Livingston City Council approves ballot measure to extend mayor’s term

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comJanuary 22, 2014 

— A majority of City Council members voiced support Tuesday for changing the mayor’s term from two years to four, but said the public should decide in June’s primary election.

The item was brought forward by Mayor Pro Tem Gurpal Samra, who said the extension is necessary to maintain “institutional knowledge” on the council.

“My reasoning for it was in the last election we had four seats come up for election,” he said. “You could literally have a four-person change on the council every four years.”

Two seats are up for grabs this year on the City Council: Samra’s seat and Mayor Rodrigo Espinoza’s. Neither has announced plans to seek re-election, saying they are still “undecided.”

But every four years, Samra said, there could be the potential for four open seats and that creates too much instability on the council. “You would have people who have very little knowledge of what happened before because you have a new staff,” he said.

In an interview with the Merced Sun-Star, Espinoza said he supported the idea of extending the mayoral term but not because the action affects him personally.

“It doesn’t really matter for me, it’s for anybody who is elected mayor,” Espinoza said. “Two years is quick. You’re barely getting your feet wet and your term is over.”

The City Council voted 4-0 during Tuesday’s meeting to have the city attorney draft the measure for the June primary election ballot. Councilman David Mendoza was absent.

The item will be brought before the City Council for a final vote before being forwarded to the elections office, Samra said.

Although the council seemed supportive of the idea, longtime Livingston resident Katherine Schell-Rodriguez pointed out the other side. Reading from an article by freelance writer Mike McGuire, she cited reasons why a shorter mayoral term is better for residents.

“The two-year term for mayor should remain as is, to enable Livingston voters to change the leader every two years, if they so choose, just as often as leaders at most other levels of government,” the article said. “There are many younger people in Livingston who can step forward, listen to all sides, and make decisions in the best interests of their community. Steps should be taken to allow them to do so.”

McGuire, a longtime Livingston resident, told the Sun-Star on Wednesday that the City Council needs new ideas from “enthusiastic people” who realize things can be done.

“You have the same couple of people who basically dominate the political picture for a long time. It’s time to move on to a new generation,” said McGuire, 60. “Experience is great but we need fresh ideas on the council and younger people.”

Councilman Jim Soria voted in favor of the measure Tuesday, saying it aligns with other cities in which he’s worked. “I’ve worked at different cities and most of them have been four years,” Soria said. “It just builds a better bond with the public and gives the mayor more opportunity to get projects done.”

A ballot measure in November 2006 called Measure C asked Livingston voters if their mayors should serve two- or four-year terms. The measure passed, with about 66 percent of voters supporting a two-year term for the city’s mayor. The four-year-term option got a 49 percent yes vote.

The two longest-serving members of the current Livingston City Council are Samra, who’s served on-and-off for about 15 years, and Espinoza, who’s served a total of 12 years.

Sun-Star staff writer Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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