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To elect or not to elect Lathrop mayor: That is the question
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LATHROP – Should Lathrop continue to have a voter-elected mayor?

Dan Mac Neilage, a community activist and one of the community’s movers and shakers, categorically says no. And he is not just paying lip service. He is already taking the first steps toward what he hopes will be a community effort to repeal Measure D that was overwhelmingly passed by the voters in the November 1994 special and general municipal elections which established the selection of city mayor  for a two-year term by voter election.

“I’m putting it together right now,” he said of his initial efforts to campaign against an elected city mayor.

“Let’s go back to the old way of appointing maybe the senior person (on the council), who’s on there the longest, and take turns serving as mayor,” Mac Neilage said.

Lathrop’s municipal form of government “was intended to be a government run by the city manager with the mayor conducting the council meetings and serving as an honorary person to do ribbon-cutting and representing the city,” he said.

He believes the process of electing a mayor to serve for two years has not done anything to improve Lathrop and only succeeded in doing. He specifically noted the bitter campaigns that characterized the November elections last year which got down to name-calling when Mayor Kristy Sayles’ mass-mailed flyers described his opponent in the election, Councilman Robert Oliver, as the “water boy” of developers. In fact, Mac Neilage went as far as to say that the problems with an elected mayor all happened after former Gloryanna Rhodes retired from local politics after being re-elected without any challenger to a second term in 2004. When she retired in 2006, Rhodes endorsed Sayles who was then a council member, to be her successor as mayor. Rhodes later said doing so was her biggest mistake ever.

“We never had any mudslinging” up to the time Rhodes retired, Mac Neilage said.

“There was character, there was proven leadership. Since Sayles has taken over the helm, the city has been divided right down the center.”

Mac Neilage said he believes it’s time to “champion the cause and ask the citizens of Lathrop to once again go back to what was successful in the past when, every two years, we had some (council) people coming and some people going.”

 That measure, which called for the selection of the city mayor by voter election, was overwhelmingly approved by the voters. Measure D passed by 1,579 votes or 94.4 percent of the 1,911 votes cast that year out of the 3,562 registered voters at that time. Only 94 votes voted against the measure.

Measure D – a city mayor by voter election?
Five years after incorporation, Lathrop citizens voted overwhelmingly in favor of Measure D which established the selection of the town mayor by voter election. Of the 1,911 people who voted that year (out of 3,562 registered voters), a whopping 94.4 percent or 1,579 voters said yes to an elected city mayor as opposed to one that was appointed by the council. Only 94 or 5.6 percent of voters were opposed.

Mac Neilage’s explanation as to why there was a massive support for a voter-elected mayor: “because we had a man named Steve McKee. He was a man who, if he said he will be there, he will be there. If you give that man $100 and asked him to save it for 10 years, he will give that money back 100 percent. He was an honest man and had a clear vision for Lathrop. You can depend on what he said to be the truth. We don’t have that now.”

At the same special and general municipal election in 1994 when Measure D was passed, Lathrop voters also approved Measure E by 76.6 percent of the votes which set the mayor’s term to two years, and defeated Measure F by 72 percent of the votes which would have established the mayor’s term to four years.

In the mayoral election of November 1996, McKee soundly defeated his opponent Jose D. Hernandez to the mayor post. In the subsequent two mayoral elections – on Nov. 3, 1998 and Nov. 7, 2000 – McKee ran unopposed both times. During his first re-election, voter turnout was a low 48.5 percent (1,888 voters out of 3,890 went to the polls). In the 2000 elections, the voter turnout was 71.5 percent with 2,819 registered voters out of a total of 3,942 going to the polls. McKee received 2,285 out of the 2,819 votes that were cast.

In the 2006 mayoral elections which catapulted Sayles for the first time to the top elected post, she received 1,400 votes out of the 2,170 votes cast. That percentage was less than half of the city’s 4,665 total registered voters. During that election, Sayles defeated then-council member Steve Dresser.

Sayles was re-elected to her current second term last November by 1,183 votes or 37.98 percent of the 4,553 voters cast. Lathrop’s City Council consists of five members, including the mayor who is elected for a two-year term, and four council members who are voted to serve for four years. Their terms of office expire in alternate even numbered years, with two council seats and the mayor’s seat up for election at any of those elections. The vice mayor position is appointed on a rotational basis.