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Lathrop to swear in new mayor, one of two council members
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LATHROP – A new mayor for the City of Lathrop will be sworn in tonight at City Hall.

Joseph “Chaka” Santos, who ended soon-to-be ex-mayor Kristy Sayles’ bid for a third straight term at the recent Nov. 2 elections, will take his oath of office at the start of the regular council meeting which will begin at 7 p.m. in the council chambers. City Hall is located at 390 Towne Centre Drive at Mossdale Landing.

Installed along with the new mayor will be newly re-elected Sonny Dhaliwal who garnered the highest number of votes in the five-way council race. Dhaliwal led the pack with an impressive 42.33 percent of the total votes cast (1,884). Finishing second with a little more than half of Dhaliwal’s ovarall votes was Gene Neeley, Jr. who received 1,080 votes or 24.26 percent of the total ballots cast for council members.

There will be no oath-taking for Neely, however. While his victory in the elections was legitimate even though he announced his withdrawal from the race days before the election, his name remained on the official ballot because his announcement came after the ballots were accepted and finalized by the San Joaquin County Registrar of Voters.

When the election results showed him finishing second to Dhaliwal, and with City Hall declaring that as far as the city is concerned he was the official second place winner, Neely told the Bulletin that given the vote of confidence he received from the people of Lathrop, he was going to give it more thought whether or not he would accept the position. At that time, he said he was “leaning” toward accepting the people’s mandate to serve on the council. However, he added that he needed more time to further check on the legal ramifications and possible conflict of interest involved if he served on the City Council while working at the same time as the chief of the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District. Neely was acting fire chief when he filed his candidacy, and was promoted to permanent fire chief soon after. The job change took place before the elections.

On Nov. 24, Neely again submitted a letter to City Clerk Mitzi Ortiz, this time to officially announce that he was resigning from his elected post “effective immediately.” He cited his new position as fire chief as the main reason for his official resignation.

“After careful consideration and research with various legal counsels, it has been determined that taking both offices may cause for these two public offices to be incompatible. It is in both my best interest and that of my fellow community members that I have decided to remain serving as the fire chief to avoid any disarray, and continue having the ability to serve the public on the safety front,” he wrote.

Deciding on what process will be used to fill the vacancy resulting from Neely’s resignation will be the first order of business for the newly seated city council.

City Manager Cary Keaten said in an earlier interview that the council will have three options on how to go about selecting a fifth member. They can choose to appoint someone to that vacant seat, but will also have to decide on the process to be used for the appointment. They can also decide to hold a special election which will cost the city around $20,000. As a third option, they can opt to choose neither of the two and simply wait for the next general election to take place on Nov. 8, 2011.

In previous years’ scenarios, the council simply appointed the candidate, Steve Dresser, who finished next to the winner in the elections. However, when that happened while City Hall was still located at J.R. Simplot, the appointment of the next vote getter was simplified by the fact that Dresser was just a few votes behind candidate Bob Gleason. In the Nov. 2, 2010 elections, Omar Ornelas who finished third received only about half (573 or 12.87 percent) of Neely’s total 1,080 votes (24.26 percent).

In another instance that happened at the new City Hall west of Interstate 5, the council decided to have interested residents apply for the vacant position on the council. Nearly a dozen applications were received, including that of now Vice Mayor Martha Salcedo who received the council’s nod.

Rounding out the five-person council race in the Nov. 2 elections were Rosalinda Valencia who received 497 or 11.17 percent of the votes, and Brent Maynor who garnered 391 or 8.78 percent of the votes. The two other council members who have two more years remaining in their four-year term are Salcedo and Christopher Mateo.