Wednesday, January 06, 2010
City of Santa Fe Candidate Forum
Tonight I attended the Santa Fe Police, Fire and AFSCME forum for the City Council and Mayor candidates. I was interested for several reasons but primarily because the forum would be to address public safety issues. I also have some lingering interest in the city police having started my police career at the city and being a former president of the Santa Fe Police Officers Association which is the city police union and one of the sponsors of the forum.
The questions asked were remarkably similar to the forum I attended in 2006 when the same unions held a forum for city council and mayor candidates at the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge#3. The questions focused on the annexation, paying for public safety, the economy, and union/management relations.
The format of the forum led to a long and tenuous forum to sit through. Because there were three mayor candidates and seven council candidates, two running unopposed. For anyone else out there looking at putting on forums I suggest separating the mayor and council candidates into two forums and leaving out the candidates running unopposed. The forum started about 6:45 and ended about 10:15pm. With all the candidates they only had time to answer 7 prepared questions and they each had a short introduction and a short time at the end to give a final speech. I counted one hundred and twenty people at the beginning but by 9:40 the crowd thinned down to seventy.
Many notables were in the crowd including Police Chief Aric Wheeler, Deputy Chief Robin Contreras, City Fire Chief Barbara Salas, New City Attorney appointee Geno Zamora, District Judge Michael Vigil and his wife, County Commission Candidate Angelica Ruiz, Magistrate Judge David Segura, Congressional Candidate Adam Kokesh, and probably a few others I missed.
The crowd had about equal Kepler and Coss mayoral candidate supporters with T-shirts, stickers, and buttons. Kepler supporters also carried signs. Other candidates went without supporters with campaign materials. Clearly these two candidates had the most organized support. Both Coss and Kepler had many supporters who I recognized as active in Santa Fe politics and unions over the years. I did notice that some of Keplers supporters were Coss supporters in 2006 when he ran for mayor. The candidates participating in the forum were as follows:
Incumbent David Coss, Asenath Kepler and Miguel Chavez for mayor
Incumbent Chris Calvert, Doug Nava and Russell Simon for City Council in District 1
Incumbent Rebecca Wurzburger and Stefanie Beninato in District 2
Incumbents Carmichael Dominguez and Ron Trujillo, each running unopposed in District 3 and 4
The first Question asked what the candidates priorities for restructuring were and what if any functions would you privatize. Kepler and Chavez did not address privatization while Coss stated he has always been against privatization and that cuts could be made where needed. Miguel Chavez stated he would concentrate on basic city services such as police, fire, and senior citizen services. Asenath Kepler said she would conduct a thorough analysis of the budget in every department, she blamed the managers and department heads for putting the city in its current situation she says she would bring them all in cut their pay and lay them off before she affected any of the line workers. Wurzburger stated she would look for efficiency's and places which could be cut and work to increase tourism in order to bring in more revenue. Calvert said he would rely on workers to suggest cuts and efficiency's. Simon said he would look to diversify Santa Fe's economy and do more than just go after tourists. Beninato pretty much agreed with Simon.
The heated question of the night was the annexation question, the city recently entered into an agreement to annex 10,000 acres over the next few years with phase one taking place in November of last year. The annexation has been discussed and put off for about 30 years and finally began to come to fruition in 2009. It has been a sore subject for police and fire in the city with fears that current staffing levels are far too inadequate to cover the areas when annexed. There has been a large debate over just what the staffing levels should be and how to pay for the additional staff.
Kepler hit the ground running as she raised her voice in answering this question. She said she wants to stop all further annexation not knowing how it will be funded. She said "it was unconscionable to put lives in danger" referring to officers fears it will be unsafe with inadequate staff, she added again with a raised voice and serious expression on her face "this is no joke!" Mayor Coss was much more relaxed as he stated the city had developed a good relationship with the county and that the counties deputies were not going anywhere, He also added that the city had already increased police by 30 officers, fire by 20 firefighters and added 3 new fire stations since he was elected. The mayor went on to say the annexation should have happened in the 1980's but we flinched at the costs. He went on to say the city was committed to adding 40 more officers in the future to help meet needs. Miguel Chavez said we need to move forward with the annexation, there are benefits as well as challenges, he pointed out that in phase one the costs are estimated at $200,000 while the revenues from the area are $187,000 so he went on to say we are generating revenue as we annex these areas.
Incumbents Ron Trujillo and Carmichael Dominguez joined Coss in saying the annexation needs to happen while all other candidates said they would re-look at the annexation agreement and perhaps spread out the time period for the additional phases of the agreement. Ron Trujillo also mentioned that the red light cameras which he was the leading proponent of would create additional funds for police and fire. He brought up red light camera's again later in the forum as a source of revenue for public safety. The camera's are not yet installed but are slated to go up in the next few months. I thought this was particularly interesting since all along the cameras were pushed as a safety issue and not intended to be for generating revenue. Councilor Trujillo also lamented the governor of the state pushing legislation to have half the revenue from red light camera's diverted to the state.
Much of the remaining questions and answers dealt with the economy and the need to diversify and bring new jobs to Santa Fe. Many candidates advocated taping the cities reserves to avoid further furloughs and any layoffs. Kepler again heated up the room when she said "the tapping of reserves was avoidable, a good city manager and finance director would have known the economy would crash, I will save millions with audits" She also said there were allegations of fraud and waste in the city and audits were needed. Coss replied he knew of no fraud and waste and stated the city had saved for times just like this and had eleven million dollars above the minimum required reserves.
I took pretty extensive notes on the rest of the questions but I have no doubt that if you have read this much you probably won't read much more. One last thing I have to mention is the crowd looked pretty much in shock when during the forum Coss supporter Morty Simon was standing up front taking pictures with the flash on his camera turned on, of the mayor candidates or perhaps just the mayor it was hard to tell. Kepler was about to answer a question when she stopped the forum and told Mr. Simon "You have taken enough pictures, I don't know if you are taking them of me or one of the other mayor candidates but you have taken around 50 and you have enough pictures!". Mr. Simon sat down and as far as I know took no more pictures. The forum was interesting but long, even the reporters had to leave half way though to go and get their stories written and submitted. I am glad I went by and watched I always learn from watching these both from the perspective of the constituent and as a political candidate.