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City Council Candidates Address The Issues
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Four out of five contenders for Riverbank City Council seats in the Nov. 4 election introduced themselves, spoke on the issues and answered questions from residents at a candidates' forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters on Sept. 23.

The four candidates who appeared were former council members Ric McGinnis and Jerry W. Whorton, incumbent David I. White and a young challenger Jesse James White.

A fifth candidate, Norman A. Comer, a retired aerospace worker, was unable to attend that night, said City Clerk Linda Abid-Cummings, but will continue to campaign and has his name on the ballot.

In brief introductions, McGinnis said he is a graphic designer/photographer and former news reporter who has lived here 14 years. Appointed to the council in 2001, he was elected to a four-year term in 2002 but failed to win reelection in 2006. In community service, he is vice chair of the Downtown Improvement Committee, member of the Del Rio Theater Committee and co-founder of Rio Arts. He also is vice chair of the Riverbank Business Association, member of the Friends of Jacob Myers Park and Riverbank Historical Society.

David I. White described himself in the written program as an information technology manager (for Stanislaus County Behavioral Health & Recovery Services), who has resided in the Crossroads area for the last four years. A former director and president of Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District, he was appointed to the council last February to complete Kathy Anaya's term when she moved out of town. He was educated in the Air Force as an electronic intelligence analyst and at the University of Santa Cruz in network management. He has technological experience with GTE Government Systems, Stanislaus Drug Enforcement Agency and the Cyber-Terrorism Training Department of Homeland Defense.

Jesse White, according to the program, is a Riverbank High graduate who is now attending Modesto Junior College and is a store manager. He listed his experience as leadership skills learned as a high school quarterback.

"I've lived here 12 years, am proud of Riverbank and want to make it a better place to live and raise a family," he said. "I know I'm young but I'm a fast learner."

Whorton is a retired businessman formerly in sales who has resided in Riverbank for 61 years and served a total of 17 years on the council during the 1970s and 1990s.

"I decided to get started again (on the council) while I was watching Channel 2 (cable access channel) and thought I would come down and find out what is going on," he said.

Following opening statements, candidates answered written questions from the floor in varying order.

• What is your vision for the Del Rio Theater and the cannery sites?

McGinnis said he hoped the theater would draw money and business and the cannery site, however developed, would become an integral part of the downtown. The theater and the cannery, said David I. White, could become a business focus and increase jobs if the city can find enough funds for restoration. The theater building seems to need expensive repairs but has a lot of potential if the funding can be found, said Jesse White. Whorton said the community needs more arts facilities and he saw the cannery as a possible site for multiple housing development.

• How can we generate funds for sewer improvements and help the elderly with rising rates?

Development must pay for itself, said David I. White, noting the city has cut the raises first proposed by half and Proposition 218 prevents it extending a lifeline to elderly residents. Times are tough for those on fixed incomes, said Jesse White, perhaps a community lunch once a week would help, but the city must raise rates to fix the sewer system. The state has ordered the treatment plant be improved, said McGinnis, but maybe the city could raise the residents' payments on a two or three tier system instead of a flat rate.

• How would you unify the city's old and new sections?

The newer part of Riverbank is "taking off and looking good," now it's time to find a way to pass on some of that business and financial success to the downtown, said Jesse White. The downtown used to be a thriving area, said Whorton, now the city should redirect some of the revenues from the Crossroads to the downtown. Redevelopment will bring visitors, businesses and more prosperity to the old section of town but that takes time, said McGinnis. The city has a strategic plan for the old town and it is important to implement that plan, said David I. White, "to get the people together since the community should serve all."

• How can the city deter gangs, drugs and vandalism?

As a member of the drug enforcement agency, he found the cause is a combination of poverty, poor education and youth, said David I. White. The young people turn to gang membership for lack of participation in a family. Jesse White also said young people need some alternatives, some facilities, some sports in which to get involved.

"Gangs and drugs go together," said Whorton. "I saw on TV some LA gang has10, 000 members. It all starts with the home care of children."

"It boils down to parenting," McGinnis agreed, adding that young people need a chance to join a productive group whether it is in arts, sports or anything else.

• Define what you mean by smart growth

"Growth that does not leapfrog over infill and knows where it wants to be in the future," said McGinnis. The city needs to look well ahead and plan area development, be willing to move forward but make adjustments as they become necessary, said David I. White.

"Smart growth is growth that does not raise taxes," said Jesse White.

Whorton said the city needs to develop areas in the downtown and work outwards toward the borders. The city still has scattered spots within it owned by the county.

• Would you go against staff recommendations?

"Certainly, sometimes," said McGinnis, "our job is part time. The staff does the nuts and bolts work. But the council represents the people."

"If I do not agree with a staff report, I will oppose it," said David I. White. "It depends if it is in the city's interests, how it will affect the residents."

Jesse White said he was mainly interested in the recommendations of the people. He would take it to the voters and find their concerns.

"I believe in doing what is best for the city. The staff works for us. This is what the staff recommends. I've heard that phrase too often," said Whorton.

• Would you vote for an unbalanced budget?

The current council has done that for 2008-09, said David I. White. It foresees taking in less revenue than expenses this year but the reserves will compensate. Jesse White said he would not support unbalanced budgets unless the city has been paying into "a rainy day fund" or reserve over several years.

"I don't know if the city can balance their budget," said Whorton, adding the city has a fund of two or three million dollars for special projects whose source and use is still not explained.

"I believe in balanced budgets but it's not always possible," said McGinnis. The council does its best to plan, he said, and maintains a healthy reserve to balance deficits. But he added maybe it should examine its budget at least on a quarterly basis.

The election for council seats is at large, with the top two vote getters securing the available seats on the panel.