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Atascadero voters to decide on mayoral term length, again

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When Atascadero residents vote for their next mayor in November, they'll also be deciding whether to change the position's term length.

The Atascadero City Council voted 4-0 on June 26 to add a measure on the November ballot that, if adopted, will extend the mayor's term from two to four years. The new term length would take effect after the 2020 elections.

MAYORAL DEBATE Atascadero voters will decide whether to extend the mayoral term from two to four years in November. - FILE PHOTO BY DYLAN HONEA-BAUMANN
  • File Photo By Dylan Honea-Baumann
  • MAYORAL DEBATE Atascadero voters will decide whether to extend the mayoral term from two to four years in November.

Council members argued that a four-year mayoral term would allow for more continuity on the City Council and avoid laborious and sometimes divisive campaigns every two years.

"You really don't want to have a major change every couple of years," Mayor Tom O'Malley said.

In 2010, city residents voted to abandon a City Council rotation method for mayor and instead elect the mayor separately for two-year terms. O'Malley won the city's first mayoral election in 2012 and is currently serving his third term. O'Malley announced he's not seeking re-election this year, while City Councilmember Heather Moreno announced her run to be Atascadero's second elected mayor. All current council members agreed that a four-year mayor was preferable to a two-year mayor.

"Running campaigns is not fun. Let's focus on the city work and not on politics," said Councilmember Brian Sturtevant.

Susan Funk, who intends to run for an open City Council seat this fall, spoke against the measure during public comment, calling it "premature" since voters selected the two-year term over the four-year term in 2010.

"What a two-year term does is honor the voters' preference expressed last time to keep the mayor on a little closer leash," Funk said.

O'Malley acknowledged a downside to the four-year term in the case of "a bad mayor." He spoke at length about his 16-year tenure on the City Council and some of the city's divisive political history.

"I've served under a bad mayor," O'Malley said. "It's devastating in the community. It's very important who you elect. There is a recall process. ... There is a built-in counter to that issue as well."

O'Malley and Moreno added they believed voters chose a two-year mayoral term in 2010 in part due to the high level of acrimony and instability on the City Council at the time.

"We went through one of the worst periods of our city's history," O'Malley said. "I think that was a little fresh on people's mind."

If the measure passes, Atascadero would join Paso Robles as the only two cities in SLO County with four-year mayoral terms.

Correction: This article was edited to state that a four-year mayoral term, if passed by Atascadero voters, would take effect in 2020. It was also edited to clarify that Susan Funk is not yet an official candidate for the City Council.

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