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Ceres is run with more common sense than Bell
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With lots of attention being paid to the small Southern California city of Bell paying out exorbitant salaries of city council members, Ceres taxpayers can rest knowing there is no fleecing of the city treasury here.

It is costing Ceres $1.82 per capita - or $77,429 a year - to provide the City Council with compensation, including stipends and benefits such as health insurance. That is in stark contrast to the city of Bell, a community of 40,000 where three of the five council members were pocketing in excess of $100,000 a year as elected officials.

A lot of people had misconceptions of what council members earn from performing their duties before the Bell controversy. In light of the six-figure salaries - that included the city manager making almost $800,000 a year - there is even more who believe council members are full-time positions with full-time salaries.

As a general law city, the amount a council can make is set by state statute based on a city's population.

Charter cities such as Bell have more latitude.

Ceres mayor Anthony Cannella receives a stipend of $700 per month, or $8,400 per year. He has elected to not take the medical package offered to the council.

All four city councilmen - Bret Durossette, Ken Lane, Guillermo Ochoa and Chris Vierra - are each paid a $500 per month stipend and take advantage of the health insurance compensation which costs Ceres taxpayers an extra $938.11 per month per member, for a total of $1,438.11 per member.

In August 2006, the council voted to increase the pay of councilmembers for the first time in 21 years, to take effect November 2007. Council pay increased from $250 per month to $500 per month, while the mayor's pay increased from $300 to $700 per month. As part of the pay increase, members decided to forego an extra stipend of $30 for each time they met as the Ceres Redevelopment Agency Board of Directors.

What many people do not know is that councilmembers aren't just expected to attend two council meetings per month, but they also attend numerous study sessions. They each also represent the city of Ceres on various countywide boards. For example, Chris Vierra represents Ceres on the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. There are countless other boards demanding the attention of councilmembers, such as the Stanislaus Council of Governments (StanCOG).

Unlike council members in Bell, Ceres city councilmembers are hardly raking in the bucks when you consider the time and burden involved. And having served on a City Council myself, I can tell you that there is little thanks offered to public servants. Indeed, they probably take more criticism than they do praise.

There are other public misconceptions besides pay. Some, for example, believe the council also governs local schools. Not true. The Ceres Unified School District Board of Trustees runs the school system in Ceres.

Also, there is an assumption that the mayor has more authority than the other four council members. That is not the case. The mayor has one vote just as each council member has. The council can only act as a whole and not as individuals.

The mayor does run council meetings and makes appointments but only with the concurrence of the rest of the City Council. If they don't agree with the mayor, then the appointment is rejected.

The mayor also is the ceremonial representative of the city, The mayor also provide the official signature to many official documents but only after the council has approved any actions outlined within the documents.

If anything, the situation in Bell should be a wake-up call for that community and any other community in the state to keep a check on its local government. While everyone is quick to blast the Bell City Council for its self-serving ways, the citizenry and local media deserves a public flogging for failing to keep a watchful eye on the actions of that body. When officials aren't being scrutinized like they should be by citizens, they can be tempted to act like the fox put in charge of the hen house.

Thankfully the Ceres council is led by a common sense and honest approach to doing the business of the people and I will be the first to give them kudos for that.

How do you feel? Let Jeff by e-mailing him at