We may not have had their feet to the fire like Costa Mesa, or the fireworks of an Anaheim political event. What we did have was an informative forum of Tustin City Council candidates. Sponsored by the Tustin Chamber of Commerce on Monday evening, the five candidates, vying for three seats on the city council, discussed their views on everything from the budget to the relationship between the city and the school district.
The forum was moderated by Bethelwell Wilson, Esq., who provided guidance and kept the candidates on point. Assisted by a timekeeper, the candidates were given two minutes each to offer an introductory statement and then two minutes each to answer the questions. Most questions were taken from the chamber of commerce guidebook. They did allow a few questions from the audience, however, that led to some interesting discussion.
As expected in a chamber of commerce event, most of the questions centered around business growth and development of both the Old Town and Legacy property. And, although we expected incumbent John Nielsen to be most informed on all issues, we have to give the edge to Tracy Worley-Hagen, who showed through her answers that she has done her homework and has specific ideas for the further development of the MCAS property. Worley, who was instrumental in obtaining the base property when she sat on the council in the ’90s, focused her answers on the final build out of the property that Oringinally included a regional, three mile park that would, as she said, tie the entire project together.
Chuck Puckett, another city council retread, also appeared well-informed, owing mostly to his recent years on the Tustin Planning Commission. He said the city’s latest effort to encourage business growth through an abatement of license and construction fees was a tremendous success and could be continued by using the anticipated bed tax from new hotels that are currently under construction as an offset. He also said the city is “up to the task” of acting as their own master developer and the opening of Tustin Ranch Road will create new opportunities for the Legacy area.
In a question on the demise of redevelopment funds and what the city was doing to meet the challenges, Puckett said the city had already made up the fund loss (really, Chuck?) and that development will be able to continue in the Legacy District. Nielsen claimed that cost cutting measures such as the early retirement package offered to 37 employees already save the city money. Worley-Hagen thought differently saying the sudden loss of such a number of employees would create a brain drain. Bernstein, who appeared to be the least informed of the five, said the city manager did not seem to be concerned over the loss. He supported the early retirement program. However, it was David Waldram who pointed out the fact the city had been balancing the budget in the past few years by dipping into reserve funds. He estimated this year’s shortfall at $4.5 million dollars.
It was the question of the evening, on the lawsuits between the city and the school district, that showed the true colors of the candidates. Nielsen began by saying he has gone on record calling for the school district to drop the lawsuits. Saying that this situation has gone on far too long (we agree), he placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of the TUSD school board and, again, called for them to drop their suits against the city.
Waldram said he had met with all parties involved and the five lawsuits had become more of a personality conflict than a question of law. He said the cultural infighting needed to stop and the two sides needed to start working together for the benefit of the community.
Bernstein, again showing that he is out of touch with reality, used his best Snidely Whiplash impersonation while holding up what he called a “news release”. Never saying that the press release came from the city’s own website, he inferred it was from a third party while demanding that TUSD drop their lawsuits. He then went into a diatribe about how, as councilmember, he would call for term limits for Tustin school board members. Making the only attack on an opponent heard that night, he blamed the union and cited Waldram as a “union man”. In the end, he was nearly sputtering his comments, leaving us to wonder if he would work toward any civility on the dais.
If we were keeping score (and some of the audience did), we would have to give lead points to Tracy Worley-Hagen who showed she remains up to the task of managing city affairs with a balanced approach. Likewise, Chuck Puckett stood out as well informed and ready to take the reins again. Chuck is also one of those rare individuals who comes off as an “aw shucks” kind of down home type but who can replace that quickly with an all business demeanor that we think would serve well to keep civility as a watchword for the council.
We would place Nielsen higher on our list but he seems to have a bit of trouble in the honesty department. I’m not saying he has lied about anything but he has managed to twist a few facts to suit his needs. While touting a balanced budget, he failed to say it was only due to the city dipping into reserves. His unwillingness to compromise on the lawsuits will lead the city to the inevitable outcome of losing and quite possibly footing the legal bill for the school district. And, let’s not forget that he was not being completely honest when he stood up and called himself, what amounted to, a pillar of the community when, in fact, he appears to have a plethora of personal issues to deal with. To his credit, he did spearhead the strategic plan the city council is working on.
David Waldram, who apparently had his high school Government class attend the meeting to write on civics, is in the middle. He has a strong vision for Tustin as a family town. His answers, while sometimes rather simplistic, displayed his fiscal conservatism and knowledge of government function. He has a bit of a Pollyanna attitude toward the city but we think his demeanor will serve well on the city council. He does need to bone up on past city issues if he wants to bring those to the argument as he made a misstep in regard to eminent domain. Nice recovery, though.
The entire forum, by the way, was televised on the city cable channel 3 and is due to be repeated. I don’t get cable so I can’t give you the schedule. But, if you did not get to see this live, this forum is well worth the watch, especially if you are on the fence about who to vote for.
Did you attend the forum? If so, we would like to hear what you have to say. Remember, you don’t have to agree with us, just follow our simple rules that are posted in the comments area of each post. Oh, and be prepared for a comeback either from me or one of the other readers.
(Updated 08/20/12 9:00 pm) The Tustin City Council race is off to a good start. Five candidates have filed for three seats. Councilmember Jerry Amante is termed out and Councilmember Deborah Gavello has chosen not to run for a second term. Mayor John Nielsen is running for a second term, probably so he can fulfill his latest campaign promise. The California Secretary of State, Deborah Bowen, has made the random draw of the alphabet that determines where candidates names will be on the ballot. The random alphabet draw was passed by the legislature in 1975 due to the bias caused by alphabetical and incumbent-first ballots.
In ballot order, the candidates running for Tustin City Council are:
- David Waldram
- Tracy Worley Hagen
- Allan Bernstein
- Chuck Puckett
- John Nielsen
As we said, John Nielsen is the only incumbent running and has a built-in lead by his incumbency that should make up for his last-place placement on the ballot. He has also, occasionally, stood up to Amante and voted his conscience. While those are rare times, we hope that if he is re-elected, Amante’s influence will wane (we can always hope). He is well endorsed by a broad spectrum of the community. John lists as his priorities, public safety, taxes, and traffic. He doesn’t appear to think of transparency in government as a priority. But that is understandable, given his track record.
Chuck Puckettis an alumni of the Tustin City Council and has previously served as mayor. During the elections of 1994, Puckett was mired
in a scandal involving city credit cards and lingerie shows. As far as we can see, there was little truth to any of it but, it made for a good story around the campfire. It is probable there was enough credibility in the story at the time to cause him to lose the election. Chuck appears to be an affable guy who some believe will speak his own mind when necessary. In any case, he has a leg up as a former councilmember and mayor. He has remained active in the community and has held positions on the Tustin Community Foundation Board and recently as the Chairman of the Tustin Planning Commission. Unlike Nielsen, Chuck lists, among other things, transparency in government as a priority saying, “Our city government and financial decisions must be transparent.” That’s a plus for us.
Allan Bernstein, well what can you say about Allan? Anyone? Anyone at all? He has no political experience. He has no community involvement that we have seen other than when he appeared as a judge for the Annual Chili Cookoff alongside… can you guess? Jerry Amante. In fact, Allan is a good friend of Jerry’s apparently, and lives in his neighborhood. But, until Hizzoner began showing him around political circles, few had heard of him. His campaign manager has had the good sense to host fundraisers for Allan at both the Wilcox House and that bastion of republicanism in Old Town, Quinn’s Old Town Grill. Bernstein bills himself as a “physician” as he is a podiatrist. My chiropractor also calls herself a physician.
It is Bernstein’s initial attempts to deceive the public as to his community service that has us most concerned. At the chili cookoff, he was reported to be wearing a pin with the Tustin City Seal and the word, “Candidate” on it. If the average citizen saw this, they might think Bernstein already sits on the council or works in some capacity for the city. Add to this Bernstein’s Facebook profile picture (also shown above) that shows him on the dais in the Tustin City Council Chambers, sitting at a council seat with the Tustin City Seal above his head. Again, he deceives anyone looking at his page (it is open to the public, by the way) into thinking that he is a sitting councilmember already. If this is the type of tactics Amante has endorsed for Bernstein, he needs to take another look at campaign laws. Bernstein has a web address reserved but, alas, no website as of yet. The big question: Will Jerry push his beloved dog aside and let Allan ride with him in the Tiller Days parade?
Like John Nielsen, candidate David Waldram is an Eagle Scout and very proud of his work with the Boy Scouts. He previously ran for city council in 2010 and was narrowly defeated by Beckie Gomez. David recently held his kickoff fundraiser at his home with a BBQ and bouncehouse for the kids. He is a sometimes teacher at Tustin High School and a small business owner. Waldram is also a lifelong resident of Tustin having attended local schools and Chapman University. Although he has a website, it does not appear to be fully functional yet. The best bet for information is his Facebook page. Waldram and Tracy Hagen are having a fundraiser on August 30th at the Loveland residence. More information is available on his Facebook page.
The final candidate is veteran councilmember, Tracy Worley Hagen whom we recently wrote about. Tracy won a seat on the council in a contentious race in 1994. She has been Mayor of Tustin 4 times. We would like to say she is coming back into politics but it seems she has never really left. She was at the forefront of an effort to bring civility back to the dais when a hit piece on David Waldram was discussed at a city council meeting. Along with her 12 previous years on the council, Tracy has held seats on the boards of OCFA, Transportation Corridor Agencies, and the OC Sanitation District. Her community service includes, past-president of the Foothill Boys Volleyball Team Boosters and she sits as current president for the Tustin Ranch Homeowners Association III. Tracy is also an active member of the Assistance League of Tustin.
Tracy was instrumental in securing the old Tustin Marine Corp Air Station, when it closed, in a no cost transfer of the base to the city. After a slow start in development (through no one’s fault except the economy), the area promises to breath new life into our town. Tracy has both a website (of the blog sort which we like) and a Facebook page that has plenty of information on her background. Hopefully, she will get her platform up somewhere soon. We do know, in casual conversations with her, she puts transparency of government and civility to citizens and each other on the dais as high priorities along with fiscal prudence and a government that serves the people.
As we have said, this is shaping up to be one heck of a race. All odds are even at the starting gate. As they round the first turn, we will be there to let you know how things are going.
Strap in and get ready for a rough ride. The first three folks to actually pull papers as candidates for Tustin City Council are incumbent, John Nielsen, “Dr.” Allan Bernstein and Tustin Planning Commissioner, Chuck Puckett. Bernstein and Puckett pulled papers the same day. I have to wonder if they held hands while walking into the City Clerk’s office. To no one’s surprise, John Nielsen pulled his papers a few days later.
This, of course, led us to wonder when Puckett would resign his seat on the planning commission. He did not keep us in suspense as he announced his candidacy at the planning commission meeting, saying that he had pulled papers and would resign next week when he files his papers. He went on to say that he has served on the planning commission for over twelve years during two different periods. We also know that Puckett is a former city councilman and mayor who resigned amid scandal.
As they were closing the meeting in memory of the Aurora, Colorado victims, Chuck mentioned he had come from Aurora 37 years ago. He said the site of the shootings, although not built up when he lived there, was only a mile from where they lived. So, Chuck and I have something in common as I come from Denver, Colorado which right next door to Aurora.
Bernstein, although out and about with his cronies, has not had a good photo taken of him yet. So, I can’t supply you with the wanted poster. However, he sent an email out along with a flyer for his first fundraiser at the Wilcox Manor. Again, no photo but he does state that he has been in Tustin for 36 years and is a “physician”. Hmm, the only Doctor Allan Bernstein we have in Tustin is a Podiatrist working out of a 1st. Street office. A podiatrist is about as much of a physician as a chiropractor. If you don’t believe me, believe the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons who are fighting to have the change made official in regard to Medicaid. I guess you can call yourself anything you want when running for office.
Others running? We know from conversations that David Waldram will be running. He has established a campaign account and a website. He just needs to get down there and pull papers. Incumbent Councilmember, Deborah Gavello is still keeping it close whether she will run for another term. I am sure she is looking at the field to see who else, if anyone, would continue the reign of terror on the dais. We also have heard some other names that may be running but we will wait until they pull papers. They have promised me first dibs on the announcement. We’ll hold them to it and keep you informed as we get more information.