Over the last few years, Oakdale residents have seen their elected city officials set service rates, determine the fate of city property sales, decide on growth developments, and propose sales tax initiatives. Some of those times saw individuals in the community up in arms over those decisions, criticizing leaders for the actions that shaped the city.
But Oakdale voters won’t have much to choose from for their local government offices since the only ones to have filed papers for three city slots have been the incumbents. Additionally, one elected city office, treasurer, had no one file papers for the November General Election.
The trio of automatic wins – for Tom Dunlop and Richard Murdoch for city council and Kathy Teixeira as city clerk – marks the second time in two years where those vying for Oakdale public office have run unopposed.
In 2014 Mayor Pat Paul ran unchallenged and J.R. McCarty and Cherilyn Bairos were the only two vying for a pair of open city council seats.
The answer to why these elections have gone uncontested could suggest that citizens are satisfied with the status quo.
At the local level, in many cases, when citizens get tired of the way their community is represented at a local level, they seem to get more involved. There has been little open conflict between council members or between council members and the mayor as opposed to previous years when division was visible on the dais.
But conflict can also be advantageous for a public entity. A difference of opinion often leads to progress and new ideas.
Mayor Pat Paul attributes the lack of candidates to citizens satisfied with the current city leadership and state of affairs rather than any apathy.
“Usually people run when they’re angry or dissatisfied,” Paul said, pointing to how far the city has come since 2012 when eight candidates campaigned for just two open seats. “Back then there were layoffs, budget cuts, and a lot of unhappiness with some of the city administrators.”
Paul credited City Manager Bryan Whitemyer with the city’s recovery since then.
Other possible explanations for the lack of candidates could be that those interested have decided the job is too tough or that they had no shot in some races or perhaps that many in Oakdale just are unconcerned about the governance aspect of city policy and direction.
There is no doubt that serving in public office can be a daunting task with little monetary compensation or recognition.
However, without any challengers, residents may ask how are incumbents held to any standard? Candidate platforms do not have to be stated because there is no competition.
A healthy election that forces candidates to state their positions and come under public scrutiny is good for democracy, officials noted.
“This is too bad, whether complacency or they’re just doing a good job, the voters should have a choice,” said former Oakdale Mayor and Councilman Farrell Jackson. “When no one else runs except for incumbents, there’s no chance for voters to ask questions about their forums or changes they would make.”
According to City Clerk Kathy Teixeira, if the number of persons running for office is equal to or less than the number of offices open the city council may appoint the ones that have filed and cancel the election per the California Elections Code. A special meeting would have to be held no later than Aug. 25.
Also open in the area are two director positions for the Oak Valley Hospital District Board of Directors.
Information provided by the Stanislaus County Registrar of Voters shows only that the two incumbents for those positions, Jim Teter and Louise Pooley-Sanders, filed papers to be on the November ballot.