Oakdale voters have spoken on the structure they want to see for its city council and the direction they will take the city for the next few years. One newcomer will join a re-elected councilman for full terms and a former mayor will fill the two-year remainder of a vacant seat.
Local businessman Don Petersen will join incumbent Tom Dunlop for full terms on the council with former Oakdale Mayor Farrell Jackson serving out the remainder of former councilman Jason Howard’s vacated seat from last April. Results are unofficial; final tally isn’t expected from the Stanislaus County Registrar of Voters office for at least a week and possibly more, though the trend has a clear path to the winners.
“I’m glad the voters have the confidence to put me back in,” said Jackson, who also served on the council from 1998 to 2006 before serving four years as mayor. “I’m looking forward to getting back in there and getting the city moved in a right direction.”
Jackson, at 2224 votes cast, was the highest vote getter of any of the candidates running for council positions. Jackson believes that statistic made a statement that people still believed in him.
“Experience does matter,” Jackson said.
The first priority for Jackson on the council will be to hire an experienced city manager.
Since April 2011, when the council dismissed Steve Hallam, Oakdale has been without a permanent city manager and has had the position filled part-time by former City of Atwater city managers, Greg Wellman followed by Stan Feathers.
Jackson also said he wants to immediately look at the water and sewer rates being charged by the city.
“We have to figure out what’s going on,” Jackson said. “They (rates) vary too much. They’re very confusing for anyone to figure out.”
Despite past public disagreements with current mayor Pat Paul, Jackson said he has no animosities with anyone on the dais. His goal is to get the city back on its feet.
“Having good discussion is not making an attack just because you disagree,” said Jackson. “For the health of the city we need to look forward and stop bashing past administrators and councils. Let’s stop the blame game and move forward.”
Dunlop said he had a great amount of gratitude to the citizens for re-electing him.
“It makes me feel I’m doing the right thing,” Dunlop said.
Main concerns for the two-term councilman were to get the city’s management team rebuilt and move forward with the city’s general plan.
“We have too many vacancies right now,” Dunlop said. “Employees are leaving and not being replaced.”
Dunlop said he was in favor of a three-manager division head team he had outlined a few months ago with a city manager overseeing a deputy city manager, police chief, and fire chief.
In regard to the general plan, Dunlop wants to see the city fee structure examined for promotion of commercial business and the city to get on track with state regulations.
With the new council make up, Dunlop believes the council will be more task-oriented, finishing one project and immediately moving on to another.
“With that attitude, we can take more on,” Dunlop said.
Second-leading vote getter for the four-year seat, Don Petersen will be a first-timer on the council.
“I feel incredibly encouraged that a person can still be elected without prior political experience and without regard for his or her political persuasion,” said Petersen. “I am very excited about being given this opportunity to serve my community. I look forward to the experience.”
Petersen said he was eager to begin the recruitment and interviewing process for a new city manager and was going to spend time with city department leaders to gain an understanding of the challenges they face so that he could be knowledgeable in making decisions.
Defeated candidate Ramona Howard gave a congratulatory message to her competition the day after the election.
“Congrats go to Tom Dunlop and Don Petersen for the four-year seat on City Council,” stated Howard. “I am excited to see Don up there. I think he will do a tremendous job for the city.”
Current City Treasurer J.R. McCarty, who came in third for the four-year seat, has not ruled out running again.
“The citizens of Oakdale chose Mr. Dunlop and Mr. Petersen and I believe they will do a great job leading our city in these hard times,” McCarty said. “I would like to thank all my supporters. I will see everyone in two years.”
Candidate Cherilyn Bairos, who lost to Jackson, stated her first time running was a great experience and wanted to thank her supporters and family. She also expects to run for office in the next election.
“I’d like to commend all of the other candidates as they showed their love for Oakdale, that special place we all call home,” said Bairos. “My sincerest congratulations to all of the winners. I’m excited to see all you will accomplish on behalf of Oakdale.”
The new and returning council members will be sworn into their positions at the Dec. 3 city council meeting.