Dennis Brazil has been watching meeting after meeting of the Merced County Board of Supervisors over the past few months, and he says they’ve been highlighted by “unhappy, frustrated, and sometimes angry, residents and employees” facing leaders who are oblivious and more concerned about cheerleading government efforts amongst themselves.
“Immediately I picked up on the people attending the meeting,” Brazil says. “They don’t look happy with the current board, and a lot of the things that supervisors are currently doing. The next meeting, I watched the same scenario, and the next meeting, again, I see the same scenario.
“So there’s a pattern here. Residents and county workers are not happy. And as the board members are speaking on things, it seems to me that they are not really in tune to the people that are there. There’s a lot of people there complaining about a lot of things, and the board is kind of immune to it all.
“But what happened at the last meeting of 2023, in December, that’s when it really stuck with me. As each board member gave his comments for the closing of the year, it was as if all the board members were patting each other on the back. They were telling each other what a great job they were doing. And I was looking at them, and realizing right away — that’s the ‘Good Ol’ Boys Club’ … You are all congratulating each other on the good job you did, but that’s not who you answer to. You answer to your constituents. Those comments [at the end of the year] should have been directed to the audience.”
Brazil, a 65-year-old former mayor of Gustine, is running for the District 4 seat on the Board of Supervisors in the March 5 Primary Election. He joins Jim Soria, a former mayor of Livingston, as one of the challengers to incumbent Supervisor Lloyd Pareira, who is seeking a third term in office. If no candidate can garner 50 percent, plus one of the vote, a runoff will be held in the November election.
District 4 includes the unincorporated areas of Snelling, Winton, Ballico, Cressey, Delhi, Stevinson, Hilmar, and the small town of Gustine, pop. 6,091.
Brazil was first elected mayor of Gustine in 2010 and served three consecutive mayoral terms. He ran for State Senate in 2018, but did not make it out of the primary. He went on to become the elected president of the West Side Community Healthcare District, which provides ambulance and emergency services to his hometown region. In 2022, he returned to the political scene after being elected to serve as a Gustine City Council member. However, Brazil was forced to tender his resignation after only a year when he was told that his dual roles as a councilman and president of an area Healthcare District were “incompatible office,” according to the California Attorney General’s Office.
When the current District 4 race started to develop, Brazil said he started to receive a few phone calls from residents, asking him if he was going to run for the position.
“I had no plans of running at the time. After a few more discussions, and talking to a campaign manager, I decided to run because I think I can do a better job than the current supervisor. … I started asking around about why people were calling me, and asking me to run. I would ask: ‘Are you not happy with your county supervisor?’ Some people I bumped into said they were, but others were not. Some would say something like: ‘We saw him during the last election. We saw him when he knocked on our door and asked if he could put up a campaign sign, or get a donation check, but after that, we didn’t hear from him again.”
That’s when Brazil started to take interest in the ongoings at the Board of Supervisor meetings.
“As I continued to look at these meetings, I picked up on a few more things. First was public safety. I remember when Vern Warnke was elected Sheriff. I remembered his comments that he needed to build the department back up, and needed to get staff back up to where it should be to cover the county and keep people safe. And now, here we are, 8 to 9 years later, and the sheriff is back at these meetings, asking for the same things. Some of these board members are in their second term or third term. And we still haven’t resolved the sheriff’s issue. They say we don’t have the budget for it, but I say you couldn’t figure it out in eight years? You couldn’t figure out how to get your public safety up to par? Or at least closer to the par of what the sheriff thinks we should have, or what the state average is, or compared to other counties. It doesn’t make any sense, except to say they failed. They really failed at public safety.”
“The other thing I noticed at all the meetings is that the county employees are extremely upset at the board for cutting their benefit package, and asking them to pay more for it, and them getting a very small cost of living increase in their contracts.
“So if you step back and look at this, they are almost in a domino-type of situation with public safety because of the budget, and because of what they are willing to pay for the Sheriff’s Department and our county employees … It is not equal to the standards of Fresno, Madera, Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. So the county hires employees at whatever entity, and then trains them, and then as soon as these workers get that under their belt, they move on to other counties. The board has a billion-dollar budget. To me, something is not right.”
Brazil believes leaders, staff members, union representatives and employees need to come to the table, and compromise.
“I believe in the three Cs — Communication, Compromise, Common Sense The middle C connects everything. If you don’t compromise across the board you are going to have problems. I think when they set the budget up, somebody has to wave a red flag, and say “We’ve got all these projects, but are they more important than public safety, and our own employees?”
Another issue that needs to be addressed, according to Brazil, is Measure V.
“I have an old campaign sign that I still have for Measure V and it says: ‘Fix Our Roads.’ I think voters passed the measure with flying colors. It was supposed to be about roads, but it has gotten lost along the way. From 2016 to the current date, the City of Gustine has not touched one road. There’s this pie, and all the money goes into the pie, and each city gets a sliver. Merced gets the most money. Gustine and Dos Palos probably get the smallest slice of the pie. When I got back on the council in 2022, I asked during my first meeting: ‘What have we been doing with our Measure V money? We receive an allotment every year. I was told they were using it for ‘projects.’ They put in some sidewalks and a roundabout, and that’s fine. But that’s not fixing our roads. … We have enough pot holes to fill. In fact, we haven’t even filled a pot hole or filled a crack with that Measure V money, but we’ve shoveled money all over the place. This is in Gustine, and it’s probably happening everywhere else. Yes they fixed a few country roads, but they also carted out some regional projects. I sat on the Measure V Citizens Oversight Committee for a time but I left. I found the committee was doing whatever MCAG (the Merced County Association of Governments) was telling them to do. It wasn’t a transparent situation.
Another situation that needs to be addressed is water, according to Brazil.
“This state is in a water crisis, and I have testified as a mayor at the Capitol and at local government meetings. There is still a lot of water. The problem is it’s going out to the ocean. We have no influence on the State Water Resources Control Board. Those members answer to the governor, and environmental groups like the Sierra Club are pulling the strings of the water board.
“In Merced County, county leaders have been looking at ways, through the Ground Water Sustainability Act, to allow people to transfer water throughout the county and beyond. So if you have a well, and can put water into a canal, you will be able to transfer it out to someone else, and profit from that. Some leaders might be OK with that, but I have a serious problem with that because that’s called water pirating or water mining. That’s not giving it away. … And you can thank the State Water Resources Control Board and our governor for the mess we are in.”
For economic prosperity, Brazil says something must be done to attract viable big business to come to the region, whether in the form of commercial-industrial, or ag-based companies.
“If the money isn’t coming from somewhere, and you are a small community surrounded by homes with no sidewalks around, where is the money going to come from?
“We have to figure out a way to get economic growth. We can work together with other innovators and other business models that work, so we can get back on track. We need to do this for our communities so that they can thrive, and so they are not struggling to build sidewalks and safe routes to school. I’m 65 years old. I have watched some of these local communities stay exactly the same for my entire life. How can that be?”
Brazil says this year could be a season of great change on the Board of Supervisors. He says it’s quite possible all three incumbents running for re-election to the board will be out of a job. “People want transparency. … Board members like to take the hot topic conversations off the table because they don’t want to put anybody on the spot during the meeting. But if you are doing your job, I don’t think you have to worry about that. There should be no backdoor deals, under-the-table discussions, brown act violations — that’s not how it works.”
The candidate adds, “I don’t feel Lloyd Pareira represents District 4. I think he represents part of the district.
“I believe I’m a voice for everyone, whether you vote for me or not. I will still take care of business. I don’t care about party affiliation. I don’t care what color of skin you are. My job as an elected official is to take care of county business with factual information, and be transparent about it, and only make your decisions based on that. Period.
“I hear people say, ‘I will fight for what you need.’ ‘I will fight for what is right.’ But I say, ‘Well I think that’s part of the problem. Me and Adam Gray [Congressional candidate] echo the same sentiment. We need to quit fighting, and start working together. If we were all working together, and not fighting, we would get a lot more done.”
• Dennis Brazil was born and raised in Los Banos, where he attended and graduated from Los Banos High School. After graduating, he attended UC Davis where he earned food industry accreditations. His career in the valley food industry spanned 30 years before his retirement.
He is married to Tracy, and they have a combined family of six children, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.