Santa Paula Times

Santa Paula City Council Candidates

November 02, 2012
Santa Paula News

Duane Ashby, Martin Hernandez, Fred Robinson, Jim Tovias

Ashby: Council candidate running a second time for different reasons

When Duane Ashby first ran for City Council in 2010 he felt his expertise in finance and personnel could benefit a city he generally viewed as being on the right track. 

Now, Ashby believes the municipal train has been derailed, and after “watching how the council has conducted itself these past two years, and after listening to the concerns and frustrations of the citizens of Santa Paula, I felt I needed to become a part of the solution.”

Ashby said his doubts started a month after he narrowly was defeated in his first bid for elected office, “the first time the deficit was mentioned... it was halfway through the fiscal year and you’re now just saying this? I really had concerns about how this was a sudden thing and not a see-it-coming thing... and gee, the timing,” a month after the November 2010 election, “is also fishy.... The whole thing from all angles just bothered me,” as did what Ashby said he started to observe more and more.

“I saw problems in the way the council and city were conducting themselves. I also started seeing this pattern when the council was not addressing something until they were forced to,” such as the Bike Trail that was almost lost due to almost missed document deadlines.

Ashby said he started looking closer at the council agendas, “what was on them and what was not on them... and there was less and less” business being conducted as time passed. “Then there was the Police Chief Steve MacKinnon issue,” when the popular head of the department was put on leave in April and fired in June.

The highly controversial issue - including allegations that MacKinnon had used a city vehicle, gasoline credit card and falsified timesheets - enraged many in the community that supported the chief. Ashby said the way the issue was handled by the city - he has referred to it as a “fiasco” - was “just another thing that added to what I was already thinking, but as far as the public went that was their big wakeup call” that there were problems at City Hall.

And that included spiraling utility rates that “the council had been already saying for a year or so that they would have to do something, but there was no agenda item.... Then, all of a sudden, when the increase was supposed to kick in, wham! The council voted to suspend it” for six months of study, a move Ashby is afraid might be too late.

Not that it would do the public much good to ask about solutions: during the MacKinnon controversy Mayor Bob Gonzales shortened the traditional five-minute public comment to three minutes, speaker time Ashby feels should be restored. “I don’t agree with the global three minutes; it should be five minutes” and, as done in the past, adjusted accordingly if there is a large number of speakers, “and publicized; announced so everyone knows what the rule is and then applied consistently to everyone, every time.”

Overall, noted Ashby, “My doubts had started long before the MacKinnon issue, but that was so blatant you couldn’t miss it.”

Ashby believes a pressing issue “in the short term Santa Paula’s reputation has been severely tarnished by the council’s actions and inaction. The long-term issue is our economic vitality is threatened.”

The “credibility of our city” can be restored “through open and transparent leadership. Work to restore economic balance and prosperity, starting with getting some relief from the burdensome utility services overcharging, both for the citizens and the businesses of our community.”

The high utility bills puzzle Ashby: “According to a document recently released by the city, this last year the city collected from the ratepayers $2.89 million dollars more than what was required to meet our financial obligations for the water and sewer enterprises. That surplus is in addition to the $1.99 million dollar surplus collected in the previous year.”

If the November rate hike “hadn’t been postponed, the surplus for the next year would have been $2.97 million dollars. That would have been a surplus of $7.85 million dollars collected from the ratepayers within a three-year period.

Said Ashby: “What is the solution to the high bills? How about if we start by explaining to the citizens why we are overcharging them by $7.85 million dollars?”

Also among Ashby’s priorities “is restoring our Police Department to full operational capacity.”

When it comes to government transparency, “The members of the council and city management owe it to the public to be communicative and open about all aspects and issues. They have not done their duty in this regard.”

Ashby believes that the city has “privatized enough of our enterprises, there is no need to do any more,” and water, fire and police services  “absolutely must stay ‘in house.’ As far as administrative or service functions,” such as accounting, engineering, IT, and maintenance, “If it comes up, let’s get the facts, give the facts to the citizens, and let the citizens decide what they want.”

The city, though, “is short-staffed, plain and simple,” affecting many services, but “that can’t be resolved until the city can improve its financial position.” The city should examine whether or not it can afford a state certified engineer for public works, and “do everything possible to hire the remaining eight police officers needed to complete the normal compliment.” Fire staffing must be maintained, and needed equipment and materials provided.

Ashby sees much of the council duties as watchdogs of public funds: “We all need to remember that money the city spends comes as a result of money being taken from citizens - all citizens, rich or poor” - from a variety of taxes, fees, surcharges and obligation bonds; even franchise fees, “the cost of which is included in the cost paid by the users.... The council is obligated to maintain and safeguard the trust and interest of those from whom the money was taken, the citizens.” 

Ashby said the council is “hired” by the citizens, “and is answerable to them for all that they do.” And that ties in to what he believes is the city’s greatest need, “restoring the trust in City Hall.”

The second greatest need? “Economic development,” said Ashby, a longtime active member and chairman of the city’s Citizens Advisory Economic Development Committee. 

Ashby said he loves “everything” about Santa Paula, from the “small town intimacy coupled with beauty and charm” to “the friendliness of the people and the interconnectedness we have with each other.” Even during troubling times, “Our city,” he noted, “has also shown itself to be a civic and environmental leader in many ways.”

A 19-year resident of Santa Paula, Ashby is involved with EDAC, church, Boy Scouts, and numerous community events either as a volunteer or participant. His educational background centered on financial services and management.

Ashby reads newspapers and utilizes other forms of media, but considers “one-on-one interaction with local residents” a valuable source of news.

Ashby and his wife Kathy have three children and three grandchildren.

Hernandez: Government transparency concerns first time Council candidate

When his wife complained about a utility bill, it caught the attention of Martin Hernandez; and when people urged him to tackle problems they saw in Santa Paula it launched his first bid for City Council. Hernandez, a county native and 18-year city resident, remembers the first inkling he had that change was needed. 

“The thing that always comes to mind was coming home one night and Holly complaining about the water rates... it had become much more expensive for the two of us,” even after becoming empty-nesters.... I know rates go up, but Holly never complained, ever... so that caught my attention.”

When popular Police Chief Steve MacKinnon was abruptly put on leave amid allegations of wrongdoing (he was fired months later), his supporters started questioning City Hall practices and policies, including transparency. Utility rates were rising beyond household budgets, and the lack of action by the city to address the issue of coming increases was also frustrating a growing number of residents. 

Hernandez started going over council agendas “with a fine-tooth comb, and I saw more and more inconsistencies.... It started to become so apparent that something was amiss I knew I would feel extremely guilty if I didn’t try” to not only determine what was wrong, but also to find a solution.

“Very simply I was asked by many residents to please consider running, that we needed a change... and I have seen and heard a loss of pride in my hometown of Santa Paula,” as well as the public’s “frustration with the lack of transparency, the lack of integrity with our crumbling infrastructure in the administration at City Hall, not enough support for public safety needs, and little to no development of economic opportunities for residents or business.”

Hernandez wants to “bring transparency and public participation back to City Hall, and educate the people of Santa Paula about important issues affecting their lives and their household budgets.”

After MacKinnon was put on leave in April, public comment was shortened permanently from the traditional five minutes to the three minutes usually only imposed for larger numbers of speakers. Even when there are only a few speaker cards, “Citizens are obviously being discouraged” by the time limit and, Hernandez noted, “This lack of respect for public comment is a real slap in the face to the public, a real clear message” that there is no interest in their thoughts and opinions.

Hernandez said efforts to determine facts regarding a $1.8 million deficit addressed by the city several years ago have also been unsuccessful. “If that was really the case that the council had been saved from bankruptcy,” Hernandez said city administration “would be able to show it; it’s pretty simple to say here it is,” but requested documentation has not been obtainable.

“The lack of transparency and communication at City Hall affects the trust we have there.” That is why Hernandez believes the most pressing issue is “failing integrity within the administration and departments. For example, we have been operating with interim department heads in police, public works and finance for some time now that may not be qualified for the tasks at hand, which may be putting the city at risk. We don’t know....”

Hernandez said it could be resolved by an “open vetted public process” to “quantify if these issues exist,” while also developing “a vision for city administration.” Hernandez’s initial top priority though would be to “demand that city leadership and decision makers be more transparent in their communication to public as well as listen to public! Trust in our local government is at an all-time low and must be corrected.”

Hernandez, chief aide to Supervisor Kathy Long, used negotiations for the former wastewater treatment plant property as an example of city secrecy that could turn into a missed opportunity.

The city stated the property needs environmental clean up, and selling it a low price is the only solution. Hernandez said state clean up grant funding is available, but since the intended use would require minimal cleanup he questioned why the city would not instead forge a lease partnership that would bring steady income “for a long, long time.”

Hernandez said his government experience would benefit the city and not hinder it. “It’s just a smokescreen that I would have to recuse myself” from certain issues due to his county employment. “The opposite is true; I would be nothing but an asset,” due to the resources he is familiar with.

Privatization of city services “should never be done. The loss of control to a private entity surely means collateral damage that sometimes, even with the best of intentions, is hurtful to our residents.” 

Hernandez believes city staff has been reduced too much and he “fully supports” the city again hiring a city engineer, as “ultimately, it would keep costs and liability for our city to a minimum, avoiding potential lawsuits and costly project overruns.” Reducing utility bills could take a combination of actions, ranging from purchasing the plant with low interest bonds to agreements with other municipalities.

Public safety would benefit, “first, by hiring a fully qualified finance director to understand department budgets, then have meetings with the employees, association members, and department heads to see where strengths and weaknesses are,” and where the budget “can support the needs of our first responders, giving them the means to do their jobs,” and boosting hiring.

“This must be a priority,” said Hernandez, as “I hear families say that don’t feel safe in their neighborhoods anymore. We must do something to change this.”

And that is the role of the council, “to set policy and ensure the city manager implements those policies professionally and effectively.” It is the city’s greatest need to have a “city council that is by the people for the people; a council,” said Hernandez, “that truly listens to its residents and participates with us.”

Hernandez said he loves Santa Paula’s “small town feel, where people still say hello to each other when walking down the street,” and the residents’ “sense of ownership as displayed by the strong volunteerism in our town.”

A state certified alcohol and drug educator and former CEO of the Santa Paula Family Resource Center, Hernandez serves on the advisory boards of the center and the Boys & Girls Club, among others. His endorsements include the VC Reporter and countywide labor groups, as well as elected officials and individuals. 

His primary source of news is local newspapers and cable television.

Hernandez and Holly have four sons and four grandchildren.

Robinson: Second Council term sought to finish the job started 

Just back in Santa Paula after being presented with a prestigious national honor, Fred Robinson was on the campaign trail walking precincts in his bid for a second term on the City Council.

A Santa Paula native, Robinson - the CEO of The Arc Ventura County, which serves the developmentally disabled - was honored in Washington, D.C. with a National Lifetime Achievement Award.

The award was presented at The Arc and Inclusion International National Convention & International Forum, a conference that saw participants from across the U.S. and more than 25 countries come together to promote the concept of inclusion for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Speakers included the former First Lady of Panama and the Mayor of Washington, D.C. 

“It was a nice award to get,” said Robinson, who will retire December 31 after 22 years leading The Arc, and his 43-year career “in this business” of working for nonprofits that provide for the needs of the developmentally disabled.

Robinson said he intends to continue to serve the community on the City Council, running for a second term “to complete the work we started, keeping the city’s budget under control, creating jobs, fixing our streets and moving on East Area 1 and East Area 2,” Limoneira’s long planned residential and commercial development slated east of Santa Paula. Robinson, who was mayor when LAFCO approved annexing East Area 1, believes the city’s most pressing issues are the economy, job creation, and “keeping the city safe.” 

Moving on the Limoneira development “will stimulate the economy in Santa Paula, creating jobs and building capacity,” and help provide funds to fulfill Robinson’s top priority, “public safety... it always has been, always will be.” Robinson is pleased that the fire department was the recipient of a grant that added five firefighters for at least two years.

“My hope is as the city budget improves we can turn our attention to the police department... we’ve already authorized” reinstating a gang enforcement officer, and Robinson said he wants the SPPD to again be “engaged with the county joint task force on gangs and narcotics. I would also like to see an officer assigned to the high school and Isbell Middle School,” which Robinson believes is beneficial to students on many levels, not just crime-prevention.

“That way the kids get a whole different view of what the police are all about,” and forge more understanding relationships. “I’ve heard about what an influence that makes, and it’s something we should look into.”

Robinson said the rule of thumb for public safety staffing is 1.5 police officers for every thousand people: “I would like to see us target 45 sworn officers for the force, a goal we should start working towards as the economy improves.... We can certainly make a dent in that.”

More support is also needed “for our Explorers and Citizen Patrol who do a great job. Public safety is my highest priority. Without a safe city, you cannot move forward on quality of life issues.”

The latter includes the pocketbooks of Santa Paulans: “Utility bills are too high,” said Robinson, “and we are addressing it. I would like to buy back the treatment plant, refinance, and lower rates, which I think we can do and maintain our AA Bond rating.... With our water rates we’re paying the price” for the new water recycling plant, and “we have more capacity than we need” for the present time.

With many criticizing what they see as a lack of transparency at City Hall, Robinson said, “I believe, and practice, open city government. The public has a right to know and be involved in the decision-making process.”

In fact, Robinson recently split off from the council majority that approved a water/sewer study ad hoc committee process that the public said shuts them out, noting he feared even giving the appearance of not being transparent in council dealings is harmful to the community and the panel itself.

When it comes to privatizing city services, he said, “It should only be done when it makes economic sense, and is good for the community. Privatizing solid waste made sense and I think it is working well,” but Robinson said he has “no interest is selling our water services, nor do I support outsourcing police and fire.”

Cutbacks are being addressed by “our very dedicated city staff, working hard to meet all of our responsibilities for providing public services. As the budget improves we hope to restore salaries and make furlough days optional. As the budget improves we will add staff where needed,” including a certified city engineer for public works. “Our interim public works director is doing a good job,” with numerous projects completed including the new water storage tank, street paving, park renovations and the Bike trail. 

Robinson believes the role of the council is to “set the vision for the city, be a public presence....” As mayor Robinson was widely admired for his countywide representation of the city and as a “steward of open governance, particularly on budget issues.”

A graduate of Santa Paula High School, Robinson has a BA in History/English, Sacramento State University, and a MSW from San Diego State University.

 Robinson had moved away and more than a decade ago came back to the city, which he loves “everything” about, but especially “the friendly people.” He believes economic growth is what Santa Paula now needs more than anything else. 

Robinson is active in numerous organizations, most notably Kiwanis and the SPUHS Alumni Association, and he is a strong supporter financially and by participation in various local events. He has garnered endorsements from the VC Star, Ventura County Association of Realtors and the VC Reporter, as well as from present and former elected officials, among others.

Robinson reads various newspapers and also garners news from cable and local Internet services such as 

“Married to my beautiful wife Sharon” for 44 years, the couple has two sons and two grandchildren.

Tovias: Incumbent wants SP to stay in the black and provide city services

Jim Tovias is running for a second term on the City Council to ensure Santa Paula’s finances remain in the black and city services are provided.

Tovias’ insurance agency has been located in Santa Paula for decades. He is a city native who moved back to Santa Paula four years ago for his first run at elected office.

Although Tovias responded to a written questionnaire, he did not return calls requesting a follow-up interview. Tovias wrote, “I am running again to be sure Santa Paula stays fiscally strong so we can continue to provide all essential services. I care about Santa Paula.”

The most pressing issue the city is facing is “jobs, water/sewer rates and public safety,” issues, Tovias wrote, that can be resolved by strengthening the job market. He will “continue to support East Area 1 and 2” - the Limoneira Company residential commercial development, local preference for local labor, and to “refinance the sewer plant.”

Noting his number one priority as a councilman, Tovias said, “Keeping the city financially strong allows us to provide all essential services.”

When asked how he views city government/council transparency, Tovias wrote, “California law dictates what’s public information and what’s not. I follow the law.”

Tovias wrote that his position on opposing or supporting privatizing any city service or enterprise is to “oppose, unless state mandates require we consider other options.”

When asked if city staffing levels have been reduced below community service efficiency levels, Tovias wrote, “No; city staff has stepped up and have maintained a very good level of service.” He would support the city hiring a “certified engineer when we can cost justify one. I don’t believe in spending taxpayer money when not necessary. Contractors provide insurance to indemnify the city on all projects.”

Asked what he sees as a solution to high utility bills, Tovias replied, “We can’t control all utilities, but water/sewer refinance to lower rates.”

Asked about strengthening fire and police services, Tovias answered, “Fire is fully staffed; all additional resources directed toward police.”

He believes the role of the council “is to set policy and give general direction to staff.”

When asked what he loves about Santa Paula, Tovias replied, “Everything.” He believes Santa Paula’s greatest need is to “maintain our city’s strong financial position. When financially strong, all else can be provided.”

Tovias has been endorsed by the VC Star and County Board of Realtors, fellow councilmen, and “many citizens.”

When asked about community service and volunteerism (participation in clubs, organizations, etc.), Tovias answered, “I opted out of all organizations. Between the city committee assignments, my business and family, my time is taken.” He does “sponsor the Halloween Parade through my State Farm business.”

Tovias, a Santa Paula High School graduate, has a BS degree in Management from Long Beach State.

He garners news from “television, newspapers and the political web site Rough & Tumble California policy & politics.”

Married 35 years to Martha, they have three children, “all college graduates and all employed in careers they enjoy.”