By: Larry Gilbert
This afternoon I attended a 3 hour candidate forum in Mission Viejo hosted by the Casta del Sol Republican Club. There were almost 150 in attendance including the candidates for several contested offices. I must commend the club leadership for scheduling a second opportunity for the residents of that senior community to see and question candidates in the June Primary. Almost every election I am asked for an opinion on Superior Court judge candidates whom you generally are not exposed to. You can’t say that this club didn’t offer that opportunity to their homeowners today.
The first multi-candidate presentation was for the 5th District Board of Supervisors to replace Pat Bates who is termed out of office this year. As this race is of extreme interest in the community I will do my best to list all of the questions and (paraphrased) responses. All three of the Republican candidates were in attendance. Four CDS Republican Club leaders took turns asking Dana Point mayor Lisa Bartlett, Laguna Niguel councilman Robert Ming and Mission Viejo councilman Frank Ury questions about their prior voting records as members of their city councils.
I’ll skip the self serving stump speeches (and closing statements) and get to the meat.
The first question was to Bartlett questioning her vote to ban plastic bags. She said that “As a tourist destination we were protecting the environment..it’s a large convention issue.”
Ming was next. He was asked about his city’s plan to deal with future traffic along Crown Valley due to new housing. Ming replied that “If traffic expands we have a limit on product.”
Ury was asked about Mission Viejo’s costly CIP’s. He mentioned the Norman Murray Center expansion calling it a “$14 million project that people rave about. Note that the actual cost was $15.5 million and began at $5.5 million. Forget the massive change order which drove the massive cost overrun!
The second round began with Bartlett dodging a question about her May 2011 vote against a spending freeze. She stated that “We probably put some projects on hold.” And she said she needed “more specifics.”
Ming was acknowledged for his recent award for his work on Pension reform and applying it to the huge under-funded County pension obligations. He said that we “need to move to a new approach.” He suggested a second tier and advised that we shouldn’t increase the employee count.
A follow-up question for Ming was his position on hiring Neil Peterson as TCA CEO and his departure. He affirmed that he “voted against Mr. Peterson’s hiring and later expressed concerns about his background.”
Ury was asked about his vote removing self-dealing, fraud and willful misconduct termination provisions from the city manager contract in 2010 without getting any concessions in return. “We can fire him tomorrow” for no cause.
Bartlell was asked if she voted to continue a business tax. She responded that “it was $3 per bed per night for an international resort plan.” She called it a million dollar pass through to “market the city to compete with other beach cities.”
Bartlett’s follow-up question was about what bearing her role as chairman of the TCA had in the hiring of CEO Neil Peterson – and the outcome of that ill-fated decision. It is interesting listening to politicians - when things go well and you are the leader you boast about that lead role but when things go south you answer, as she did, by saying “the entire Board was involved and voted on his hiring and voluntary departure.” Then she demurred that “we can’t talk about it as it’s a personnel matter.”
Ming was asked if his city ever had a redevelopment agency or ever used eminent domain. He replied that they “never had an RDA as there is no blight in Laguna Niguel.” And he added that “they did not use eminent domain in the Gateway Center - the developers had to work directly with the property owners.”
Ury was asked if he opposed health care for part time city council. He responded that “a prior council had spiked their pension,” And he said that “he felt the last vote to reject that benefit was a political statement ploy.” He admitted voting against it saying he “has an official document denying access to that benefit.”
The next question was also to Ury in reference to his endorsement by OCTAX as he is claiming that he will rein in government spending, yet the City of Mission Viejo spent $350,000 during the recession , for a Jan. 2009 Rose Parade float entry!
The follow-up comment from a CDS board member was “Does that demonstrate fiscal constraint?”
Ury responded “that was six years ago…it is pointless…we need to move on.” In his opening remarks Ury bragged about “Mission Viejo’s pension reform in 2006″ (or 2007) which predates the float expenditure. So it’s OK to pick and choose when a project is considered “long ago” when it paints a negative picture of misdirected fiscal leadership?
The final question was to Ming regarding his city’s (home) loan to their new city manager. His response was that “it was hard to get loans and that they wanted the city manager to live in their city.” He elaborated that “the loan was from reserves that were earning less than the loan to the city manager – and his loan payments come directly out of his city paycheck.” And get this – If the city manager is released the house must be sold. The market rate loan is better than Fannie and Freddie!
While she had another obligation, corporate attorney Helen Hayden and her husband stayed for awhile but had to depart. She is running for Superior Court judge in office #20. We did have an opportunity to compare and contrast two challengers going for the same judicial office #35. They were Deputy DA Jeff Ferguson and Commissioner Carmen Luege.
In the race for 4th District Board of Equalization we heard from Assemblywoman Diane Harkey and John F. Kelly. Apparently Van Tran had something come up so he apologized to the president prior to the meeting.
In the OC Auditor-Controller race both Eric Woolery and Frank Davies educated us on the duties and responsibilities as well as their limitations in that office.
I would be remise not to mention Claude Parrish who is running for OC Assessor. He is the only Republican running to unseat independent incumbent Webster Guillory.
Don’t overlook OC Measure A which relates to County elected officials.
Sorry this is somewhat choppy. Where is Chris Nguyen when we need this type of reporting?