Council interviews planning panel hopefuls

jsmith@mercedsunstar.comFebruary 26, 2013 

— After two recent resignations from the Merced Planning Commission, the City Council has been searching for replacements.

To that end, officials have resurrected a practice that hasn't been used in many years: interviewing.

Before last week's council meeting, officials held an hourlong public session to hear from the five candidates. City Manager John Bramble asked questions as council members listened carefully to the answers.

The city hasn't used the format in more than four years, said city spokesman Mike Conway, who touted the session as a success. In prior years, candidates have filled out paperwork and submitted their qualifications without being interviewed by the council members.

"This interview process allows the council to get to know these people in more depth than just reading their résumé and the questionnaire," Conway said.

Council members also expressed satisfaction with the interview process.

"The Planning Commission plays an important role and has powers to make decisions that are not appealable to the City Council," said Councilman Mike Murphy. "We walk away from that process with much more than we would have had simply by looking at their names on paper."

The process was "incredibly informative," said Mayor Stan Thurston. "For the Planning Commission it's something we should always do because the commission makes decisions that are not reviewable by the City Council unless it's an appeal situation."

Mary Ward and Richard Cervantes resigned from the Planning Commission at the end of last year before completing their terms.

The candidate who replaces Ward will be up for reappointment in July, when the former commissioner's term expires. Because the new commissioner will have served less than half of a four-year term, he or she will be eligible to serve two more full terms.

Whomever the council appoints to replace Cervantes will face reappointment in July. However, because he or she will have served more than half of the four-year term, the commissioner can serve one more term.

The City Council is expected to vote on the replacements at their next meeting on March 4, according to city officials. The newly appointed members likely will start in March.

In the running are self- employed researcher and writer Shannon Cantrell, Inmack Foods Inc. Vice President Nathan Mackin, State Farm insurance agent Peter Padilla, retired preschool teacher Sydney Spitler and educational psychologist Kevin Smith of the Los Banos Unified School District.

The Planning Commission meets the first and third Mondays of the month at the Merced Civic Center, 678 W. 18 St. The meetings are held in the City Council chambers starting at 7 p.m.

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or jsmith@mercedsunstar.com.

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