Election Day is 55 days away and the race for the Ceres City Council is preparing to go into full swing.
So far the campaigns of four men have been low-key with a smattering of campaign signs appearing here and there for incumbent members of the Ceres City Councilmembers Bret Durossette and Mike Kline who are running for re-election. Political newcomers Don Cool and Gene Yeakley are also candidates.
Cool, 62, said he is getting ready to hit the pavement in an effort to unseat one of the incumbents.
Sample ballots will be mailed beginning Sept. 23 with ballots following starting on Oct. 3.
"I'm going to definitely be hitting door to door hard and heavy," said Cool late last week. "I've already told my wife this is my last weekend off. I'll be pretty much busy every weekend and I'll also be walking weeknights because I want to try to hit 3,900 houses."
Cool plans to knock on the doors of known voters with door hangers. He was told 18,000 are registered to vote in Ceres but that only 3,900 voted in the last election.
Cool said he is also ordering big signs. Because they ran prior campaigns, both Durossette and Kline had some signs left over and have posted some.
The four council candidates are expected to participate in a 90-minute Candidate's Forum set for 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 6 at the Ceres Community Center, 2701 Fourth Street. The Chamber is accepting questions from the public to be asked of the candidates. Ideas for questions may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or phoned into 537-2601.
Cool, a 1971 Ceres High School graduate, spent about 12 years working in other states before returning to Ceres in 2002 to take care of his ailing mother. He said he was startled to see so much blight. Cool is stressing the need for Ceres to turn around its negative image, calling for placement "some teeth in some of these ordinances so we quit getting repeat offenders."
He feels there is an anti-incumbency mood in the country that will help him gain support.
"I believe everyone should be taken serious because there are a lot of people in town who want some change," said Cool.
Yeakley, 64, has not ever run for office, either, and said he will be campaigning - possibly sending out mailers - but doesn't want to "get too carried away."
"I won't be going door to door that much," said Yeakley. "That would take too much out of my health. I'll put something to it but I'm not going to go crazy with it."
A Ceres resident since 1989, Yeakley said he is also running to help clean up Ceres. The U.S. Army veteran and a 1968 graduate of Sunnyvale High School, has appeared at a number of council meetings in the past - the last time in April - lodging complaints about the way Ceres Police handle noise violations reported in his neighborhood. He expresses a concern that Ceres is full of people who bring Ceres down as far as noise, trash, blight and property condition is concerned.
"The city is wrapped up with ‘old school' so anybody who steps inside these boundaries will have to put up a fight. The people I've talked to around here don't see any improvement in the last four years. Some of them want more business in, some want to take care of the crime issue, and some are into taking care of the beatification of the city. If the City Council wants to do something good for the city, how about relinquishing their benefits and pay?"
Kline and Durossette were both elected to the council in 2011. Both claim that the city has taken strides forward.
"I think the council's doing a great job," said Durossette, 47. "We re-established the concessions (to employees). The city, I think, is going the right direction, from an economics point. Our image, I think, is really good. If I didn't think I could have an impact still on City Council stuff ... I wouldn't run."
Durossette is first appointed to the City Council in 2008 after the death of Councilman Rob Phipps. Besides serving on the City Council as vice mayor, he is a Ceres High School teacher and coach and serves this year as president of the Ceres Lions Club.
Durossette said he wants to see Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center with its Walmart Supercenter as an anchor, become a reality. He said also wants to continue strengthening the police and fire departments.
He said he expects to spend at least $12,000 to $16,000 on his campaign.
Kline, who was elected after numerous tries at elective office that included the School Board race, said he has set a campaign budget of $8,000 to keep his seat.
"My vision is keep moving the city forward," said Kline. "I think we've done a good job by restructuring our management structure with a permanent fire police and police chief and a permanent city manager now. We've made steps since I've been on the council to update our infrastructure so that it's more business friendly. We're trying to be more shovel ready, whether it's for housing or commercial."
Kline said the city hired an economic development manager in Steve Hallam and it's paying off with new additions like WSS Shoes and soon-to-arrive Ross Dress for Less.
City officials cannot legally campaign for passage of two measures before Ceres voters but they are able to educate them. City Manager Toby Wells said the city website has two flyers seeking to educate voters about Measures D and E.
"We can't spend any dollars to promote," said Wells. "We have to be careful of providing factual information that helps educate the voters as to what is being proposed."
Wells said he and city staff members have spoken to civic groups in an effort to get out the message.
Ceres voters will be deciding on Measure D, the proposal to set up council district elections. Passage would do away with the current at-large method of electing members of the Ceres City Council, replacing it with four council districts that have been carved to balance population. Starting in 2016, council candidates could only run within the district they reside. The office of mayor would continue to be elected on at at-large basis since there is only one mayor.
The measure was ordered out of concern of being the target of a legal challenge by minority advocacy groups. Experts say the California Voters Rights Act may be flawed but has opened the door for minorities to successfully sue cities, school districts and special districts to abandon at-large districts, claiming that minorities have a tougher time getting elected in them.
Only one of the four new proposed council districts contains a majority of minority voters. That district is currently occupied by Councilmember Linda Ryno.
Voters in Ceres will also be deciding on Measure E, which would increase the Transient Occupancy Tax paid at both of Ceres' motels. The Ceres Chamber of Commerce is also helping to promote its passage.
In Measure E, the city wants to increase the five percent TOT from five to 10 percent. The tax is collected by the Howard Johnson Inn and Microtel Inn every time someone rents a room and passed onto the city. Residents would not pay the tax unless they stay at the motels.
Three candidates have filed to run for two seats on the Keyes Community Services District Board. Incumbent board member Mike Bernal is a candidate as is Antonio "Tony" Aguilar and retired city of Ceres worker Davie Landers.
The Riverdale Park Tract Community Services District in south Modesto west of Carpenter Road has attracted seven candidates for five open seats. Candidates for the full term are incumbents Kelland Murphy and Diana M. Culwell-Caro and Rudo Caro and challenger massage therapist Timi Horn. Two short-term seats have attracted candidates in retired welder George Bixler, janitor Duane Shugart and Rita Hodges.
Four candidates are running for three seats on the Hughson Fire Protection District. Fire Captain Justin Vincent, and incumbent board members Miguel Oseguera, Jeffrey Serpa and David S. Absher have all filed as candidates.
Two seats are open on the board of directors for the Turlock Irrigation District, which supplies electricity to Ceres and irrigation water to Ceres area farms. Charles Fernandes sits in the Division 2 seat and is not up for re-election this year. However, Michael Frantz, the incumbent in Division 1 which covers Hughson, is being challenged by retired educator Tracy Sunde of Turlock. Incumbent director Rob Santos is unopposed.