Tulare incumbents face off in council election

The Fresno BeeOctober 13, 2012 

The first district elections for the Tulare City Council are in play, and it's a given that two new council members will take their place on the dais and an incumbent will be forced out of office.

District 1 in west Tulare already has a winner: Shea Gowin, 42, business manager of the family landscaping company and lifelong Tulare resident, was the only person to file.

She will be the first woman to serve in eight years.

The race for District 5, covering several neighborhoods east of Highway 99, pits two incumbents: two-term Council Member Craig Vejvoda, a financial adviser, versus one-term Council Member Wayne Ross, also a financial adviser.

Vejvoda and Ross differ on how the city should lure new businesses into the community.

"We need some smart growth," Vejvoda, 55, said. "We need to put out the red carpet and not be all about red tape."

He faulted Ross for being the lone no vote on an agreement with Ritchie Bros. agricultural equipment auction house. Under the 20-year agreement, the city keeps 25% of tax revenues from local sales made at Ritchie, and the company keeps the rest.

The deal brought jobs and revenue to Tulare, Vejvoda said.

But Ross, 44, said the city is on the losing end for too long.

"Only five jobs were created. That's why I voted against it," Ross said. "I can't give away 75% of sales tax for only five jobs. Ritchie Bros. is a $2.5 billion company. They're in better shape than we are."

Ross, who voted against city budgets three times because they didn't have enough cuts, faulted Vejvoda for voting to spend millions in city reserves to balance the budget.

"We had $25 million, then $16 million and now we're down to $5 million," Ross said.

But Vejvoda defended the use of reserves as necessary in a recession to fund the police and fire departments and other city services.

"It's like a reservoir," Vejvoda said. "During the dry season, we release some of the water so our crops don't die."

Ross, who ran for office four years ago opposing the proposed Tulare Motor Sports Complex, said the city lost $1 million and Vejvoda was a big supporter.

But Vejvoda said many people in Tulare supported the project.

"It's time we get off that dead horse," Vejvoda said.

In District 3, which covers south central Tulare, four candidates are seeking the seat: Alberto Aguilar, a retired letter carrier; Cheyne Strawn, a store manager at Tulare Outlet Mall; Carlton Jones, a Fresno city firefighter and former council member; and Scott Daley, a home builder.

Aguilar calls himself a "watchdog."

"I'm not one of the good old boys," Aguilar said.

He says a city plan to hire an assistant city manager is an unneeded expense and that the city should focus on balancing its budget, fighting crime and building a new park.

Strawn, 27, said District 3 suffers from gangs, foreclosures and bad roads.

"We need to clean that up," Strawn said. "We need a safe and secure district. This is what voters are concerned about. They want a council member that will sweep the district clean."

Strawn said he's going door to door and has sent out a mailer.

Jones, 39, who served one term in 2004-08, said the city has spent too much in reserves. The recession is not an excuse to spend down $15 million over four years, he said.

Jones said he opposes plans by the city manager to use a staff performance measuring system popular in large corporations.

"It may work for Toyota, but not for a city that provides public services," he said. "It's just a way to create a paper trail to get rid of people."

Jones said he favors a council in which "there are people from all walks of life. We need a diverse council."

Daley, 34, a former Tulare Rotary Club president, said he favors keeping police and fire staffing at current levels and opposes using city funds to help businesses come to Tulare.

"I think the city should be a business facilitator but not a business partner," Daley said.

He said the city can save money by being more efficient.

"There's opportunities to do things and be more cost-effective," Daley said.

The city can partner with local groups to provide activities for youth that divert them away from gangs, he said.

"Tulare still has that small-town feel," Daley said. "We can do things."


Tulare City Council

District 1

SHEA GOWIN

Age: 42

Occupation: Business manager, Gowin Green landscaping

Education: A.A., College of the Sequoias

Family: James, four children

Party preference: No preference

District 3

ALBERTO AGUILAR

Age: 63

Occupation: Retired letter carrier

Education: A.A., San Diego Evening College

Military: U.S. Navy, 1969-1973

Family: Wife Tricia, eight grandchildren

Party preference: Democrat

SCOTT DALEY

Age: 34

Occupation: Home builder, Daley Enterprises

Education: B.A., University of the Pacific

Family: Divorced, two children

Party preference: No party preference

Info: Facebook, Scott Daley

CARLTON JONES

Age: 39

Occupation: Firefighter, city of Fresno

Education: College of Sequoias, Sacramento State University

Family: Wife Cindi, eight children

Party preference: Democrat

Info: Facebook, Carlton Jones

CHEYNE STRAWN

Age: 27

Occupation: Clothing store manager

Education: College of the Sequoias student

Family: Single

Party preference: Republican

Info: Facebook, Cheyne Strawn

District 5

WAYNE ROSS

Age: 47

Occupation: Owner, Ross Wealth Management

Education: B.A., San Diego State University

Family: Wife Colleen, three children

Party preference: Republican

CRAIG VEJVODA

Age: 55

Occupation: Owner, Vejvoda Financial Services

Education: Bachelor's degree, Humboldt State; master's, The American College

Family: Divorced, two grown children

Party preference: Republican

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6104, lgriswold@fresnobee.com or @fb_LewGriswold on Twitter.

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