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Race is more than just choosing a candidate

By: Carol Feineman, Editor
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Although the City Council race began July 16, it seems twice as long than the past three months of campaigning by nine candidates for three seats.

The race has been tough because City Councilman Stan Nader made this election a power game between changing council leadership or keeping the status quo in office.

Nader did that by endorsing non-incumbents Allen Cuenca, Peter Gilbert and David Kawas as well as financially contributing to Cuenca’s and Kawas’ campaigns. Plus his chief of staff, Noreen Skillman, is Cuenca’s campaign treasurer.

Nader made it very clear that he does not support the incumbents.

Elected two years ago, Nader and Councilman Gabriel Hydrick, whose terms are up two years from now, have voted in the minority. Tom Cosgrove, a council member voting with the majority, retires this year.

Incumbents Mayor Spencer Short and Paul Joiner, who have voted in the majority the last two years, are running to keep their seats.

In the Oct. 25 News Messenger, Nader said in the front-page story, “Candidate’s statement due today,” that the incumbents don’t have his support because Nader “is frustrated with the response of the incumbents” to his ideas.

“I am looking for folks I can work with,” Nader said. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to keep the city solvent.”

So this year’s City Council race takes on more significance than just voting for your favorite candidate. It comes down to the following: If you’re happy with the way Lincoln is growing, then keep the incumbents. If you’re unhappy with today’s Lincoln, then vote for the non-incumbents.

Granted, The News Messenger was hard on the incumbents two years ago. But the incumbents ended up making wise but difficult decisions affecting city services and employee salaries in a terrible economy affecting the entire country.

Today, the city is solvent. The auditor at a City Council meeting last May said the city has made significant progress in balancing revenues and expenses. And we have a reenergized downtown, several new retail stores and a new bypass, which is poised to help Lincoln attract more businesses (leading to more revenue to pay for city services).

Cuenca, Kawas and Gilbert have said the city is on the verge of bankruptcy and current leadership has failed, according to previous News Messenger reports.

The City Council race is also hard to cover because some non-incumbent candidates toss around figures that are different from city experts and also make misleading statements.

While candidates can say whatever they want, it’s the newspaper’s job to point out their discrepancies.

We pointed out some discrepancies in the Oct. 18 front page story, “Differing points of view. City Council candidates make opposing statements.”

For example, Gilbert said that franchising the city of Lincoln’s garbage department would result in $45 million to the city the next 20 years. Yet Lincoln City Manager Jim Estep called Gilbert’s figure “a guess not based on any analysis.”

While Gilbert and Kawas support contracting out solid waste services, Short and Joiner called that a back-door tax.

In the Oct. 18 article, Estep said that it could be construed as such a tax by residents if there is a cost-savings not passed along to the rate-payer. But, Estep added this week, many cities franchise solid waste and it could provide additional revenue to the General Fund.

Another misinformed statement that Kawas and Cuenca have made is that they will eliminate City Council lifetime healthcare benefits.

Last July 24, however, City Council eliminated 100-percent-covered lifetime healthcare benefits and reduced it to the minimum PERS required contribution (monthly $112 this year and $115 next year). From now on, a retiring City Council member can give up the minimum PERS required contribution.

Candidates Cuenca, Kawas and Gilbert also scolded City Council members for not paying more attention to the fiscal sustainability report compiled by a group of residents.

Of the fiscal sustainability committee’s 115 recommendations, 47 recommendations were already being done, according to a city report. The committee presented their findings at a City Council workshop on April 19. City Council also held a July 9 workshop and the council went through all 115 recommendations and prioritized them for staff.

Those items include looking at contracting out various city services.

Gilbert, Kawas and Cuenca want to consider contracting out police services.

But initial discussions with the Placer County Sheriff’s Office and CalFire show that Lincoln is unlikely to have any significant cost savings and it may cost more, according to city finance staff analysis.

A city’s well-being greatly rests on an informed electorate.

Unfortunately, two of the four City Council candidate forums held the past few weeks were not well attended. And the Lincoln Area Chamber of Commerce breakfast forum had 100 audience members and the Lincoln Hills forum had 400 audience members.

Yet there are at least 24,913 registered voters in Lincoln, as of Friday, according to Ryan Ronco at the Placer County Office of Elections. Less than 3 percent of the voters attended any of the forums.

I’m hoping that residents will reread our City Council election stories before voting.

Those stories are: Aug. 23’s front page, “Candidates state their priorities. Balanced budget tops list;” Sept. 13’s page A4, “Make Time to attend City Council candidate forums;” Sept. 27’s front page, “Candidates address the issues,” and page 4, “Bloopers so far of the City Council race;” Oct. 4’s front page, “Council candidates battle at the forums” and “It’s a war on words. Three council candidates remark about two others going over 400-word limit;” Oct. 11’s front page, “Council forum not enough for some voters” and page A4, “Show your support by voting;” Oct. 18’s front page, “Differing points of view. City Council candidates make opposing statements;” and page A4, “How our editorial department works;” Oct. 25’s front page “Candidate’s statement are due today;” and today’s (Nov. 1) front page “Candidates say why they’re qualified.”

Sometimes, an election is decided by who has the most signs posted.

Incumbents Short and Joiner and Planning Commissioner Dan Cross’ signs often appear on the same yards and Nader’s candidate choices of Cuenca, Gilbert and Kawas appear together on other yards.

The signs seem to point to the two ways this election could go. Please vote Tuesday.