By Michael Bisch, Tom Cross, Steve Greenfield, Rosalie Paine and Shane Tucker
Through long years of hard and thoughtful work, many generations of Davisites have created a community of which we can all be proud. Our significant commitment to our schools, environmental issues and bicycling make our community unique and attractive.
Regrettably, some of this hard work has been eroded through a number of fundamentally ill-considered financial decisions by former city councils, as well as a tendency to kick difficult financial decisions down the road.
The 2012 Davis City Council election provided an opportunity to make a break from the past and Davisites took a step forward by electing Brett Lee, Dan Wolk and Lucas Frerichs. Our reward has been a council willing to meet community challenges head-on, while resisting the temptation to kick the can down the road.
Although the current council has worked hard to bend our fiscal crisis around, the foreseeable future remains extremely challenging. City Manager Steve Pinkerton is saying the city will run out of money this year unless local taxes are increased and/or city programs and services, such as pools and parks, are cut or closed. Furthermore, he is projecting accumulated annual deficits totaling $32 million over the next five years.
As bleak a picture as the city manager portrays, the reality is far worse. The measures currently proposed by Pinkerton do not fundamentally solve the underlying problems, they merely slow down the slide into the fiscal abyss. Even if we are able to fix the $32 million deficit, funds to cover deferred maintenance on our roads and bike paths still will be severely lacking. Significantly greater action is required to increase revenue and/or cut costs to stop the slide, let alone actually dig us out of the fiscal hole that’s been created.
To help frame the debate for the June 3 City Council race, we’d like to share our thoughts on desired candidate attributes that we believe will help keep the council focused on our pressing fiscal challenges.
It is commonly accepted that a healthy community is socially, environmentally and economically sustainable. For many years, our city has focused primarily on social and environmental sustainability without ensuring a strong economic base to support these efforts. Therefore, the 2014 election should be “laser-focused” on addressing the fiscal challenges preventing us from achieving a sustainable community.
Generating a city budget deficit year after year as our roads, bike paths, sidewalks, parks, etc., continue to erode is clearly not sustainable. Job No. 1 for this next council is to get us back on a fiscally sustainable path. That will not be possible without a sustained effort to control costs while increasing economic activity.
Yeah, yeah, we know: Boring! Some may want this election to be about constructing more community amenities and enhanced city services, but it just isn’t feasible to do so until we stabilize our financial condition. What family plans a new backyard swimming pool, while they’re three months behind on the mortgage? We need to get the mortgage current before we start thinking about new amenities and enhanced services.
What attributes should we be seeking in a new council member to fulfill the goal of fiscal stability? We suggest the following:
* Leadership. This next council term is going to be all about making some very hard choices and the council will have to bring the community along with them, not kicking and screaming, but willingly, as part of a community effort. To do so, council members must have the ability to make compelling arguments and have the wherewithal to sell them.
* Focus. This next council will have to remain focused on closing the budget deficit. If it’s not about growing revenue via economic development or containing costs, it simply shouldn’t be on a council meeting agenda! The council needs to rapidly develop a plan to get us back on track and then will have to execute, execute, execute.
* Transparency. Our community has no end of ideas on how to meet our fiscal challenges, but our resources are limited. This next council must have the ability to encourage transparent and vigorous debate of competing projects and policies to ensure the best rise to the top.
* Professional temperament and rational judgment. Council members are typically not financial experts and such expertise is generally not required in a council member. Although this next council will not be composed of accountants and financial analysts, it must be made up of individuals with the temperament and judgment to listen to competing arguments, sift through the details and then exercise sound judgment.
* Independence and absence of future political aspirations. There has never been a time when a technocrat was more needed on the council. This is not the time for ideologues or career politicians. To meet our challenges, we require council members with well-developed problem-solving skills. We need individuals who have a broad view, resisting the temptation to focus on narrow interests and future political aspirations. Council members who focus on this job and not the next are essential.
We look forward to a vigorous election campaign to determine which of the City Council candidates truly possess these attributes.
Creating and fostering a socially, environmentally and economically sustainable community is a challenging endeavor. The Davis Chamber Political Action Committee and the entire business community are ready, willing and able to work collaboratively with all stakeholder groups to effectively and efficiently solve today’s challenges while planning for a bright future for our unique community.
We will soon be scheduling a council candidates debate where you can come and judge for yourself which two candidates exude the right attributes to help achieve the goal of a truly sustainable community. We welcome your feedback, involvement and support.
— Michael Bisch, Tom Cross, Steve Greenfield, Rosalie Paine and Shane Tucker are members of the Davis Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committee.