RIVERBANK — Three candidates seek to be the person who gets the City Council back to full strength.
Cal Campbell, Jeremy Fennell and Diana Gonzalez are running in a June 4 special election for the seat vacated when Richard O'Brien was elected mayor in November.
They describe themselves as community-minded people who could help city government get its finances on track and prepare for growth.
Gonzalez, 55, is a school secretary. Campbell, 64, is a retired educator. Fennell, 30, owns a retail and body art business.
The winner will serve the last year and a half of O'Brien's council term.
The council deadlocked 2-2 over how to fill the vacancy, resulting in the need for a special election. O'Brien and Councilwoman Jeanine Tucker favored appointing Campbell or another of the five unsuccessful candidates in the November council election. Councilwomen Darlene Barber-Martinez and Dotty Nygard preferred to open the appointment to all registered voters.
The city hired a private company to conduct the special election after officials with Stanislaus County, which usually handles the vote, withdrew amid a dispute over whether the election was called in time.
All three candidates said that should they lose, they would not use that dispute as grounds for a legal challenge.
Turnout could be light because the council seat will be the only item on the ballot. In November, when voters were choosing a president and other high-profile leaders, 67 percent of registered voters countywide took part. Turnout was just 18 percent when Riverbank held a March 2011 special election for a vacant council seat, won by Tucker.
A closer look at the June 4 candidates:
Gonzalez, a 40-year Riverbank resident, said public safety would be her priority for the city budget.
She said Riverbank could try to get a foundation to restore the old Del Rio Theatre, which the city bought and later found to be in poor shape. She also urged the promotion of Riverbank's downtown to people outside the area.
"I think they have to know about downtown so we can bring them in," she said.
The North County Corridor, a planned Highway 108 bypass on the city's south side, needs to be carried out in a way that does not harm farmland or downtown, she said.
Gonzalez supports continued efforts to create jobs at the former Riverbank Army Ammunition Plant.
"A good thing to bring into the ammo plant is vocational training for the students who are not college-bound," she said.
The candidate said a shift to district elections, which the council has started to discuss, could help it better reflect Riverbank's population.
She cited her volunteer work in the PTA, her union, an athletic boosters group, the city's community garden and other causes.
"I feel that it takes a lot of commitment and dedication to do all that," she said.
Campbell has lived in Riverbank for more than 50 years and is retired after 35 years as a teacher and administrator in Oakdale schools.
He said his priority is stabilizing Riverbank's budget over the next three years as the city deals with debt left over from its former redevelopment agency.
"We might have to wait on certain things to make ends meet and to meet obligations," he said.
Campbell supports redeveloping downtown and the former cannery just to its west, but urges a cautious approach in light of the changed economy in recent years.
He would like to steer development away from farmland.
"Before we start expanding our boundaries farther, we should build on the vacant land within the boundaries of Riverbank now," Campbell said.
He said the city needs to ensure that the Army completes the ammo plant cleanup so long-range plans for new industrial uses can move forward. "I think it's got a lot of potential to benefit the city, but it has to be developed carefully," he said.
Campbell said he is concerned that district elections might not work in a small city like Riverbank.
Fennell owns Sin Cal Industries in the Crossroads Shopping Center, which sells skateboards, signs and other products, and does tattoos and body piercings.
He took part in a Modesto Bee editorial board meeting last month but did not respond last week to a request for a follow-up interview.
In that meeting, Fennell said he has devoted much of his time to establishing his business and is ready to help the council deal with the budget and other issues.
He said the city should fill in vacant properties before expanding and could look at selling the Del Rio Theatre to a private company.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2385
MONDAY, 7 p.m.: Riverbank will hold a second town hall meeting for residents who have questions about the June 4 City Council election, especially the use of a private contractor rather than the Stanislaus County election office. It will follow a regular council meeting that will start at 6 p.m. and is expected to be short. Both will be at City Hall, 6707 Third St.
MAY 23, 6 p.m.: The League of Women Voters will hold a forum for the council candidates, also at City Hall.