Former City Councilman Stan Thurston wants the city to operate like a business. And if he's elected mayor, he's going to demand changes in the way the city does business.
With eight years of City Council experience, two as mayor pro tem, the former lawyer said he became involved in council politics after a neighbor came to him and asked him to look at the agenda from time to time. After that, Thurston was fascinated with the way the council worked and decided to run for one of three council spots in 1995. He sat on the council until 2003.
Thurston recalled that one of the more satisfying jobs was being on the city's redevelopment agency, where he advocated for the Main Place Theater project on Main Street.
Thurston and other city officials made trips to San Luis Obispo and Santa Cruz to see how they handled multiscreen theaters in their downtown areas.
"They were already experiencing marvelous success," recalled the 66-year-old, who ended up making a video of the road trip and showed it at a City Council meeting, where the item was approved.
"My reputation on the council is to discuss with individual City Council members on projects," he said, adding he wouldn't ask them how they planned to vote on issues. During his tenure on the council, Thurston was known for consensus-building and common-sense solutions to problems.
He said he doesn't see that on the council now. "Council members don't even talk to each other except at a meeting. That's why you get such fragmented decisions," Thurston said.
He was born in Merced and grew up in Reedley and Stockton, then joined the Marine Corps in 1966. He returned to Merced in 1991 from Southern California.
Thurston has family in North Carolina and Texas and retired from practicing law in 1999 to become an aviation businessman in Merced County. He's a co-owner of an aviation business.
Thurston said he has the proven leadership and experience to handle the job of mayor.
"I come at problems differently than a lot of other people do," he said, because of his legal background where lawyers are taught to go through an analytical process to come up with potential solutions.
Thurston said he thinks elected officials have taken the city down the wrong track in the past two or three years. "And that track it's on is headed towards more massive layoffs of public safety officers and more cuts of staff," he said.
There's nothing being proposed to change the structural deficit that comes up every year, he said. "All I hear is, 'we are negotiating with the unions'; that is not going to solve a deficit. Not even close. We're out of time for slogans and fuzzy platitudes."
Thurston sees other approaches as being part of a deficit solution. For example, Los Angeles County is starting a "jobs now" program that proposes a three-year business tax holiday for any new business that moves into the county.
For Merced, he's proposing a one-year public facility impact fee holiday and a one-year holiday for environmentally green requirements for businesses. He also proposed that chambers of commerce, redevelopment and the economic development department work together to make the city more business-friendly.
So far, elected officials have dealt with the financial imbalance by cutting jobs, he said. "I know the employees pay a little more towards their pension and health care. As Mr. Spriggs (Bill, the current mayor) said, health care is going to go up 7 percent next year. The city doesn't have that money."
Thurston's main goal is to keep whatever experienced employees the city has, if affordable. "How do we afford what we have? We can't continue doing everything we want to do," he said.
Thurston suggested concentrating on the essential services a city must provide, such as fire, police, water management and sewer treatment. He stressed the need for more volunteerism and efficiency in parks and recreation, neighborhood watch and youth services.
He's opposed to any further increases in taxes. The reason he got involved in city politics this year was because he was opposed to the half-cent sales tax proposal.
"I am motivated to make changes. I'm impassioned and motivated to save this city from bankruptcy or huge further cuts in public safety. No business is going to bring their business here if they perceive the city isn't going to be safe," Thurston said.
Thurston will participate in a live chat with the public at noon Tuesday at www.mercedsunstar.com/live.
Reporter Ameera Butt can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.