Paso Robles candidates perform at political forum
October 18, 2012
Six candidates for Paso Robles City Council participated in a lively forum Wednesday evening in the Grand Ballroom of the Paso Robles Inn.
Change Paso Robles Now (CPRN2012) hosted the forum and former congresswoman Andrea Seastrand moderated, which included candidates both on the ballot and running as write-ins for the mayoral and councilman positions.
Incumbent Mayor Duane Picanco did not attend the forum, but his write-in challenger Gary Nemeth did and impressed many members of the audience. Nemeth, a member of the council from 2000 to 2008, criticized the city’s initial inaction and ultimate cash settlement with former police chief Lisa Solomon-Chitty.
“I actually blame the city council as a whole, but I think they were getting their marching orders from the City Manager [Jim] App and the City Attorney [Iris] Yang,”
Nemeth went so far as to say he would attempt to replace the city manager.
“I would look at trying to build a consensus with the new council that the people of Paso Robles hire, and the consensus should be that we ask Mr. App to resign,” Nemeth said. “He’s served long enough.”
Nemeth also said the new council should not renew Yang’s contract.
Though Picanco is the only candidate for mayor on the ballot, an additional write-in challenger participated in Wednesday’s forum.
Jeff Rougeot arrived in the middle of the forum and left shortly before it ended. Rougeot, who smelled of alcohol and appeared considerably intoxicated, remarked multiple times on the need for new lights on baseball fields.
“Lights on our baseball fields — that’s all I want,” Rougeot said just before leaving the forum.
The mayoral write-in candidate attended the event wearing sandals and walked in and out of the ballroom several times while drinking cups of coffee.
Other candidates carried much more serious tones.
Incumbent councilman Nick Gilman said the allegations of misconduct against Solomon-Chitty “blindsided” the entire council. Gilman rejected the assertion by Nemeth and others that the council should have fired the former chief.
“We set policy,” Gilman said. “City manager implements it, and that includes hiring and firing and being responsible for personnel.”
While Gilman acknowledged that evidence of Solomon-Chitty’s misconduct existed, he said he never read nor received a report detailing the findings of the city’s investigation.
In his bid for reelection, Gilman faces challenges from fellow incumbent Fred Strong, who did not appear at the forum, as well as from candidates Steve Martin, Jerry Jones, and Jim Reed, each of whom attended Wednesday.
Martin, who previously served 10 years on the council in the 1980s and 1990s, stressed the need to properly staff the police department.
“There are fewer officers on patrol per a thousand people in the city of Paso Robles today than there were when I was on the city council,” Martin said. “There are twice as many people in the city today as there were when I was on the city council.”
Martin also offered a three-step approach to securing funding to repair the roads. If the half-cent sales tax on the ballot fails, Martin said he would establish a road budget and attempt to gather funding from other agencies. If those measures also failed, Martin would advocate for placing a sales tax back on the ballot with the specific purpose of road maintenance.
Write-in council candidate Jerry Jones also argued for a specific function sales tax if the November measure fails. Jones said he would immediately call for a special election to put the street maintenance specific tax on the ballot.
The final candidate, Jim Reed, whose name will appear on the ballot, called for slashing waste in the city budget as a means to fund road repair.
“I have been hearing about a $560,000, thousand-square foot bathroom in the city park,” Reed said. “It just goes on and on.”
Reed said city expenditures have bloated from $32 million in 2003 to $54 million currently.
“Now we have no money in the budget for roads, the parks are in shambles and, if you ask me, the pools are closed.”