Forum drills candidates with hour of questions

OCEANSIDE — The Chamber of Commerce Candidates Forum drilled City Council candidates with more than an hour of unrehearsed questions May 4. Candidates were asked for one-minute responses and a green card for yes or a red card for no answers to questions on city economic development, fiscal stability, growth and spending.
The quickly paced question and answer format was designed to give voters an insight into the six candidates running for City Council, without hearing practiced candidate statements, Marva Bledsoe, Chamber of Commerce board member and past president, said.
John Dowell was added to the roster of candidates that included Lloyd Prosser, Michael Lucas, Charles “Chuck” Lowery, Ward O’Doherty and Ken Crossman. John Dowell, 68, is a retired Marine Corps captain, and now works as a property consultant and unmanned aviation vehicle pilot. Dowell qualified to run for City Council, but missed the filing deadline due to pilot training outside of the United States. As a write-in candidate his name and candidate statement will not appear on the ballot.
While there was no collective opinion of who was the overall “winner,” most said the forum allowed candidates to represent themselves well. Those in attendance said they gravitated toward candidates who gave specific solutions to city problems.
Some in attendance did not like the multiple rounds of yes or no questions answered with green and red cards. “I would have liked to have seen less cards,” Councilman Jerry Kern said. “Maybe five to six key questions.”
Candidates themselves felt a yes or no answer was difficult to give to multipart and complex questions. Lowery held up a handwritten “not in this economy” card to the question, “Should the city pay for a July 4th Freedom Days Parade and fireworks?” The question got a red card for no from all other candidates.
Candidates were asked to give a one-minute answer on how they would stimulate economic development. Prosser said he would create an environment that is positive toward businesses, streamline the permitting process, and be an ambassador to attract business to Oceanside.
Lucas stated he would get rid of parking meters and lower taxes to encourage more business. “The politics is all into revenue gathering,” Lucas said. “We need to reverse that policy to give businesses a fair chance.”
Lowery said more energy needs to be spent on developing South Oceanside and the 400-acre Oceanside Ranch Corporate Center.
O’Doherty said he would focus on helping mom-and-pop businesses, foster industry in Oceanside Ranch Corporate Center, and identify target industries to develop.
Dowell said his priority is to unite the council and improve the way the city is governed.
Crossman said he would update the strategic development plan, streamline the process to open a business, and create a safe downtown and South Oceanside to attract more businesses.
In yes or no questions, candidates were unanimous that the city should not go into debt to cover city employee pension costs and only Lowery answered yes to the question, “Should the city access rainy day reserve to balance the budget?”
O’Doherty and Lowery were the only two no answers to the question, “Should the Rancho del Oro Interchange be completed?”
Prosser and Dowell were the only supporters of the proposed city charter.
Candidates were asked how they would close the city budget debt. Lucas said he would lay off city staff and cut back the budget. “Lower costs would encourage businesses to come in here,” Lucas said.
Lowery said he would look at the whole situation and cut all nonessential spending, such as the cost of outside consultants.
O’Doherty said “fluff” needs to be eliminated, and unrealized revenues like the harbor and airport need to be developed.
Dowell stated he would lead by example and give back half of his salary as councilman. He also said he would address the issue of city employees paying into their pensions.
Crossman said he would freeze hiring, meet with bargaining units to urge city employees to contribute to their pension plans, and if necessary reduce city salaries temporarily.
Prosser said to reduce the budget gap and save jobs he would initiate an employee furlough program, have no new hires, and not replace capital assets that range from fire engines to desk chairs. He added in the long term he would address pension contributions.
In addition to the Chamber of Commerce Candidates Forum a week of candidate forums were held in neighborhoods throughout Oceanside. The Oceana Candidates Forum was held April 29; Whelan Ranch Candidate Forum was May 3; Oceanside Manufactured Homeowners Association Forum was May 5; and the Ocean Hills Candidates Forum was May 7. For more on the Ocean Hills forum, see story on page A9.
To see video from the Chamber of Commerce Candidates Forum, visit www.coastnewsgroup.com.

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