll which is usually a social media task.” The bottom line of the caller: “Not only is it an impolite display, but it is unprofessional.”

Following were screenshots of Lopez on his phone from the June 28 meeting taken at 7:02 p.m., 7:11 p.m., 7:16 p.m., 7:27 p.m., 7:30 p.m., 7:34 p.m., 7:44 p.m., 7:52 p.m. and 7:53 p.m.

I understand screen addiction because I find myself checking my phone far too often during the day. There is so much to check on the device – email, social media posts that relate to my job, checking the weather and eBay auctions, approving YouTube message, etc. I confess to even checking it in church. I can’t second guess why the mayor or Silveira are on their phone, but public officials should be reminded that the optics don’t look great, especially when a constituent, a possible voter, is speaking. It reminds me of the 1992 presidential debate in which President George H.W. Bush checked his watch during a question and the media played that like he wanted out of there or he was unconcerned with their concerns. Biden did the same thing in 2020 yet the media failed to play it up like they did Bush.

Checking the smartphone just might be the least of worries with this deadlocked council. They can’t agree much on anything and had their own employees biting nails when they couldn’t agree on a spending plan – an action that could have tied the city’s hands in issuing payroll checks.

It’s sad to see so much dysfunction but remember, this is what happens when the voters don’t do their homework and elect inexperienced folks. Never was there this much chaos under any previous mayor.

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I was walking to my car from the Courier office – yes it’s in downtown Turlock and I was opposed to its relocation in 2012 but get over it – when I saw two small girls on the sidewalk in front of a dwelling. I heard the mother say to the girls, who looked like they were 2 to 4, “Get the f--- over here, now!” She didn’t say “f” she said the whole word. She repeated it and my heart just sank.

I don’t know what I felt saddest about – innocent children being subjected to such language or a mother so desensitized that she doesn’t think it’s wrong to speak so brusquely – and with that word. The same mother would likely smack the child for repeating her choice of words.

Parents really should remember they are their children’s greatest influencers and example setters. No wonder so many of our school age children use vulgar expressions in front of their peers.

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A press release from Turlock piqued my interest last week. It was from cannabis dealer Perfect Union announcing that its dispensary staff has committed to four clean-up and beautification projects over the next year. The staff cleaned up Markley Park of litter, removed graffiti, trimmed trees and applied fresh paint to tables and BBQ pits.

I did chuckle that Perfect Union CEO David Spradlin – he makes his living from people filling their lungs with unhealthy smoke and getting stoned – said: “We are committed to keeping our customers and communities healthy and thriving.”

But it got me thinking … here we have a business which wants to give back by cleaning up a park, yet Ceres has a plethora of fast-food businesses from which trash regularly streams into the neighborhood – customers throwing down wrappers and cups and straws – yet we see no sense of community dedication to at least send staff to pick up the neighboring area.

Ceres does have its own adopt-a-park program for groups who want to clean up parks. Groups wanting to participate will need to submit an application at least two days prior to the first start of scheduled clean-ups, and submit their proposed cleanup dates. Minors must be at least 12 and supervised by an adult at a ratio of 5 to one. Recognition to groups will be offered at City Council meetings, on the Adopt-A-Park website, on social media, in the city recreation guide and on a sign at the adopted park site. Applications are available online at or by calling 538-5628.

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I think it may be time to throw in the towel in cracking down on illegal fireworks is concerned. Despite the threats of hefty fines, the fireworks that burst in the sky seem to be on the increase. Violators were willing to take a risk to launch those dazzling displays and I get why. They are pretty to look at, if not dangerous. And there might be a little defiance to the law that gives the one lighting the mortar a certain thrill.

While we all saw the aerials, it’s a bit trickier catching the offender on the ground.

Prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s didn’t work and only caused an underground industry. Laws against marijuana use didn’t end and sent a lot of folks to prison and now most states have it legal. And it looks like fireworks ban in California is patently ignored being that they are easy to get from Mexico or other western states.

It is very disconcerting how many inconsiderate folks blew off fireworks in the early morning hours when working people are trying to sleep. But that may be the key: they weren’t working, likely because the government is paying them to not show up for work.

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Some segments of our society are really behaving horribly.

A Bryan, Texas police officer named Stacey Pottinger Nunn shared a post on social media that should concern all Americans. On the Fourth of July members of the predominantly black area of Martin Luther King Street shot fireworks directly at officers and underneath their patrol vehicles, several officers hit with fireworks. Officer Nunn shared: “People were laughing at us and telling us they hoped people would keep doing what they were doing. I have never seen such evil, until July 4th, 2021. I still can’t believe the amount of disrespect we saw tonight and not just towards us, but towards humankind. There were infants and children in the crowds while fireworks were being shot in our direction, they did not care. The amount of trash that littered the streets was unbelievable, they did not care. No respect for their neighbors or neighborhood, they did not care. It is actually quite sad the things I saw tonight. I have never hated my job until July 4th, 2021.”

I felt the same level of disgust when I saw video of the thugs fleeing from the San Francisco Neiman Marcus store on July 5 with expensive merchandise and security guards watched it happen.

This is what happens when you enact the liberal policy of removing the consequences for serious crimes. You end up with anarchy. If you want it to continue, keep putting progressives in office.

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I bet the climate change alarmists were disappointed that Death Valley did not break the world’s heat record over the weekend.

The hottest temperature ever recorded on the planet was not anytime recently. You have to go back to 1913 when the heat hit 134 in Death Valley.

Over the weekend it reached 130 at Furnace Creek Visitor Center.

As you know it reached about 108 or 109 here in Ceres on Friday and Saturday.

This is nothing new. I believe about 10-12 years ago we had several straight days of about 110 in which turkeys and all kinds of other animals were unable to survive. I had strong memories because I was following a tallow truck filled with dead cows at Hatch and Geer and had to pull over lest I begin wrenching.

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The Great Worker Shortage caused by the government continues. Oh believe me there are millions of people who need to return to work yet the government is still paying them to stay home. It has to end. Restaurants in our county are closing because of ongoing government assistance from the state. Hopefully this worker shortage ends when the extra unemployment runs out in September.

I haven’t stopped working a single day on account of COVID. Don’t say it’s because I’m in the “essential worker” category because all jobs are essential.

Get back to work, folks. The Giant Scare is over and not once was I scared.

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If you don’t think the Left is trying to assault American values with the intent to rebuild the country into their socialist and woke utopia, pay attention to what the Utah chapter of Black Lives Matter (BLM) said about the American flag most of us still prize as a symbol of liberty: “When we black Americans see this flag we know the person flying it is not safe to be around. When we see this flag we know the person flying it is a racist. When we see this flag we know that the person flying it lives in a different America than we do. When we see this flag, we question your intelligence. We know to avoid you. It is a symbol of hatred.”

This is so ridiculous all I can say is, by all means, leave the country. We have no need for traitors.

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Now about a story that might bring a smile to your face.

A little dog named Razzle had disappeared from his Arkansas family in 2011. He showed up in a Stockton trailer park.

Seems Razzle had been computer chipped and was scanned to reveal his address. He was be reunited with his old family soon.

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It’s with sadness we express condolences to City Attorney Tom Hallinan for the loss of his father. I attended junior high and high school with Tom and of course had met has dad, who was former Oakdale city attorney Thomas Hallinan.

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Congratulations to Bret Silveira, a member of the Ceres City Council, who was recognized by the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors for reaching the milestone of 30 years with the Sheriff’s Department.

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Longtime resident Don Cool, who is known to lots of folks in Ceres, had a most unusual occurrence at his place over the weekend. He was inside his house and heard a smack against the wall. They searched for the cause and couldn’t find anything – until he went to the front of his house and saw an arrow sticking right into the siding near a window.

Police were called and officers found the culprit who said one got away from him. I shudder to think what would have happened had that arrow been a little lower and somebody was walking down the sidewalk or driving by.

There’s dumb and then there’s stupid.

This column is the opinion of Jeff Benziger, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or 209 Multimedia Corporation. How do you feel about this? Let Jeff know at