In the wake of Oxnard Mayor Tom Holden’s decision not to run for another term, three current City Council members and a member of one of the city’s commissions are battling to take his place.
Ventura County District Attorney Greg Totten’s report on his office’s investigation of Oxnard’s City Council for alleged corruption weighs heavily in the campaign, particularly for two candidates, Tim Flynn and Don Thibeault (pronounced like Tebow).
Thibeault says he is disappointed in the lack of action by the City Council to address the issues raised in Totten’s report and is particularly concerned about the city’s bond debt.
“They’ve tightened up on the credit cards, but they refuse to do anything about the bonds, and in my estimation, they’re one step away from bankruptcy,” says Thibeault.
Thibeault says his time as a county grand jury and city commission member gives him the experience to help reorganize the city’s management.
“I propose five full-time Council members elected within districts,” says Thibeault, who has taught political science in colleges. “With this form of government every resident would have their own Council member, and this checks-and-balance system might prevent the shenanigans we’ve experienced in the last eight years.”
Like Thibeault, Councilmember Carmen Ramirez thinks the time is right for reorganizing the city’s structure, though in a different fashion, bringing arms that have been operating independently back under city management.
“The city does a lot of things. The right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing,” says Ramirez, who had just finished an all-night budget session. “EDCO (Economic Development Corporation of Oxnard) is an organization that should be brought back into the city.”
Ramirez, who has been on the City Council for 18 months, says she voted for the budget because “We have bond issues. If we don’t cover our bond debt, everything is going to cost more.” She also wants to find ways to encourage more support for local businesses to, in turn, stimulate the local economy, emphasizing local businesses in contracting.
“Trust and confidence, when are we going to get that back?” says Ramirez, who says her experience as a lawyer for 38 years gives a critical understanding of how the city should operate. “We look in the paper every day, read about public officials that get indicted, get convicted and have to resign — we’ve been to the edge of that ourselves.”
Regarding the issue of pay raises given to city staff by City Manager Edward Sotello, which Totten’s report says were made illegally, Ramirez leans toward getting back the extra money that shouldn’t have been paid out.
“I don’t know that these people were doing anything wrong, the jury’s still out on that,” Ramirez says. “But if it was an illegal payout, they need to give it back.”
Ramirez says taking positions like that is what sets her apart from opponent Irene Pinkard, whom she feels is more developer-friendly.
“Irene’s a nice lady, she does a lot for the community,” acknowledges Ramirez, citing the example of her (Ramirez’s) vote against development of Oxnard’s South Shore. “But it’s the way she votes on some issues — I’d like more accountability.”
Pinkard emphasizes her more balanced and open view of what makes a city viable.
“I feel I have the leadership abilities and can make the difficult decisions with community issues as my focus,” Pinkard says. “Streets, police, fire and youth services — streets first, that is really an issue.”
Pinkard says residents, businesses and city leaders are the three legs of a stool that make up a viable community.
“I think there hasn’t been the collaboration needed to make all three equal so that one realizes that its livelihood rests on the other,” explains Pinkard, “working more in a forward vision that we all see as good for the city.”
Pinkard cites San Bernadino as an example of a city with those elements out of balance, leading to its dire financial straits.
“I think one problem with the bankruptcy in San Bernadino had to do with the fact there was all housing and too few businesses,” says Pinkard, who says she thinks Oxnard’s businesses are an integral part of its success. “You can’t build a city without businesses and a structure which provides for the quality of life.”
Thus, Pinkard wants to streamline the process for doing business in Oxnard, making it easier to get needed permits with a central service center so that business owners aren’t going to several places instead of one.
Pinkard does not consider herself particularly pro- or anti-growth, but says growth has to fit the needs of the community.
“I think we need appropriate growth for the number of people we have that need housing and services,” Pinkard says, adding that she wants wireless service for the city’s main library, as well as a community pool and aquatic center.
Councilman Tim Flynn says his failed attempt to dislodge Tom Holden from the mayor’s post in 2008 provided the impetus for him to run again.
“Once you’ve done it, you don’t give up. Once you stake out a position, it never really leaves you,” says Flynn, who has consistently been the most critical of city policies during his six years on the council.
“I spent a considerable amount of time considering whether I could do more as a Council member or mayor. The mayor is supposed to be a ceremonial position,” notes Flynn, “but I came to the conclusion that I could do more as mayor — I could really kick it up a notch.”
Flynn says the overall prosperity of the city is necessarily the focus of the mayor’s position.
“Oxnard is an economic giant, but as far as prosperity goes, you really have to provide opportunities for people,” says Flynn. “When you’re the mayor, you can set the perimeters, you can set the agenda.”
The change Flynn wants to see is for Oxnard to move from “being dependent on development and moving into an area of high-tech and medical research” while keeping the quality of life affordable for residents.
A picture of Don Thibeault was not available by deadline.