Candidates for Elk Grove City Council Districts 2, 4 discuss issues in forum

Candidates for Elk Grove City Council Orlando Fuentes (left), Pat Hume,
Stephanie Nguyen, and Andres' Ramos.  | 

September 19, 2018 |  

A forum for the four candidates seeking the Elk Grove City Council District 2 and 4 seats was held last night at the California Northstate University College of Medicine. Participating in the forum were incumbent Pat Hume and challenger Andres' Ramos for the District 2 position and Orlando Fuentes who is challenging incumbent Stephanie Nguyen for the District 4 seat.

The forum was moderated by Paula Lee of the Sacramento chapter of the League of Women Voters. As was done during the recent mayoral forum moderated by Lee, all four candidates were asked questions submitted by the audience on a rotating basis.

Although there were 11 questions asked of the candidates, there were only nuanced differences in the four candidates responses. There were three questions that provided the most evident divisions by the candidates. 

Speaking in favor of the change to by-district were the Democratic challengers Fuentes and Ramos with Hume and Nguyen defending the current at-large system. In a by-district system, council members are from a particular district and are elected by voters in that district exclusively.

The current at-large system has a council member from a particular district but elected by the entire voting system. The current at-large system has been criticized for favoring better-funded incumbents and as a violation of the California Voters Rights Act of 2001.

Council members Hume and Nguyen said the current at-large system makes them accountable to the entire city. While not addressing the arguments against the at-large system, they also said it give voters the opportunity to vote for all council members.

"Would you prefer one representative, or would prefer five representatives," Hume said in defense of the current system. 

In defense of switching to the by-district Ramos noted a person could lose their district where they reside, but be elected by people outside the district. He characterized that as being undemocratic.

"I think it is better to be accountable and responsible to the people in the neighborhoods," Ramos said.

Ramos added the California Voter Rights Act of 2001 favors the by-district as it allows more opportunity for groups of people previously disenfranchised from seeking office an equal opportunity for engagement in electoral politics.

"At-large election have a history of typically discriminating against candidates of color, candidates who have less access to resources," Ramos added. 

Another question that showed the difference between the challengers and incumbents was on the termination of former city manager Laura Gill. Hume and Nguyen defended the termination saying the city needed a change in management leadership and a set of fresh eyes to view the city management while Fuentes and Ramos said it was fiscally irresponsible in light of the multi-hundred thousand dollar severance package Gill received. The city manager job is currently unfilled but held on an interim basis by assistant city manager Jason Behrmann who is also a leading candidate for the position.

Nguyen noted Gill ably directed the city through the Great Recession but added, "we needed somebody that would take us through the next few years especially since we have so many projects that are going on right now."

Ramos said that severance money, which came from the general fund, would have been better used in community grants or for public safety and called the termination irresponsible. He also said city staff works at the direction of the council and blaming city staff was a city council leadership failure. 

"I think that decision was not well made, I would not have made that decision," Ramos stated. "If a change is needed, the council needs to look in the mirror because I think it is a question of the leadership of the council knowing that you have the responsibility,  that you take responsibility and if you think that new direction is needed in terms of policy, in terms of leadership, not merely blaming the staff."

Though not directly, another question on the influence developers have on the city's development touched on the financing of city council campaigns which have historically been funded by these entities. While noting developers "need to be at the table," Ramos said voters should look at California Form 460's which discloses who gives campaign contributions to candidates.

"It's a question are you going to have a council member who is advocating what's best for the community, or saying 'this is what the developer wants, so let's give it to them,'" he said. "Now in terms of the influence of developers politically, pull up the 460s, look at campaign contributions. Unfortunately, the city of Elk Grove does not have any contribution limits, so candidates receive right and left five thousand dollar contributions from developers."  

Ramos added, "I am not funded by developers, I am funded by supporters in this community and by the people." 

Other questions asked during the session included the status of the unfinished Outlet Collection at Elk Grove shopping center youth engagement in the city, traffic, the city's budget reserves, economic development, and relationship with other local government entities. Interestingly there were no questions on crime or public safety.

The entire forum can be heard in the audio posted below. 

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