Santa Paula Times

City Council candidates spar in closing remarks at LWV, Chamber Forum

November 02, 2012
Santa Paula News

City Council candidates sparred at the October 10 League of Women Voters Ventura County and Chamber of Commerce Forum, where audience members were able to submit written questions asked of the candidates as a group or individually.

There are four candidates for two open Council seats to be decided by voters, who will go to the polls on November 6. Duane Ashby is a corporate trainer and financial analyst who ran unsuccessfully for council two years ago; Martin Hernandez, chief of staff to Ventura County Supervisor Kathy Long, is a first time candidate; Fred Robinson, the director of a nonprofit agency, and insurance agent Jim Tovias are the incumbents running as a slate for second council terms. 

Moderator David Maron said a controversial issue in Santa Paula has been terminations and having interim department heads now leading most departments. Candidates were asked if permanent directors should be hired.

Hernandez said the city should move ahead to ensure that those in charge are fully qualified. “It’s not that these people aren’t trying to do their best,” but Hernandez said top qualifications are needed to ensure a higher level of decision making while minimizing liability.

“Absolutely; when the budget improves we will reappoint permanent heads to all our departments,” but Robinson said those in charge in the interim are “doing a very good job under very difficult circumstances.... The cavalry is coming, help is on the way and we appreciate” the efforts of all those filling in.

Such hiring can only be done if “cost-justified,” said Tovias. “A problem in the past was public works was spending $1 million and we didn’t have the work in the city to justify it... we’re now spending $500,000.... We don’t need an engineer; we need good management skills to surround yourself with people who know what they are doing,” on a contract basis, who can be let go when the job is completed.

Ashby said although he has not heard anyone complain about the work done by the interims, he questioned the fairness “to take someone that has a job of some responsibility and then thrust them into a job of enormous responsibility” and potential liability. “I do support hiring the people we need,” and Ashby said if interim department heads met the published qualifications and wanted to apply for such openings, “they would get my top consideration” in the light of the jobs they have been doing.

When asked why he is running for council, Ashby said he was approached by citizens and business owners and believes “The council has done some wonderful things, but it just seems to me some aspects of City Hall seem to be a little off, not heading in the right direction.”

Hernandez said he was also asked to run by “numerous wonderful supporters.... I can’t sit back any longer and pretend I don’t see what is going on, where I think I can make a difference” to benefit the city and community.

In closing statements, Tovias said citizens “must understand what happened... over the last four years we took a $1.8 million deficit” and turned it into a surplus that helped the city maintain its high bond rating. That rating “will help us refinance the plant if the bond rates are available.” The council has also invested millions in infrastructure, completed the bike trail, and is working on park projects and, said Tovias, built housing for seniors, “where we see the future of affordable housing.”

Tovias said he and his running mate Robinson had to “lead not react... and because of our record of results, our proven leadership, we are asking for your vote.”

“We are running as a slate,” Robinson said of Tovias, and they have shared council accomplishments including managing “this city in the toughest economic times,” avoiding bankruptcy and building a surplus. Robinson said he does believe that if elected Hernandez would have “many conflicts” that would prevent his votes on various issues that concern the county.

Hernandez’s campaign slogan notes restoring community pride. “Let’s talk about pride,” said Robinson. “I have pride, I have Cardinal pride. I graduated from Santa Paula High School.” Robinson said he attends SPHS events and is an alumni association board director. “I take a little offense,” he noted, “when people say we don’t have pride in this community... I have pride, Cardinal pride.”

Said Hernandez, “Pride... this isn’t about me, this is about the people I have been talking to in town saying they’re tired of the way things are going, not being listened to” and being shut out of city business. Hernandez said many accomplishments claimed by the incumbents are false: “...the bike trail people are enjoying so much almost got lost due to a lack of attention” to grant and permitting deadlines.

“The Ag Museum was done by the County Transportation Commission and the Ventura County Museum, and the Police Memorial was done by volunteers... all are great efforts. Those volunteers are the people who have pride in the community” and are getting things done.

Ashby said the city has been slow to act on several issues that are important and could be solved now. And, “Last night at another forum the incumbents stated when they arrived in office in 2008 they were aware there was deficit spending,” but the issue went unaddressed. Then said Ashby, in “2010... boom! Then it happened... why didn’t we hear about it during those two years, why wasn’t any action taken to not let that $1.8 million deficit happen?”