Merced’s City Council welcomes new members
• Xiong says ‘victory is about confronting white supremacy’ • Perez named Mayor Pro Tem one year after heated controversy
Merced Mayor Matthew Serratto has spent half of his term in office leading a City Council — marked by some strong personalities — through some tough debates, and more than a few raucous meetings, over things like COVID relief spending, public safety funding, and affordable housing efforts.
During ceremonies at City Hall on Monday night, the mayor appeared to be upbeat as he and his colleagues welcomed three newly-elected members to the Council.
“Obviously we have a lot of good work ahead of us,” Serratto said, “and I look forward to the next two years, and doing a lot of great work with this group.”
The new leaders, who will each serve four-year terms, include an 81-year-old retired mailman named Ronnie De Anda (District 2 / southwest Merced), a 47-year-old attorney named Shane Smith (District 4 / northeast Merced), and a 31-year-old engineer named Fue Xiong (District 6 / far north Merced).
Here’s are some highlights of what they said after they took their seats on the dais:
De Anda spent a moment thanking his family and campaign volunteers for their support. He said family members urged him to run for office for the right reasons, and not out of revenge for an opponent who he had lost to before.
De Anda received applauds when he said, “I’m not going to make any promises except one: I will do my very best to take care of this city to the best of my ability.”
When it was Smith’s turn, he took advantage of the ceremonial situation to invite his young daughter Selena to sit on his lap while he gave some positive remarks about moving Merced in the right direction.
“I think it is important to note, on a day like today, the perishable nature of opportunity,” Smith said. “We’ve got a high bar set by the prior council and those that have come before us,” Smith said. “We’ve got two years guys to be the best City Council in the history of the city so I look forward to getting off on the right foot working with everybody here, and doing great things for our community.”
Smith also received applauds for his positive outlook.
However, the loudest claps and cheers came after Xiong turned to those in attendance and gave a short victory speech.
“This victory is about the community hungry for change, demanding affordable housing, good paying jobs, and clean and safe neighborhoods,” he said.
“This victory is about confronting white supremacy, the status quo and old money. This victory is only possible with people power and with our youth. This victory is for all the communities. The LGBTQ, people of color, farm workers, immigrants, students, professors, and working families.
“This victory shows people over profit wins elections and so this is about the many and not the few. Our policies should center on indigenous sovereignty, black liberation and the impacted communities as we work together to build a Merced that reflects our value and our visions.”
Xiong replaces Delray Shelton — the only African American who has served on the City Council over the past 15 years.
Shelton stepped down on Monday night after serving a single, four-year term. He continues to work as a lieutenant at the Merced County Sheriff’s Office,
It was an emotional goodbye with a few tears shed.
“To the past and current council, I’m so proud of the life-changing work that the two councils I’ve sat on has done,” Shelton said. “The work has been tough but it’s been transformative. Although not perfect, we built a community that the people can be proud of.”
It was also an emotional goodbye for Kevin Blake, another Merced County Sheriff’s deputy, who has sat in the District 4 seat on the City Council for a whopping nine years (an extended term due to changes in the election schedule).
“I’ve always done the best with what I’ve been given,” Blake said. “I hope that I represented you well. I hope that it was sufficient. It’s been one of the greatest honors of my life.”
Blake also offered some words of wisdom to the new council members: “The sooner that you can accept that this office is not about you, but about the residents of this great city and the employees of this great city, and at the end of the day, most of the stuff that is done, or that is said up here isn’t personal, the more effective and the more at peace with yourselves you’ll be.”
The third outgoing council member that is being replaced — Fernando Echevarria — apparently didn’t bother to show up for the last meeting of his term. Echevarria was absent, just as he was for the previous two regular City Council meetings in November.
One of the first decisions of the night, involving the new council members, was the naming of the next Mayor Pro Tem — the person who fills in for the mayor during meetings and ceremonies when the mayor is not available.
The leaders unanimously picked District 3 representative Bertha Perez.
Perez has been an advocate for her district, which includes downtown and nearby central areas of Merced, and the rights of working-class people.
Perez’ new title comes just over a year after she faced harsh criticism from several members of the public, and discussion by her fellow colleagues, regarding her behavior in public interactions and through email correspondence.
Two of the complaints brought to City Hall were from local business owners, Tim Razzari and Terry Ruscoe, who said Perez acted inappropriately toward them during separate incidents in September of 2021. Razzari’s complaint said his business, Razzari Auto Centers, received a “crass” email from Perez sprinkled with cuss words and attacking the owner’s character. Ruscoe’s complaint said Perez shouted at his employees from her truck, using threatening language as they worked on an affordable housing development in town.
Earlier that same year, in April, Perez made headlines after getting involved in an Atwater controversy involving Mayor Paul Creighton and a fruit stand owner operating without a license in the town’s downtown business district. Perez posted an obscenity on social media about the mayor, and repeated it during an interview with the Fresno Bee. She also appeared before the Atwater City Council to protest the mayor’s actions.
Despite the controversies, Perez received strong support from residents who showed up to City Hall to defend her. She apologized at one point for using bad words.
At the time, her colleagues on the Council took no action in regard to the controversies, but a few members did offer Perez words of caution and encouragement about rules of conduct, ethics and leadership.
Perez is halfway through her four-year term on the City Council.