Stan Thurston and Jim Price are business partners, friends and colleagues with similar political views.
And now they are the mayors of two of Merced County’s largest cities, leading to a potential marriage of ideas and collaboration between Merced and Atwater.
Thurston and Price have co-owned Gemini Flight Support since 2000, an Atwater company that fuels planes at Castle Airport and provides ground support. Thurston, who retired from practicing law after 25 years, has been Merced’s mayor since November 2011.
Price, an Air Force veteran and outspoken voice at Atwater City Council meetings, was elected Atwater mayor during the midterm elections Nov. 4.
The two men often talked politics at work, Price said, but it wasn’t until eight years ago that he tried running for an elected office. He was unsuccessful in his bid for an Atwater City Council seat.
But this time around, Price ran to be Atwater’s mayor and successfully unseated the eight-year incumbent. His business partner was on the sidelines, watching and sometimes offering advice based on his years in politics.
“This time for sure I completely supported his effort and even signed up to be his treasurer,” Thurston said. “I told him to be positive, don’t get negative. Voters don’t like that around here. Just tell people what you want to get done.”
Thurston’s candid advice worked. Price won the mayoral seat over Joan Faul by nearly 20 percentage points. And now that the two business partners are going to be mayors of neighboring cities, they’ve already started exchanging ideas.
Price has approached the Rev. Don Ramsey to begin a night walk in the city of Atwater, similar to the successful Merced Ceasefire program. He’s also talking to some Merced activists about a program that allows at-risk youth to work odd jobs for pay, which has been a big hit for Merced.
On the other side of the coin, Thurston said he likes Atwater’s Police Activities League and would be interested in emulating that youth program for Mercedians. He envisions Atwater’s PAL program collaborating with Merced Police Department’s explorers.
“Just because we are six miles apart, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do things together,” Thurston said.
“There are things we can merge on and work together,” Price agreed, adding that the two cities are plagued by similar issues, such as homelessness, unemployment and crime. “I think it makes for a better atmosphere to do something collectively.”
The city of Merced hosts successful town hall meetings for its residents, something Price would like to introduce in Atwater. Price also wants to restore the public comment period at Atwater City Council meetings to five minutes per speaker – which was cut to three minutes by the previous council.
That was one of the first things Thurston did when he took office.
The two mayors will also sit on the Merced County Association of Governments board together, which meets monthly to discuss regional transportation issues. Cooperation between elected officials on MCAG’s board is vital in moving projects forward, Thurston said.
But at times the two cities may find themselves competing for one highly coveted development project, such as the Ferrari Ranch project in Atwater, which promises new businesses and jobs.
“Each city will have to make the best offer, and obviously neither one of us would disclose information to each other,” Thurston said.
Price, who will be sworn in Dec. 8, said one of his first goals is to rebuild professionalism in the City Council and rebuild the public’s trust. He also wants to explore making Atwater more “business-friendly” by streamlining processes for businesses and deferring developer fees.
Thurston said Merced lowered its developer fees a while ago, which led to the expansion of several businesses.
“All of this stuff is uncharted territory to me, and there are a lot of things that Stan is bringing up now,” Price said. “We talk politics a lot at work, and I think our views are on the same parallel.”
Sun-Star staff writer Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.