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Bob Lewis (Courtesy of Bob Lewis)

Battered by declining property taxes and loss of redevelopment funds, Pittsburg has cut one-quarter of its staff over the past five years.

Voters in June approved a half-cent sales tax increase expected to bring in more than $2 million per year. Even with that, the city has a $2 million annual budget shortfall covered only by savings.

The city also owes $60 million for underfunded employee retirement benefits. That's a debt of more than $900 per city resident. It equals 3½ years of city payroll, excluding overtime. Future generations will pay it off for decades.

Clearly, the city needs engaged and knowledgeable leaders. Unfortunately, only one of four City Council candidates seeking two seats in the Nov. 6 election fits that bill: Bob Lewis, who served from 1989 to 2002, has returned to the city and wants to regain a seat. He's thoughtful and recognizes the serious financial problems ahead.

As for the other candidates, George Harris, with past business ties to the influential Seeno development family, resigned from the Planning Commission in 2008 because, he said then, it was too time-consuming. We wonder whether he'll have time now. He declined an editorial board interview request.

That leaves incumbents Ben Johnson and Will Casey, neither of whom seems concerned or knowledgeable about the city's mounting retirement debt.

We tepidly back Casey because of his past roles as an outstanding police chief and his later service as a city manager. However, we worry about what seemed to us a lack of enthusiasm for the task at hand. It made us wonder whether he is willing to put in the time the job requires.

But the most troubling part of the interview was the current council's approach to public meetings.

Casey said that twice-monthly City Council meetings had been cut to once a month and that they usually lasted less than an hour. We are all for government efficiency, but in a city with the diversity and size of Pittsburg we find it difficult to believe that the public's business could be accommodated in a single one-hour meeting a month.

When we inquired as to how that was accomplished, Casey said that the council members individually meet or talk with the city manager to discuss things that are on the upcoming agenda, which is made public a week before the scheduled meeting. He said the council members offer their input to the city manager, who can pull items off the agenda that don't appear to be ready for consideration.

Casey correctly pointed out that the city is administered day to day by the city manager and not the council. While it is true that the council's primary roles are oversight and establishing policy, we find it troubling that the public seems to be cut out of this equation.

While we think Pittsburg residents deserve better choices, we endorse challenger Bob Lewis and incumbent Will Casey for the Pittsburg City Council.

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