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.
If you don’t belong to the Chamber of Commerce or check their website, you may have missed this. Tonight at 7pm in the Tustin City Hall Council Chambers. I noticed the candidate lineup is in order of preference of the Chamber. Or, maybe, this is the lineup they envision on the dais. I haven’t been to one of these before so I am looking forward to seeing if the Chamber will allow the hard questions on the budget shortfall and the TUSD lawsuits and if all candidates will answer the questions or simply dodge them. In any case, we’ll be there to report and, of course, give commentary.