Omar Ornelas held the distinction of being the youngest person ever elected to the Lathrop City Council when at only 19-years-old he was sworn in to serve on the governing body of his community.
The story made regional news as Ornelas – who had been a key part of the city’s Youth Advisory Commission in the years leading up to his decision to run for the council – adjusted into the new role after being appointed to serve the full-term that was vacated with Gene Neely’s decision not to seek the seat after he was promote to serve as the Lathrop Manteca Fire District Chief.
And by all accounts he settled into his role over the four years and became a vocal – if not always agreed with – member of the body that promoted discussion and even warred at times with a mayor (Joseph “Chaka” Santos) who didn’t agree with his appointment.
But when he finally did solidify his position after getting elected in the 2014 election for another full term, Ornelas would serve just one year before announcing he would be stepping down from his role at the end of 2015 to pursue career opportunities in the educational field in the Sacramento area.
So at the Lathrop City Council set out in 2016 to lay out its agenda for the upcoming year, they did so without a councilmember.
Ultimately the decision was made to appoint somebody to serve out the remaining portion of the first-half of his four-year term – unable to appoint somebody to serve out a full term due to a change in state law between 2010 when Ornelas was appointed for four years and 2014 when he was elected – and eventually settled on lifelong Lathrop resident Mark Elliott.
As a member of the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission and eventually the Planning Commission, Elliott beat out the other applicants with his knowledge of the city’s inner workings. While he could have settled on running for the remaining two-years on that term, Elliott threw his hat into the ring for a full term but was defeated by Martha Salcedo, the leading vote getter, and Ruben Sandoval.
With Sandoval’s untimely passing, the council could go off of the precedent set with Ornelas in 2010 – tapping the next leading vote getter – to serve out the first two years of Sandoval’s term if he’s willing to accept it. That decision won’t come until the end of next month – giving 2016 the distinction of having an open council seat at the beginning of the calendar year and at the end.
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209.249.3544.