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Lathrop city clerk: Neely has second council seat
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LATHROP – Gene Neely, Jr. , along with incumbent Sonny Dhaliwal, are the winners in the five-way council race in Tuesday’s election.

Even though he announced weeks before the election that he was withdrawing from the race, he is officially “a council member-elect,” said Lathrop City Clerk Mitzi Ortiz on Wednesday.

“He did notify me,” Ortiz said about Neely’s bowing out of the race, “but it was unofficial (because) the deadline for withdrawal as a candidate was at the close of nomination on Aug. 6. He was a valid candidate as far as we are concerned and he finished second” in the election.

Because Neely missed the withdrawal deadline, his name remained on the official ballot.

“If he decides he does not want to serve, he has to resign after the (election) certification is done. That would create a vacancy. Then the new council will decide whether to hold a special election or appoint someone,” Ortiz explained.

A few hours after the closing of the polls Tuesday night, and with the numbers showing him on a strong second to incumbent Sonny Dhaliwal’s firm first-place standing, an overwhelmingly surprised Neely told the Bulletin, “Because the people have spoken, I’m going to look at options of accepting the position.”

He reiterated that statement on Wednesday saying, “I’m leaning towards keeping the seat.”

However, he said he wanted to “sleep on it one more night before I make my final announcement.”

He also wanted to “make a couple of phone calls” to make sure that there is no conflict of interest involved serving as a city council member and the chief of the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District at the same time, he said.

He did consult the firefighter bill of rights to further clear things up. A clause in that bill of rights states that “firefighters not specific to rank can run for and hold elected seats as long as they are not employed by the agency,” Neely explained.

In his withdrawal statement, Neely cited his appointment as fire chief and the anticipated demands of his new position as the main reason for his decision. A few weeks before, he was appointed acting fire chief after Fred Manding retired from his post at the urging of the district’s local firefighters union. Manding’s retirement was suggested by the union as one way to eliminate the budget deficit and prevent the potential closure of district’s fire stations and the laying off of fire personnel.

The results from Tuesday’s elections from the 10 Lathrop precincts are as follows:

Sonny Dhaliwal – 42.50 percent of the votes (1,440 votes)

Gene Neely, Jr. – 24.50 percent (830 votes)

Omar Ornelas – 12.49 percent (423 votes)

Rosalinda Valencia – 11.66 percent (395 votes)

Brent Maynor – 8.65 percent (293 votes)

Those figures include all absentee ballots mailed before Election Day. They do not include the absentee ballots that were received the day of the election and any provisional ballots received by the Registrar of Voters. At least one precinct, the one located in the council chambers at Lathrop City Hall, reported on Election Day that they have received “a few” absentee ballots that day.

Apparently thinking that Neely’s announcement withdrawal from the council race was official, Valencia called the Manteca Bulletin to announce that she was going to contact the Registrar of Voters to demand a recount of the votes that she and Ornelas received. However, later in the evening, Valencia told the Bulletin that she has called the city clerk’s office and was informed that, indeed, Neely was officially the No. 2 council candidate-elect and that she would not be seeking a recount of the votes.