Supervisor incumbent, challenger butt heads on issues
By Justin Formanek 10/18/2012
Former Ventura County Fire Chief Bob Roper is hoping to snatch the Ventura County supervisor seat away from three-term incumbent Steve Bennett.
Having served as supervisor since 2000 and as a councilmember from 1993-1997, Bennett has amassed a long list of accomplishments, such as increasing the county’s budget reserve and co-authoring the Save Open-Space and Agricultural Resources(SOAR) initiatives.
“In the 1990s, Ventura County was in danger of succumbing to Los Angeles-style urban sprawl, harming our quality of life and agricultural economy,” said Bennett regarding his involvement with SOAR. “No other county in the United States has more effective protection against urban sprawl.”
Roper insists, however, the time has come for a change in leadership and urges voters to ignore what each candidate has done in the past.
Instead, he asks them to focus on what he and Bennett plan to do for the future.
“The key part of my platform is restoring the economic vitality of this community,” said Roper.
Bob Roper, former Ventura County Fire Chief
To do this, he says that creating a revenue stream that flows from small businesses is essential, and that both the cost of permits and the current regulatory process are impeding current growth.
Bennett, however, maintains that it is not the county that is overregulating local businesses, but rather, the state and federal governments.
“Every candidate running for office is going to tell you that they’re going to be able to create all the jobs and solve all the problems, and that’s just not the case at the Board of Supervisors level. We have limited authority,” said Bennett in an interview with KVTA.
“The most appropriate role,” said Bennett, “is to try to coordinate the efforts of the other players of Ventura County so that we have an attractive package to [present to] businesses that want to locate here. We’ve been able to do that.”
Bennett also pointed to his efforts concerning pension reform, particularly his opposition to the implementation of the “3 at 50” benefit, which would have allowed county employees retiring at age 50 to collect 3 percent of earnings for each year worked.
Keeping pensions at a sustainable percentage, he said, is on the same level of importance as maintaining a balanced budget.
“I think the biggest problem we have are these large pensions — these over $200,000 pensions — that are really eroding public support for the whole defined benefit pension program.”
One of the “large pensions” in question is Roper’s, whose Ventura County Fire Department pension, currently, is nearly $250,000 annually with a 2 percent to 3 percent cost-of-living increase per year. To offset the financial burden on the county, he has vowed to decline any additional pension benefits as supervisor.
Bennett has claimed that Roper’s pledge isn’t as altruistic as it seems, pointing out that Roper would forfeit his current pension if he gained credits from a second one.
Roper refused to decline his $125,000 salary if he is elected county supervisor. Instead, he plans to use that money, along with his office budget, to fund a “Business Facilitator” position that would serve as a sort of ombudsman for local businesses.
While financial figures have been a point of contention for the two candidates, it goes beyond pension benefits and salary.
Recently, Bennett returned $75,000 in contributions given to his campaign during a month-long lapse in the voluntary expenditure limit statement both candidates signed prior to the primary elections, which limited their spending to $186,000.
They were required to sign a second pledge for the general election, which would have allowed them to spend an additional $186,000, but neither received official notification from the Elections Division until June 28.
Bennett urged Roper to return any contributions he received before filing the second round of paperwork.
“My opponent is the author of the campaign finance and even he messed up on his own rules that he wrote,” countered Roper in an interview with KVTA. “This is a non-issue. We are being honorable in what we intended to do and we will clarify this.”
According to campaign disclosure statements for July 1 through Sept. 30, Bennett has received nearly $30,000 more in contributions than his opponent. He has also outspent Roper by $140,000 during that same period.
Given that Roper was only able to secure 28 percent of the vote in the primary elections, versus Bennett’s 44 percent, it remains to be seen whether Ventura County residents want a change in pace.