Should council members serve an extra year as Modesto moves to even-year elections?

Here’s the question Modesto City Council members faced at a Tuesday workshop: Should they give themselves an extra year in office or reduce council terms for some by a year as the city moves from odd- to even-year elections?

The answer: Most want the extra year. Council members voted 4-3 to direct staff to prepare a plan that extends council terms from four to five years for terms starting in 2015 and 2017. Council members would get only one extra year.

Modesto is moving to even-year elections to comply with a state law intended to increase voter turnout. The city has to have a plan in place by Jan. 1 and move to even-year elections by November 2022.

Councilwoman Kristi Ah You – who made the motion for the vote – said no matter which decision council members made, they would look self-serving. She also noted that only one member of the public – former Mayor Carmen Sabatino – attended the afternoon workshop, which also was televised.

Sabatino does not support the extra year. “I didn’t vote for anyone for a five-year term,” he told council members. “My vote was cast for a four-year term.”

Besides Ah You, Councilmen Tony Madrigal and Mani Grewal and Mayor Ted Brandvold voted for the plan. But nothing is final. The council has to approve the plan at a December council meeting and place it on the November 2018 ballot for voter approval.

The plan was one of four City Attorney Adam Lindgren presented to the council and the only one that treats everyone the same. One extends council terms by one year for terms beginning in 2017 and 2019, which gives Madrigal and council members Bill Zoslocki and Jenny Kenoyer an extra year. The three were elected this month to their second and final terms. The other council members and the mayor would get an extra year only if they are re-elected in 2019.

The two other plans reduce council terms by one year in 2019 and 2021. The difference is one plan goes to the voters in November 2018 and the other in November 2020.Ridenour and Kenoyer supported reducing council terms by one year and asking voters to approve that in November 2018. The plan gives Ridenour, Grewal, Ah You and Brandvold three years if they ran for a second and final term in 2019. (None of the council members could run for office in 2021 because of term limits.)

“We didn’t run on five years,” Ridenour said. “We ran on four years.”

Zoslocki said he wanted the voters to decide whether council members get one more or one less year.

Modesto is moving from odd- to even-year elections to comply with the California Voter Participation Rights Act. The Act states if voter participation in odd-year elections is too low, then a local government must move to even-year, statewide elections. Statewide elections include races for governor, Congress and the presidency and have higher voter turnout.

Modesto is what is called a charter city, but California’s attorney general has determined the act applies to charter cities. Lindgren has said Modesto faces substantial risk of being sued and losing if it does not move to even-year elections.

Voter turnout in Modesto council elections was 25.6 percent in 2013 and 26 percent in 2015, while Modesto turnout during even-year elections from 2006 to 2014 was more than 56 percent, according to the city.

Turnout also was disappointing in the Nov. 7 council elections. Only 17.7 percent voted in the District 2 race won by Madrigal, while 27.6 voted in Kenoyer’s District 5 race and 25.1 percent in Zoslocki’s District 4 race.