Is the direct election of Manteca’s mayor a bane or a blessing?
It’s been three decades since voters approved a measure put on the ballot to establish a direct vote of the people to select the city’s mayor every four years.
Prior to that, the council decided once a year among themselves who the mayor would be for the next 12 months. That system worked fine until bruised egos of council members got in the way when the mayor’s job wasn’t rotated to individuals who expected to receive it but didn’t creating - surprise, surprise - acrimony.
Obviously, the direct election of mayor didn’t end acrimony based on the nasty council politics that preceded Willie Weatherford’s election as mayor 10 years ago
The best rationale for direct election of the mayor is that it gives Manteca voters a chance to pick the person who will set the tone conducting council meetings over a four-year period. The mayor, however, has no real power beyond an average council member save for running the meetings, putting their John Hancock on official documents as well as performing ceremonial tasks.
Supporters of direct election of mayor even have noted that it is only marginally better than the old system.
Still it is the people’s right to decide who is mayor.
There are drawbacks to the current process. In the 2014 mayoral election there is a good chance a person sitting on the council in the middle of a four-year term could be elected mayor. That would then create a vacancy on the council to fill the remaining two years of that person’s term.
There is no guarantee that voters will get the chance to elect the replacement in a special election since councils have the option to call for a special election to appoint.
If voters are worried about being represented by people they elect directly, the direct election of mayor definitely creates a situation where a councilman could serve who never gained voter approval.
The direct election of mayor certainly isn’t an ironclad guarantee that voters will have an absolute direct say in everyone who serves on the council.
Both the direct election of mayor and relying on the council to decide who occupies the middle the seat has drawbacks.
But there is a third way that needs to be considered: The person getting the most votes in a municipal election conducted every two years becomes the mayor and the second highest vote getter is the vice mayor. They would serve two years in those positions (until the next general municipal election) but four years on the council. Under such an approach, Manteca would elect two council members this November with the highest vote getter overall becoming mayor for the first two years of their four-year term. Then in 2014 Manteca would elect three council members with the highest vote getter taking the mayor’s seat or the first two years of their four-year term.
Critics contend that it opens the way for an unseasoned candidate running for council to get elected mayor who would lack council experience. There have been mayors elected as council novices who have done quite fine. The last one was Frank Warren in 1990.
As for concerns that a four-year mayor is needed to give Manteca an effective voice in regional issues, one only has to look to the time John Harris has served on the Altamont Commuter Express board and on the San Joaquin Council of Governments - the two most effective and high profile examples of regional cooperation. Harris has never been mayor. It simply takes a dedicated council member, who may or may not be the mayor to effectively represent and fight for Manteca’s interests beyond the city limits.
This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209-249-3519.