Mike Nelson, a former Merced County supervisor and firefighter, launched his campaign to become Atwater’s next mayor this week.
The 64-year-old Nelson has served the community in a variety of roles over the past three decades, including on the Board of Supervisors and as the chairman of the Atwater Planning Commission.
The candidate says his key priorities are economic growth, public safety, government transparency and accountability.
“I don’t see a sense of urgency at City Hall,” he told the Times. “I’ve been chairman of the Planning Commission for three years. The General Plan — the blueprint on how the city grows — expired in 2020. I’ve been asking for three years: ‘When are we going to update the General Plan?’ While we are finally getting some momentum, the wheels have been turning really slow. Meanwhile, people want to move to Atwater. Developers want to build housing and commercial projects. But, we have to have an updated General Plan for that to happen.”
Nelson says now is the time to act. Atwater government and its leaders can’t afford to become complacent.
“In recent years, our city has faced many challenges and made progress in avoiding a near bankruptcy,” he says. “Our need now is to sustain that progress and expand economic opportunities for all of our residents. Atwater can’t afford to backslide and return to the kind of policies that got us into trouble in the first place.”
Nelson is sure to face off against current Atwater City Councilman John Cale who has already announced his run for mayor. It’s still early though, and City Council candidates won’t even file for the November election until July. Current Mayor Paul Creighton has said he won’t run for re-election, but then again, Creighton has been known to change his mind. At one point last year, Creighton announced he was running for the Board of Supervisors, but then backed down. There are also two other regular Council seats that will be on the November ballot — those currently held by Brian Raymond and Danny Ambriz.
Nelson, a Central Valley native, has called Atwater his home since the mid-1980s. He has served as a professional fire fighter for the city of Atwater, and on the Atwater Elementary School Board of Trustees and the Mosquito Abatement District.
In 2002, he ran a successful campaign against County Supervisor Joe Rivero to represent the Atwater region on the board. He served two, 4-year terms until losing the seat to Linn Davis.
“My friends and neighbors have asked me to consider reentering public service for quite some time,” Nelson says. “Recently, I had a constituent concern I wanted the city to address. I found that the city had a link on its website for residents to report problems, and bring to the city issues of concern to families or neighborhoods. This kind of tool can create two-way dialogue between the public and city. But, it must work properly. My question was not addressed and when I personally asked about my report, no one even knew who reviewed such requests, let alone respond to the concern. Public trust is strengthened when public concerns are respectfully addressed.”
In his conversation with the Times, he asked: “If I can’t get a response from the city, how does Joe Citizen get a response? … There has to be some feedback. People get frustrated when they can’t get answers.”
The candidate says he has a good working relationship with Atwater’s current county representative, Supervisor Daron McDaniel, and he also has “transportation” experience as a former member of the Merced County Association of Governments board. This will help, he says, as Atwater partners with the county on such projects as the Atwater-Merced Expressway, Castle improvements and the joint effort to extend northwest Bellevue Road all the way to Highway 99 with the support of Measure V funding.
Nelson asks, “The incorporated city of Atwater has been around for 100 years, what’s the vision for the next 100 years?”
Nelson is married to Sylvia, a retired school district administrator and they have two adult children. He says he is the proud grandfather of nine little Atwater residents.