On Thursday, Oct. 13, the dazzling sunset behind Midtown’s Cooper Hall was perhaps the most thrilling moment in what was otherwise a mostly uneventful evening at the last of the City Council candidate forums.

Citizen advocate and candidate Brian Lee Rencher, who has made it no secret that his main priority, if elected is to replace City Manager Rick Cole, caused quite a stir with the crowd of about 50 residents when he lashed out against incumbents Christy Weir, Carl Morehouse and newcomer candidate Cheryl Heitmann.

“The incumbents and Cheryl Heitmann, who is a replacement for Bill Fulton by the machine that has been running the city for 20 years now, last Tuesday refused to even speak to replacing the city manager,” said Rencher. “They want to maintain the status quo.”

Rencher continued, “If you do the same, you’re going to get the same. And what is that? Cut police staffing, cut fire staffing, close Fire Station 4, close Wright Library. We have filthy and unkempt streets. Your city is not performing.”
The format for the Midtown Ventura Community Council forum provided each candidate five minutes to address the audience. The soapbox-style format stripped the chance of debate, and the audience could not posit questions to the candidates until the conclusion of the forum.

Morehouse and Heitmann were the only candidates who spoke directly from prepared statements. Morehouse spoke rapidly, only occasionally looking up from his script to address the audience in a speech that reeled off the experience accrued during his 12 years serving on the council, but lacked concrete ideas for future city improvements.

Heitmann, also reading verbatim from a script, was a bit more eloquent in explaining to voters why she should be elected. As former Ventura Community College District trustee and president, Heitmann said she has experience handling larger budgets than what Ventura currently faces. “I faced huge cutbacks on a budget that is twice the size of the city of Ventura,” she said. “In the end, the district went from being on the state fiscal watch list to moderate fiscal stability.”

Candidate Bill Knox, endorsed by both the Ventura County Republican Party and Libertarian Party, the tax attorney and chairman of the East Ventura Community Council spoke confidently and professionally, as if he was fashioned of political cloth made, perhaps, for something bigger than a Ventura council position.

“I will work hard to make sure we reform the entitlement programs for employees in the city of Ventura to make sure their retirement is secure,” said Knox. “The pension system we have now is anything but. No one wants to have a cut in services. No one wants to have a cut in benefits so let’s not have a cut in benefits. Let’s reform the type of benefits that we offer by moving away from an unsustainable defined benefit plan to a defined contribution 401K-style funding.”

Knox also took an indirect shot at the incumbents, saying it was unacceptable to have cutbacks in public safety. “The first priority of any community is to make sure public safety is adequately staffed and has the resources necessary to protect the community.”

Rounding out the field were candidates Carla Bonney, Martin Armstrong, Melody Joy Baker, Ken Cozzens and Christy Weir.

Bonney, a Ventura Tea Party activist, did not shy away from her continual criticism of the city’s decision to install parking meters. “There are a lot of people that feel they are not represented well in this city,” said Bonney. “One of the reasons is the example of the parking meters. They felt they were led astray, that they were forced on them, that when they complained about them they were ignored; and it came to seem like that because when we turned in our ballot with signatures, the city decided to take us to court and not let us proceed.”

For five minutes, both Armstrong and Cozzens had seemingly heartfelt speeches. Cozzens, a 53-year Ventura resident and retired sheriff’s captain, opened his speech with nostalgic memories of Ventura, as if it were a small town in a Rockwell painting. His address continued in the same vein, with his solution for enhancing public safety being “teamwork” and later concluding that it was “time to stop looking at all the negatives and start looking at the positives.” While Armstrong, a landscape architect, addressed a number of concerns about future traffic planning and needed infrastructure, he didn’t suggest how, as a councilmember, he would approach such issues.

Baker continued her rally to put a face to the city’s homeless population. She suggested that the city needs to actually “sit down with the homeless and talk about solutions to the problems.” She also took credit for the basic idea of the River Haven encampment.

Weir, the two-term incumbent, closed the night, smiling and thanking supporters during the commencement of her address. She shifted into some of the recent success Midtown experienced during her time on council, citing Trader Joe’s, BevMo and Fresh and Easy as examples.

Candidates Ed Alamillo and Danny Carrillo could not attend the forum.   

shane@vcreporter.com