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Three seek to fill vacant City Council seat
District 1 special election takes place on Aug. 31
Casey Smith Vasquez
The three candidates vying for the vacant District 1 seat on the Ceres City Council are Jim Casey, Laurie Smith and Connie Vasquez.

With the special election to fill the vacancy in the District 1 seat on the Ceres City Council coming up, three Ceres residents are plotting their political strategies.

James Casey, Laurie Smith and Connie Vasquez are vying to fill the seat. An all-mail special election will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 31 for District 1 residents only. The winner will be seated at the Monday, Sept. 13 council meeting to complete the council for the first time since the seat was vacated by Channce Condit in January.

Casey has lived in Ceres since 1974 and has owned and operated Casey Moving Systems in Ceres since 1995. Casey, an Army veteran from 1968 to 1971, said he will bring a new viewpoint and years of business experience to the council.

“My experience as a business owner and my love for this community is why I am a candidate for City Council,” said Casey. “I believe I can bring a new perspective to the council and address some of the pressing issues facing our community.”

He said he “will always put the interests of Ceres first and will always tell you the truth.”

He and his wife, Kathy, have two children and five grandchildren.

Smith, a Ceres resident since 1986, has a great deal of experience in local government and said she can hit the ground running hard because of her experience. She was appointed to the Ceres Planning Commission in January 2007 and as chairwoman has guided the city through decisions on land use and growth. In 2007 Smith was one of seven applicants who sought appointment to succeed Rob Phipps’ seat on the Ceres City Council after his death. The council chose Bret Durossette.

Laurie served on the Ceres Concerts in the Park Committee.

Bermuda born Smith grew up in an Air Force family and moved around the country, graduating from Bossier High School in Louisiana in 1977. After high school the family moved to the Central Valley where her father was stationed at Castle Air Force Base. Laurie was attending Merced Junior College when her father was killed in a 1979 KC-135 crash at Castle. Laurie earned her bachelor’s degree in political science in 1983 from Cal State Long Beach. A 25-year city of Modesto employee, Smith became the first executive assistant to the mayor and Modesto City Council in 1995, she worked her way up as analyst, administrative services officer, business manager and now director of Parks, Recreation & Neighborhoods.

Smith cited her experience with city budgeting, administration, economic development, project management, parks planning and development, parks operations and recreation, land use and community development.

“I have a comprehensive understanding of the operations of municipal government which will assist me in quickly learning the details of Ceres operations,” said Smith. “In addition, I’m a good listener. I have conflict resolution skills and I believe in the value of public service.”

She hopes her time can be spent “leading the city in a direction that results in sustainable economic growth that enhances our quality of life and supports our Public Safety Department.”

Smith wants to see Ceres hire a full-time economic development professional staff member to recruit new business and to help existing businesses to thrive.

Her oldest son Ryan is 35 and a millwright with PCB Industrial; and Tyler, 31, a technical recruiter with Microsoft. She is grandmother to three. She enjoys golfing and photography.

Connie Vasquez had applied for the council to appoint her in February and told the council that she has been a Ceres resident for over 30 years and raised four children here. She started the Nana’s Lil Tykes Daycare business in 2007. While she acknowledges that she has no experience in government she cares about the community and always willing to help.

“Everybody has to start somewhere and just because somebody has experience in the field … I have 27 years’ experience in a dental office but that doesn’t make me a dentist.”

“I’m a hard worker and I enjoy being involved with the community,” said Vasquez. She said she has been involved with the Turkey Trot, Love Ceres and has coached Ceres Youth Baseball. 

She said she began thinking about serving on the council last year when some suggested she get involved.

“If I don’t at least try to get my foot in the door then I can’t really complain about what’s going on in our city,” said Vasquez. “I felt like that was a way to hopefully get something done around this city.”

As the mother of two special needs children (one who is an adult and one almost an adult) she believes she could the city be more responsive to special needs residents.  

“I like to make the public happy and I believe in treating others with respect, with dignity, even the homeless deserve respect and dignity and I think that is a big issue that I hope I’ll be able to help with and help address. It’s in my nature to help others and it’s what I’ve always done.”

She wants to see homelessness and blight addressed, and wants to see cleaner parks and more things for children to do.

The only time in recent Ceres history when a special election was held for a vacant Ceres council seat occurred in November 1976 when voters elected Jim Delhart over five other candidates to replace Steve Wright. Wright had resigned in July 1976 to pursue a career as a police officer.  It is unclear if state law at the time allowed councils to fill a vacancy by appointment.