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New Turlock council members, mayor sworn into office
New City Council members
Turlock City Clerk Julie Christel administers the Oath of Office to new City Council members Cassandra Abram (District 3) and Kevin Bixel (District 1).

The atmosphere at Tuesday’s Turlock City Council meeting was a mix between listening to tearful Oscar award speeches and the exciting potential of the first day of school.

The Yosemite Room at Turlock’s City Hall was filled to the brim as the City said farewell to two sitting council members and welcomed two newly elected council members and reinstated Mayor Amy Bublak for a second term.

Mayor Bublak sworn in
Turlock City Clerk Julie Christel administers the Oath of Office to Mayor Amy Bublak (KRISTINA HACKER/The Journal).

Tuesday’s changing of the guard for the Turlock City Council followed the results of a November election that pitted the sitting mayor against a former Council member and saw four candidates vie to represent Turlock’s northeast quadrant.

Mayor Bublak was successful in keeping her seat against challenger Gil Esquer, attaining 9,506 votes to Esquer’s 8,468.

In the District 1 City Council race, Kevin Bixel defeated Chris Nichols 3,031 votes to 2,167 and in the crowded District 3 race Cassandra Abram came out on top with 2,441 votes, followed by Kelly Higgins with 1,731, Ryan Taylor (703) and Ramin Odisho (279).

Bublak, Bixel and Abram were all sworn into office on Tuesday by City Clerk Julie Christel and then administered a special oath of ethics by the Honorable Ruben Villalobos.

Before the official swearing in could begin, however, tribute was paid to the service of departing District 1 Council member Nicole Larson and District 3 Council member Andrew Nosrati.

“I would very much like to express my personal gratitude to both of you for your years of leadership and service to this community,” said City Manager Reagan Wilson before presenting Nosrati and Larson with plaques commemorating their terms on the City Council.

Both Larson and Nosrati declined to seek another term and instead move into the next phase of their lives — for Nosrati that means working with Habitat for Humanity and starting his own business and Larson will seek to further her education at graduate school.

Nosrati, who saw his fair share of controversy over his term, including a recall effort, thanked his family and friends for supporting him during his time in office and the City employees who he praised for actually doing the work of keeping the City running.

“To those who supported me, whether it was words, a vote an encouragement, I am incredibly grateful for you guys giving me this opportunity. I didn’t deserve it. And it’s been a heck of an experience and it really means the world to me that you gave me this opportunity,” said Nosrati, who went on to encourage the community to offer positive feedback to the City’s elected officials when they’re doing something right.

Nicole Larson
Outgoing District 1 Council member Nicole Larson reflects on the challenges the entire Council faced during her term from 2018 through 2022 (KRISTINA HACKER/The Journal).

In Larson’s last speech from the dais, she reflected on the challenges that faced the Council over the past four years.

“It’s been a whirlwind to think about what the world even looked like in 2018. But that’s where we started. And this is a community that elected that Council in 2018. Our city was going into the red in terms of our spending, all of our public services were on the verge of being cut, layoffs were on the table unless a Council of the leadership was going to step up and do something…It was not what I was planning to bring forward as programs and big ideas…but it was the work that we had to do. We had to think about how our revenues were going to look for the rest of not only our term, but how our city’s financial situation was going to be sustained for generations to come. And it was hard work. It was long work and it was not the most popular work when it comes to talking about the bad ‘T’ word. But it’s what was needed and the community got behind us and agreed once we laid out exactly what we believe we deserved and as we told our story from what we saw as community leaders, it was phenomenal to see the community also get in agreement with that. And we were able to, through Measure A, heighten our city services and investments and were able to create new sources of revenue that we now see in our public safety, our boots on the ground, and it’s a huge accomplishment that took a lot to get there,” said Larson in the Council’s decision to put forth a sales tax measure for General Fund use.

Larson also commended City staff, and especially former Fire Captain Gary Carlson, for leading Turlock’s response during the pandemic emergency. She also noted during her tenure that the city began construction on the surface water treatment project, securing a reliable source of drinking water for generations to come.

And even though the work was long and hard, she encouraged others to get involved in local government.

“I think what we get lost in is that local politics are your neighbors. They’re the ones that are volunteering and making sure that our front yards and the roads in front of our homes and the people can walk to school properly and feel safe. And that you can have fun on the 4th of July and not worry about being unsafe or around illegal fireworks. All those things are things that we discuss every year and multiple times a year here in this Council at this dais. So, though it’s not the most politically big topics that you hear about on FOX News or CNBC, it’s the stuff that we’re talking about to make Turlock better tomorrow and the in the next 10 years. And they might be kind of dry, but it’s really, really important stuff we’re talking about here that’s in your back yard,” she said.