The Los Banos City Council at its Nov. 15 meeting approved putting two measures on the March 5 ballot, one to increase the mayoral term from two to four years and another to make the city clerk and city treasurer appointed positions, instead of elected positions. Both measures passed with a 4-1 vote, with Councilmember Lewis voting no.
The council also adopted a new zoning map and tabled a proposed city social media contract.
Attorney Christopher Skinnell from Nielsen Merksamer Parrinello Gross & Leoni, LLP, identified in the agenda packet as the “City’s special legal counsel,” explained to the council that the same law which mandated council elections by districts in 2014 also gave voters the right to decide if a mayor’s term be two or four years.
Councilmember Brett Jones said that if the measure passes, “we can have a mayor that’s actually focused on doing the job instead of politicking every two years.”
Skinnell also explained the rationale for making the city clerk and treasurer appointed, saying that growing responsibilities, qualifications and statewide trends are at play. The measure would require the city to pay more for the positions. The current pay for the position of clerk is $100 a month.
Individuals during the public forum displayed a lack of trust in the city, as they opposed the measure on the grounds of making the positions at will. “Because I don’t trust my city,” said Kathy Ballard. “I keep thinking you have an ulterior motive.”
“It seems more of a consolidation of power to have more influence over these positions”, said former Councilmember Refugio Llamas, citing the recent display of no confidence by public safety associations.
In another item, Councilmember Deborah Lewis pulled from the consent agenda a proposed contract with Imagine Way More, LLC, capped at $7,500 a month, to provide social media updates on the city. That would equal $90,000 per year, coming out of the Community and Economic Projects fund in the budget.
Community and Economic Department Director Stacy Elms, explained to Lewis that other competitors who responded to the city’s RFP were not local and submitted higher bids. Imagine Way More was also the only local choice, she said.
In addition to asking a few more questions, Lewis had a moral objection to the contract based on the discovery of content on Imagine Way More’s website which included a racial slur. “It was very graphic verbally and a racial disrespect to my people,” Lewis said. “Not in today’s time. It is not right.”
Councilmember Jones, after hearing Lewis’s objection, said, “I don’t feel comfortable moving forward knowing or not knowing what’s on the website. Jones voted in favor of tabling the motion for a future meeting. Lewis objected to tabling.
The council adopted a new zoning map, following a second reading. The new map, Elms said, includes a change to a “plot-based” system and the rectifying of previous errors.
Near the beginning of the meeting, Mayor Paul Llanez recognized the Finance Department staff for earning the Government Finance Officers Association’s Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for FY 21-22. City Finance Manager Kim Tomas and Interim Finance Director Brent Kuhn accepted the certificate.
During the public forum, the Los Banos Veterans organization, represented by VFW Commander Mike Hughes and Veterans Day Parade Chairperson Patricia McCoy presented flags to the Veteran’s Day Parade school contest winners.
For the second year in a row the winners were Mercey Springs Elementary, Los Banos Junior High and Pacheco High School. Llanez then recognized local VFW and American Legion posts for organizing the parade. In his own report, Councilmember Jones also thanked the VFW for organizing the veteran parade.
During the public forum other issues were talked about, including calls for civility, the council’s apparent inaction on homeless issues, the Small Business Association (SBA) grant to the city and the need for affordable pet care.
During reports near the end of the meeting City Manager Josh Pinheiro focused on current actions initiated by the city. These included pruning trees on Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison Avenues and on Fourth, Sixth and Seventh Streets; hanging Christmas decorations downtown; and adding new playgrounds, with the city on track for eight new playgrounds this year, higher than the average of two per year.
Councilmembers in their reports were supportive of Parks and Recreation Director Joe Heim’s new contract. The contract made Heim permanent in the role, moving up from interim director. Councilmembers were also supportive of the contract for new Police Chief Ray Reyna, Jr. In her report Councilwoman Lewis asked for an update from staff on the Operation Home Key grant at the next council meeting, and Mayor Llanez agreed it would be a good idea. Lewis then asked about SBA Grant public records requests related to that grant, after that issue was brought up during the public forum. City Attorney William Vaughn assured Lewis that all requests had been fulfilled at the cost of extensive staff manpower. “It just doesn’t ever seem to ever be enough,” Vaughn said.
Llanez gave the last report, addressing public forum concerns about the homeless. Llanez pointed out that it is a state-wide issue, “I didn’t pass proposition 47,” Llanez said expressing frustration with state laws.
Llanez ended the meeting with an emotional Thanksgiving message. “We had a family from Pacheco High School who had a huge loss this year,” Llanez said. “And my heart goes out to them. Go home, hug your family, hug your kids, hug your grandkids. Just be thankful.”