For longtime resident, frequent conservative candidate and former Davis school board member John Munn, government works best when it is transparent about its money.
“I’m a numbers guy,” Munn said.
In a field of City Council candidates who have expressed often similar opinions about fiscal restraint, Munn said he is the only candidate to possess clear, fiscally responsible credentials. He opposed the $228 million surface water project that will bring water from the Sacramento River to Davis and Woodland, so much so that he is part of a lawsuit against the water rates devised to fund Davis’ portion of the project.
“I just thought the people ought to have a clear choice for fiscal responsibility,” he said.
For him, that means taking a hard look at city spending. Especially because the city is asking voters to approve a half-cent sales tax increase in June and a potential parcel tax in November.
The city says it is bleeding more than $5 million annually in red ink out of its budget. Munn, a former taxpayers association president, says he needs to know more than that to justify new taxes.
“I want to know where the money is going before we ask for more,” he said.
The alternative is worse than just raising taxes, Munn said. Ballooning city costs, including a rise in water rates for customers, may change the character of the city and drive out the middle class.
“City services aren’t expanding, they are just becoming more expensive,” Munn said.
In his candidate statement for the voter’s pamphlet, Munn elaborates.
“City services costs in Davis are out of control,” it says. “Recent changes in water rates will increase annual costs for a typical single-family residence by more than 300 percent from about $510 to $2,100. Any shortfalls from projected revenue will cause rates to go even higher.”
He supports a new initiative that is a referendum on the city’s water rate structure.
“With Measure I (the water project), we were shown a luxury car and asked if we liked it,” he said. “With the (water rate) initiative it will be, can we afford it?”
If he is elected, and if the initiative passes, Munn pledged to offer a different view on constructing new water rates away from a model that had people pay more for less water, in his view.
“I would like to be there to move the debate past the old assumptions,” he said.
Current City Manager Steve Pinkerton has been lauded for his fiscal work with the sitting City Council, but is moving to Incline Village, Nev., to work for an improvement district. One of the first things that would be asked of the two victors in the June 3 election is to join the remainder of the council in hiring a new city manager.
“You usually look for someone you can work with, instead of someone who works independently and brings you a product,” Munn said, while stressing that the City Council shouldn’t micromanage city departments.
Talk of finding city managers reminded Munn of his time on the Davis Board of Education in 1997-2001, when he was part of the hiring process for former Superintendent David Murphy. Former Mayor Ruth Asmundson and current Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor were on the board with him.
Murphy worked with the board and proved instrumental in helping to inform the trustees’ decision-making, Munn said.
When teachers and other school employees questioned how much money the school board had,”our solution was to open the books,” he said. “We had retreats with the teachers and we would have a chance to get to know them.”
Overall, fiscal times on the board then weren’t as tight as they have been the past few years.
“I was lucky,” Munn said. “I was lucky to serve with the people I did. People thought I was going to be this crazy conservative but I wasn’t the most fiscally conservative person on the board.”
Although that person will remain a mystery, Munn said the time on the board helped shape his thinking about how government should work.
Munn, 65, has been a Davis resident since 1978. He retired in 2010 from the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Munn’s last candidacy, when he was trounced as the Republican opponent to Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, earned him fiscal bonafides in endorsements from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the Napa County Taxpayers Association. He also won the endorsements of the Yolo County Farm Bureau and the Solano County Farm Bureau.
— Reach Dave Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @davewritesnews