Merced County Times Newspaper
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Series of town halls to set stage for new guard

The Town Hall at the Multicultural Arts Center brought in a diverse audience of Merced residents, from young adults to seniors.
ATown Hall at the Multicultural Arts Center in 2019 brought in a diverse audience of Merced residents, from young adults to seniors.

If you are interested in what’s ahead for the City of Merced and what residents are most concerned about, a series of town hall meetings and the Mayor’s State of the City speech will all be held in February.

Mayor Mike Murphy will be first up with his address on Friday, Feb. 7, at the Merced Theatre. Doors open at 10:30 a.m.

Murphy is in his final year as mayor and he’s hoping to cement his legacy as the man who led the city into a new era of growth and modernization after years of economic stagnation. The final state of UC Merced’s massive 2020 Project, the revitalization of the El Capitan Hotel, The Tioga apartments and the Mainzer Theater in the downtown core, and the expanding Campus Parkway Project are all happening on his watch.

In turn, residents will have the opportunity to chime in on their concerns during three town hall meetings set for the north, central and south parts of the city.

The first one will be held at Hoover Middle School on Wednesday, Feb. 19. The second will be held at Golden Valley High School on Thursday, Feb. 20. And the third will be held at Cruickshank Middle School on Wednesday, Feb. 26. All the meetings will start at 6 p.m. and last up to 8 p.m.

Surely there will be questions regarding the city’s strategy to increase housing availability for working adults, combat homelessness and offer more recreational opportunities for young people.

Nevertheless, the big 2020 election year will be the backdrop of every issue.

In the March primary, Merced residents will be asked to support some changes to the City Charter — Merced’s governing document. One of those changes would create a committee that will be charged with setting a new stipend — or fixed salary — for City Council members and the mayor. Right now, they are basically considered unpaid, volunteer positions. A citizens panel and leaders approved the ballot measure in 2019 with the idea that it would attract more potential leaders to run for office.

Local voters also will be asked if they would like the mayor’s term to be expanded to four years. If approved, individuals elected to the top city post would be able to serve a maximum of two, four-year terms.

One person rumored to be considering a run for mayor in 2020, according to a few Times sources, is Councilman Matthew Serratto, who will be finishing up a four-year term in office at the end of the year. When asked by the Times, Serratto would neither confirm or deny an intent to run for mayor. However, the councilman has been particularly vocal and assertive in recent council meetings about neighborhood improvements in his own district (District 5, northwest Merced) and strategies to implement change across the city.

The last City Council meeting of 2019 was no exception. Serratto called for the creation of two new subcommittees — one to help move forward the restoration of the historic Laura Fountain in Applegate Park, and another to move forward a planned city park with soccer fields in southeast Merced. Both of those projects are not in Serratto’s representative district.

To top the Dec. 16 meeting off, Serratto’s colleagues also unanimously agreed to make him the next Mayor Pro Tem for 2020. Mayor Murphy made the nomination, saying Serratto was a “fantastic council member” who has several years of experience and has done a fine job. Councilman Kevin Blake noted Serratto was “on a roll.”

Serratto is not the only member of the City Council facing a year in office. Council members Anthony Martinez and Jill McLeod are also in the final year of their four-year terms.

At this point, there is no certainty of any City Council re-election bids in 2020, and the possibility exists for a drastically changed council if four, entirely new, smiling faces were brought to the dais after the General Election in November.

Buckle up.

With regard to Merced politics and city issues, 2020 is likely to be a high-velocity ride with plenty of twists and turns to keep those interested on edge — or at least motivated to know more.

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