PLEASANT HILL -- With two open seats on the November ballot, the City Council race in Pleasant Hill has drawn a crowded field of candidates who want to preserve the city's small-town character.
Incumbent David Durant and challengers Jim Bonato, Jessica Braverman, Ken Carlson, Jeremy Cloward, Tim Flaherty, Michael Flake and Matt Rinn recently participated in a forum moderated by Bay Area News Group political editor Lisa Vorderbrueggen. The forum will air on local government television channels and is available at www.contracostatimes.com/elections.
Three open seats are on the ballot, but since Mayor John Hanecak is stepping down and Terri Williamson left town, at least two new members will join the council in December.
Since Debra Margolis resigned suddenly in mid-July, the City Council has been debating whether to hire another full- or part-time city attorney or instead contract with a law firm. A provision added in 1992 to the Pleasant Hill municipal code created the appointed full-time position of city attorney. But city leaders want to know whether there might be a more efficient or economical way of securing the wide range of legal services Pleasant Hill needs, from labor negotiations to municipal law.
The candidates agreed the city needs a dedicated attorney, but most of them are open to exploring the possibility of engaging a law firm, particularly if that option is less expensive than a staff attorney. However, Cloward believes the city should hire a new attorney, perhaps for less than the $281,354 in total compensation Margolis earned in 2011.
"I don't think we should focus on our public employees as a way to reduce our budget or to find cost-saving measures. I think that's what is at the heart of this issue," Cloward said.
Another hot issue this election season is whether the city should ban home occupation gun dealers, given that an online firearms business is operating from a Pleasant Hill condominium. The local chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which advocates for federal and state gun laws, has endorsed Bonato, Cloward and Carlson because they support a ban.
The Brady Campaign didn't give Durant the opportunity to answer the questionnaire they gave to the rest of the candidates. Durant said he doesn't believe people should stock firearms and ammunition in their homes, but the former police chief told him that wasn't the situation in this case.
"It is something we need to look at very carefully to make sure we're doing the right thing to protect the citizens of Pleasant Hill," he added.
Braverman, who also didn't meet with the Brady Campaign, said she is more concerned about vehicle-pedestrian accidents than with home gun sales, since no one has reported any problems with the existing business.
"I'm a little bit concerned when we try to solve problems that aren't there," she said. "We need to look at this, look at it carefully and balance the safety issue with the right to bear arms."
The candidates used their closing statements to make their pitch to voters. Cloward said he has a plan to generate funds for the schools that won't increase taxes. Rinn said he will be an advocate for the business community that generates the sales tax revenue that pays for city services. As the only woman in the race, Braverman said it's important to have diversity on the council, and she touted her mediation background. Flake's platform is open government, fiscal responsibility and quality neighborhoods. Bonato pointed out his years of volunteer service on the Planning Commission and Fourth of July Commission. Carlson said his priorities are fiscal responsibility and public safety. Durant pledged to continue using tax dollars wisely, keeping an adequate reserve fund and maintaining the city's small-town charm. Flaherty said he will work to promote economic growth and maintain the quality of life in Pleasant Hill.
Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.
Air times and dates:
Channel 28 in Martinez, Pleasant Hill and Clayton -- 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 7, 14, 21, 28, Nov. 4 and 8 p.m. on Oct. 1, 8, 15, 22, 29 and Nov. 5.
Channel 28 in Concord -- 5 p.m. on Oct. 6, 13, 20, 26, 27, 28, Nov. 2, 3, 4 and 5.