The elected bullies who wasted $1.8 million of your tax dollars, drove away dozens of Los Banos city workers, rehired an incompetent city manager, and have intimidated hard-working city employees are now asking you to give them even more power.

Measure H is an awful idea. Voters should reject it, rebuking this runaway city council.

In 1970, Los Banos voters decided to choose their mayors every two years. For over 50 years, that’s proved to be an excellent system that has served the city well.  It means two councilmembers and the mayor stand for election every other year. If voters are unhappy, they can remove three council members in a single election, putting the brakes on bad policies and bad politicians.

If Measure H passes, the mayor’s term will become four years – not two. So it would take at least two election cycles – four years – to remove the majority of a bad council.

Four years is too long for a city to suffer under bad leadership.

And our city is suffering. The problems can be traced to neophyte city manager Josh Pinheiro, who was originally hired in 2021 then fired eight months later. In 2023, a new council – led by current Mayor Paul Llanez and councilmember Brett Jones — rehired Pinheiro.

Inexplicably, the council voted to give Pinheiro $1.8 million. When the city’s insurer summarily rejected Pinheiro’s claim, this council voted to pay him anyway from the city’s unallocated general fund. Instead of building the firehouse promised five years ago or expanding the city’s wastewater capacity or building a swimming pool, the council gave away a tenth of the city’s cash.

Put another way, the mayor and council gave a former employee nearly 10-times his annual pay for eight months of poor performance.

It got worse. This council voted 3-1 to require a 5-0 vote to fire Pinheiro – meaning it would take four years to get rid of the city manager no matter how many bad decisions, broken rules and lost employees he piles up.

Since Pinheiro’s arrival, four of the city’s six department heads have quit; the city’s “attrition list” grew to over 50 departures — a quarter of its workforce – nine months ago. The list has grown since. 

This council has insulted staff, played favorites in dispensing federal COVID aid, tried to conduct city business under the cloak of the “consent agenda,” abandoned important projects and so much more. Staff calls city hall a “toxic workplace.”

In October, the city’s five unions delivered a “no-confidence” statement during a council meeting.

A former city manager likened Los Banos to the City of Bell where corruption resulted in four members of the city council and the city’s top executive going to prison. 

The Merced County grand jury has opened an investigation.

One resident told the council, “all of you should resign right now.”

The council ignored her, of course. So now it’s up to Los Banos voters to solve the problem in November. That will be much harder if voters don’t first reject Measure H on March 5.

Under current rules, two councilmembers and the mayor will be on the November ballot – meaning a new majority can be elected. But Measure H would give the mayor two additional years, meaning the city would continue to suffer through mismanagement and bad decision-making.

Voting “No” gives citizens a fighting chance to save the city.

Also on the ballot is Measure G, which makes the city clerk an appointed position. Its real purpose is to silence an employee who stood up to mismanagement. It, too, should be rejected.

For nearly 60 years, Los Banos mayors have gladly stood for re-election every two years – often being re-elected repeatedly. Now, a group of unscrupulous leaders want to change the rules, allowing mayors to hold power for four years.

Why? Because those grasping most desperately for power are always the ones most fearful of losing it. 

Keep that power in the hands of the people of Los Banos. Vote NO on Measure H.

Refugio Llamas served on the Los Banos City Council and is running for mayor.

The Westside Express