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Will new fifth council member get a free pass?
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Ready for another Manteca City Council election?

You might just get one if the new City Council opts to go that route.

Mike Morowit and Richard Silverman are sworn in Dec. 2 as council members while Steve DeBrum takes the oath as mayor. The three along with Councilwoman Debby Moorhead who has two years left on her term must decide on how to fill DeBrum’s current council seat.

They must make a decision within 60 days after Dec. 2 either to appoint or call for a special election. If they opt not to make a decision, a special election is automatic.

A special election could cost as much as $50,000 based on cost estimates by county officials

Previous councils have done it both ways. In 2002 when current Mayor Willie Weatherford defeated Carlon Perry, former mayor Jack Snyder was appointed to fill the balance of Weatherford’s council term. In 2004 DeBrum was elected to the council when Councilman Dave Macedo vacated his seat. 

Among names being floated and/or bantered about so far are retired Police Chief Charlie Halford, former Manteca Unified School District board member Wendy King, four-time council/mayor candidate and retired city planner Ben Cantu as well as three-term council member Vince Hernandez.

The situation creates a political quagmire.

The safest option for the council is to call for a special election.

There is, however, the temptation to settle the campaign dust and to concentrate 100 percent on pressing city issues without the distractions of an extra campaign.

Should that be the route, there are several things the council needs to keep in mind.

If they appoint someone who didn’t show enough interest to run in the last municipal election that was just 10 days ago they are essentially giving them a free pass.

If they took someone like King or Halford, the council would be giving them an inside track to being elected on their own two years from now. When DeBrum completed the balance of Macedo’s term he was able to build on the advantage of being the “incumbent” to secure his first four-year term at the ballot box. And Snyder — who indicated when he was appointed that he would not seek a full four-year term — ended up running and secured election to a subsequent four-year term.

By appointing someone who has no skin in the game by not going through the gauntlet of a campaign answering questions from voters and putting their egos on the line they reap the end prize without any of the sweat.

But what are the pros and cons of appointing Cantu or Hernandez?

Despite not getting elected in four tries Cantu is not a fringe candidate. In previous races for council he has polled well and has been a strong runner-up. His stabs at securing the mayor’s post, though, had more distance between him and the winner.

He did get more votes than Hernandez on Nov. 4. But the dynamics of the council and mayor races were different from the size of the field and number of seats to the campaign itself.

On the issues, DeBrum and Cantu presented distinctively different messages. That wasn’t the case for the three council candidates whose basic view of the direction the city is headed — and should head — were similar.

DeBrum’s accession to mayor and the council election clearly shows the majority of the electorate likes the city’s general direction. At the same time, Hernandez coming in third in a race for two council seats given that he was one of the primary architects of Manteca’s municipal bearings in the past 12 years indicates that most people wanted fresh faces.

It is virtually a given that whatever happens — a special election or an appointment — isn’t going to change the tilt on the council.

Giving the loyal opposition a seat at the table might be a gesture that could resonate well for building a stronger community consensus. It wouldn’t give Cantu the bully pulpit he craved when he opted to run for mayor instead of running for council that many thought he had a good chance of winning a seat on. It would, however, induce different ideas into the mix.

That said, at the end of the day it is still about philosophy and politics. It would take a rather magnanimous elected official to appoint someone who has been faithfully drilling away at their basic philosophies for the past eight years like a woodpecker working over a tree in search of insects.

Hernandez is the only other non-bureaucrat with a working knowledge of key negotiations for what could be a major private sector investment in Manteca’s economy that would use a large chunk of the city’s remaining $42 million in redevelopment agency funds — the 500-room Great Wolf Resort and indoor water project. DeBrum and Hernandez are the council representatives in the negotiations.

The Great Wolf decision is expected to be made one way or another by mid-2015.

That in its self should not be enough at the end of the day to decide who to appoint if the council goes that route.

However, if the council opts to make an appointment in lieu of a special election then serious consideration should be reserved for two individuals — Cantu and Hernandez.


This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at or 209.249.3519.