OAKLEY -- Hopefuls in Oakley's council race declared their intentions Tuesday to stay in close touch with constituents, make the city more business-friendly and preserve its rural roots.
Sponsored by the Oakley Chamber of Commerce, the 90-minute candidates' forum drew several dozen people who heard the six contenders air their views on matters that ranged from responsive government to the local economy, cultivating effective relationships with other council members and the city manager's controversial housing deal last year.
Questions were posed by both the chamber and members of the audience.
Much of the discussion revolved around improving Oakley's business climate.
Candidates were asked what they would do during the first 90 days in office to attract more business to Oakley.
Review what the city already is doing and ensure it has a plan in place, said Diane Burgis, adding that she would try to find things she personally could do to boost the tax base instead of simply issuing directives to the city manager.
David Hansen would start by finding out what's preventing businesses from coming to the city, which he thinks could include high startup costs. Perhaps the city could make the financial risks more palatable to would-be entrepreneurs by postponing the fees it charges, he said.
Doug Hardcastle wasn't enamored with that idea, however, saying that cutting fees would undermine city services such as street maintenance
He wants to focus on getting the type of employers that offer well-paying jobs, jobs that will enable residents to work in town instead of commuting.
Ron Borland envisions Oakley drawing visitors by capitalizing on its vineyards and opening wine tasting rooms.
The city already is building such a facility, said Mayor Kevin Romick, adding that it's also marketing available properties to prospective restaurateurs and cold-calling out-of-town businesses.
Randi Adler wants to see Oakley set itself apart from neighboring communities by bringing in unique businesses; organizing events like classic car shows and park concerts that lure people downtown is another approach, she said.
Other ideas for increasing Oakley's revenue included Borland's suggestion that the city interview those who go out of business to find out if it could have done something to prevent the failure.
Hardcastle thought that the chamber should generate a quarterly status report so that city officials would know how they could help the organization.
How to maintain the city's small-town feel even as it grows was another discussion point.
Hansen didn't think Oakley's large agricultural parcels were in danger of disappearing, while Romick said the city wants to help grape growers who would rather keep their vineyards than sell out.
One of the question cards that audience members submitted pointedly asked candidates if they would issue City Manager Bryan Montgomery a pink slip because of the lucrative housing benefit he negotiated last fall.
The City Council first allowed him to defer more than two years of payments on the low-interest home loan it had given him, then forgave the balance of that loan and replaced it with an equity share in the property, a deal worth $366,500.
Council members' largesse at a time when others were losing their homes and the illegal closed-door negotiations angered many residents, whose outcry prompted the city to rescind the deal.
Adler, who wants city government to be more transparent, criticized the council's action but didn't go further. Borland, on the other hand, thought the new council should at least discuss removing Montgomery.
Although Burgis also thought the city could have handled the situation differently, she noted that recruiting another city manager would be costly and disruptive.
The time it would take a new top administrator to come up to speed would hinder the city from making progress in other areas, Hansen said.
Hardcastle remarked that the blame lies with the council -- not Montgomery -- for changing the terms of the original housing agreement.
Romick defended the council, however, emphatically pointing out that he and his colleagues approved the deal in open session and adding that no member of the public came forward to object.
Asked how they planned to keep a finger on the pulse of Oakley residents, Burgis said her job as executive director of an environmental nonprofit already has her in contact with a variety of local groups.
Borland plans to continue his shoe leather campaign that includes visiting businesses and holding an economic summit where city officials can hear residents' ideas for improving Oakley's downtown.
"I think the council has not reached out the way it could in the past," he said.
Adler, Hardcastle and Hansen said they'd share their phone numbers with residents.
"You treat people how you want to be treated," said Hansen, adding that he tries to return calls as soon as possible.
Romick, who's seeking a third term on the council, noted that his involvement in multiple organizations has earned him the moniker "Mayor Everywhere" as well as the title Oakley Citizen of the Year in 2007.
"I feel I have gone above and beyond what other council members have done," he said.
The audience also wanted to know how candidates planned to work effectively with the City Council members who aren't up for election.
Borland said he's already worked with Carol Rios and Randy Pope; Burgis emphasized her ability to get along with others even when they don't see eye to eye.
"I can work with everybody even if I disagree with them, and I've proven that," she said.
Hansen considers himself easygoing and said that as a police chaplain, he not only deals with people from diverse backgrounds but also has experience playing peacemaker between angry families and officers.
Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/Rowena Coetsee.