State

'City of Action,' get your act together

A report this week from the outgoing Stanislaus County civil grand jury further exposes the dysfunctional leadership in Riverbank, where two mayors have resigned and there's an effort to recall two City Council members.

In one of the more radical suggestions to come out of a grand jury in recent years, the panel recommended that the city invalidate last November's election of Jesse James White because he was not a registered voter in Riverbank when he took out nomination papers.

It isn't clear how this should or will play out. Does the council even have the authority to invalidate an election whose results were certified long ago? The city has contacted an attorney to try to answer that question.

We're sure the four members remaining on Riverbank's council don't have the political will to remove White. He would have to excuse himself from such a vote, leaving only three council members. And one those is his grandfather, Dave White.

This issue should be addressed by a judge or another impartial, outside authority. We hope that at least one citizen will formally contest the election, which would send the issue to the courts.

Meanwhile, a special election is planned to elect a new mayor, since the four remaining council members couldn't agree on an appointment.

The special election has been merged with the Nov. 3 school boards election, and the filing period opens July 13.

We hope some fresh faces will emerge — people no ties to the current or former councils. In February, 20 people applied for a council vacancy; some of them should consider running.

In addition, the grand jury findings undoubtedly will provide fodder for the drive to recall Jesse and Dave White.

We generally believe that recalls should be limited to cases where elected officials have seriously violated or abandoned their responsibilities. We don't see that as the case in Riverbank. Yes, voters chose to put two members of the same family on a five-member council. And yes, we believe that was a poor decision. But the democratic process allows for poor outcomes.

The grand jury made 12 other recommendations involving Riverbank, some of which are no-brainers (the council should evaluate the city manager annually) and some of which are impractical (the hint that a consultant can help cure this dysfunction.)

Furthering the turmoil in Riverbank is citizen dissatisfaction with some questionable council decisions in recent years.

One was spending $1.7 million to buy the old Del Rio Theater, only to discover it was structurally so unsound it had to be torn down. Another was spending half a million dollars to install a fountain at the city's entrance.

More serious choices await, including paying for a much-needed sewer system upkeep and the future of the ammo plant. Add in the economic troubles facing all government entities, and Riverbank sorely needs functional leadership.

Achieving that will require more than one or two new council members:

More capable people to run for office. Simply putting their names on the ballot is not enough; they need to actively campaign, showing voters what they have to offer.

Residents who engage in public issues, rather than leaving the watchdog function to a noisy few who end up with disproportionate influence.

Citizens who read petitions before signing them.

Some may find the circus atmosphere entertaining, but it is an embarrassment to the community, and residents of the "City of Action" need to act collectively to put an end to it.

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