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Dan Romero, left, of Hercules, hands Mayor Ed Balico, right, a recall petition during the city council meeting at Hercules City Hall in Hercules, Calif. on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011. Balico had just announced his retirement from the council. (Dean Coppola/Staff)

ONCE A small company town centered around a dynamite-manufacturing plant, Hercules in the 1980s became one of the state's fastest growing communities. By the turn of the century, the city's plans for a waterfront-based development were attracting the attention of academics, planners and national publications.

But greed, corruption and ineptitude have left the city broke. Scores of city employees have lost, or will lose, their jobs. City services will be severely tightened, and money for the city's once-heralded waterfront plans has been wasted on fanciful redevelopment projects elsewhere in town.

Meanwhile, the former city manager siphoned away millions of dollars through no-bid city contracts to his family's business. Other companies under contract to the city treated it like a personal ATM as they submitted outrageous bills, for which they were amazingly paid, while some city employees received special redevelopment agency bailouts on their home mortgages.

The city attorney, who turned a blind eye, is finally on his way out the door, but only after providing the legal cover for ethical lapses that helped drain the city coffers. As for the City Council members, the people ultimately in charge, two were replaced in the November election. A third, Ed Balico, resigned this year after he was caught engaging in business deals with a former city official for whom he had approved city contracts.


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Unfortunately, Joanne Ward and Don Kuehne, two council members who participated in the financial destruction and ignored the unethical behavior in City Hall, remain in office. The city cannot be repaired with such inept leaders. Ward claims she was kept in the dark. Kuehne has blamed others. Neither accepts responsibility.

On June 7, voters can finish cleaning up City Hall by recalling Ward and Kuehne, and selecting three new council members. The complicated ballot requires a series of decisions. Here, in ballot order, are our recommendations:

  • Elect Dan Romero. Three candidates are running for the seat Balico vacated. Romero, an insurance agent and 22-year city resident, is smart and tenacious. For years now, he, perhaps more than any other resident, has tirelessly attended council meetings, questioning unethical and unsound city practices. Romero understands the intricacies of the city's finances and has deep insight into the workings of City Hall.

    Of the two other candidates for the Balico seat, Planning Commissioner Sherry McCoy is the stronger. She understands city issues, but we were disappointed by her failure to join the recall effort even though she says the city needs new leaders. We don't think she would be the sort of strong leader the city needs. The third candidate, Mark Anthony Jones, lacks knowledge about city issues.

  • Recall Ward. Elect William Wilkins to replace her. The two candidates seeking to replace Ward have financial knowledge the incumbent clearly lacks. Of the two, Wilkins is far superior, having worked in local government for 35 years, much of the time for city redevelopment agencies. His keen understanding of the city's finances and redevelopment problems will be a huge asset on the council.

    While opponent Virgilio De Le Vega has financial training, he lacks basic knowledge about the workings of city government. We encourage De Le Vega, who serves on the city ad hoc finance committee with Wilkins, to continue helping there.

  • Recall Kuehne. Elect Gerard Boulanger to replace him. Boulanger is the only candidate seeking to replace Kuehne. Fortunately, Boulanger has carefully studied city issues and, unlike the incumbent, is well-prepared for the challenges ahead. Boulanger, who holds degrees in fluid mechanics and thermodynamics, has not only worked on designing nuclear power plants and airplanes, he also served for 12 years on the city council in his former hometown near Paris, France. He's smart and politically attuned to Hercules' problems.

    The new council must move quickly to staunch further financial bleeding, and hire a new city manager and city attorney. Romero, Wilkins and Boulanger have the ethical grounding and financial knowledge to help set the city on a new course.

    HERCULES CITY COUNCIL
    We recommend Romero, Wilkins and Boulanger