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Chris Vierra is mayor
Chris Vierra was unanimously appointed mayor of Ceres - and promptly sworn into office - during a special City Council meeting held Monday evening.

Vierra, 44, replaces Anthony Cannella who resigned Dec. 7 to take the 12th State Senate District seat. Cannella was elected Nov. 3 over Democrat Anna Caballero. Vierra will serve out Cannella's unexpired term which ends in November. He is expected to run for the seat.

Vierra was administered the oath of office by City Clerk Cindy Heidorn. Watching from the front row were his wife, Kelly, and two children, Katie, 15, and Ryan, 13. Also in attendance were his parents, Vern and Sharon Vierra of Ceres, and brother Craig Vierra, a University of Pacific professor.

"I want to thank my fellow council members," said Vierra, "for nominating me in support of taking over the unexpired term of Mayor Cannella - or Senator Cannella now. I'm excited about this opportunity. I think there are a lot of challenges that lie ahead for this council with the budget but I believe the council has shown we can work very effectively and will be able to address any of the issues that come up."

Vierra received the hearty endorsement of the three remaining council members, none of whom expressed interest in the job. Vice Mayor Ken Lane and Councilmen Guillermo Ochoa and Bret Durrossette deferred to Vierra's seven years' council experience.

Vern Vierra, who was a pharmacist in Ceres and Hughson during his career, said it was a proud moment to see his son become mayor.

"He likes this politics thing," noted Vern Vierra.

Vierra will preside over his first regular meeting as mayor on Monday. The council is expected to tackle the issue of how a contractor and consultant installing water meters in Ceres came up short by an estimated 600 units.

Because the city is currently without a city manager, Vierra said the council will rely heavily on Chief of Police Art deWerk as interim city manager and Finance Director Sheila Cumberland who has been appointed interim deputy city manager. The city is staring at a $2 million shortfall for the coming 2011-12 budget year. That figure could fluctuate depending on the city's expected performance in satisfying retirement fund through StanCERA.

"Whether that's something we can have prolonged or have to pay upfront we don't know yet," said Vierra.

Things will grow more difficult to produce a balanced budget, he said.

"Over the last two or three years we've been able to cut a lot of the programs and shift things and now we're running out of options," said the new mayor. He said that since the majority of general fund dollars are allocated to police and fire, "difficult decision face us as a council. The numbers are staggering. We may have to sit down and go through every line item."

Vierra offered nothing but praise for deWerk and noted that the city has not hired a professional search firm to replace Brad Kilger who resigned last month to take a position with Benecia.

"I will give Chief deWerk credit. He's taken the reins and is gong through every department and looking at how we do business. He's willing to try new ideas and new ways of doing business. It's that type of leadership that I'm looking for because we can't do status quo any more."

DeWerk, said Vierra, is conducting an evaluation of the city organization and will report his findings to the council.

Elevating Vierra to the office of mayor creates a council vacancy which the council has two months to act upon. The council is forbidden from filling by appointment because state law does not permit a council to be comprised of a majority of appointed members, said City Attorney Michael Lyions. Vierra is considered an appointee as well as Bret Durossette who was appointed to fill the unexpired term of Rob Phipps who died in December 2007. The council vacancy must be filled by an election, special or regular. Trying to steer clear of an expensive special election - costing an estimated $62,000 to $81,000 - the option will be to schedule an election to be timed with the regular scheduled election in November. The action means the council will meet as four members for most of 2011.

Lyions said that the city will miss the March and June election deadlines, putting the council vacancy before the voters in the November 2011 election.