Council looks to extend mayor term


Adds question to November ballot

ATASCADERO — The mayor of Atascadero just can’t get enough done in two years according to three City Council members and current mayor Tom O’Malley, who spoke on the subject during a meeting Tuesday. At the end of the discussion, the Council voted unanimously to pose the question to voters on the November ballot as to whether or not they’d like to see the mayor’s term extended to four years.

According to O’Malley, the Council originally would select a mayor and planning commission members by a majority vote, leading to the majority dominating the direction of the Council and the City as a whole.

“We used to have much-polarized politics in Atascadero, much like you’d see at the Board of Supervisors and it tended to be ‘winner take all,’” O’Malley said. “We had pendulum swings often. We’d have a majority leaning in one direction for a few years then a majority leaning another direction for a few years and we were like a yo-yo. You’d see really very little progress on major, long-term projects.”

Since 2003 the mayor position has rotated between the sitting members of the Council based on seniority and each Council member appointed a planning commissioner with two more commissioners at-large, leading to “broader representation,” O’Malley said.

However, the current two-year mayor term still presents challenges, O’Malley added, most importantly the lack of ability to get anything accomplished on state and regional boards such as the San Luis Council of Governments, which often plans the funding of large projects 20 years in advance.

“This is one I feel strongly about,” Mayor Pro-Tem Robert Fonzi said. “I think it’s very important to have a four-year mayor. If you’re rotating in and out (of regional boards) with another person, you never get to be chair and you never get to bring home the bacon for Atascadero. And that’s so important when it involves funding for roads and highways and annexations and water and other issues.”

Fonzi added that having to campaign takes too much time and resources away from candidates who are also trying to run a business or work full-time, possibly deterring them from running for office.

“I think a four-year mayor would level the playing field and make it so it’s a more desirable position for those who are actually employed,” she said.

City Manager Rochelle Rickard agreed that a four-year mayor would be beneficial to City operations.

“The more stability that you have in your City Council, the more progress that you can make on long-term goals,” she said. “If you have a Council that’s constantly changing or the fear of a constantly changing Council, a lot more resources are taken making those changes… So having the majority of the Council up every two years is a little bit of a stumbling block for staff, so the more stability the better.”

The measure required that four out of five Council members vote “yes” in order for the question to make it on the ballot and with Council member Charles Bourbeau absent, the decision had to be unanimous.

With the Council’s approval the question of whether or not Atascadero should have a four-year mayor will be on the ballot in November and the two sitting Council members who have served as mayor in the past — Fonzi and O’Malley — will author a “pro” argument to be printed on the ballot, also to be signed by Atascadero’s first-ever mayor, Bob Wilkins.

“I think it’s a good idea to have an elected mayor and I also think it’s a good idea to have a four-year mayor,” O’Malley said. “Because having campaigning every two years, it potentially puts you back in that yo-yo we had before.”

More In News