Q&A with Gilroy City Council candidate Russ Valiquette


Before interviewing the candidates, the Editorial Board of the
Dispatch asked each to respond to a dozen written questions. The
Editorial Board stipulated that the responses to each question be
limited to 400 words and let the candidates know that the answers
would be published at www.gilroydispatch.com and sent out to
subscribers to the Dispatch mobile application.
Here are the answers. The responses have not been edited for
grammar or clarity.
Councilman and candidate Peter Arellano was the only person in
the race who did not respond to the request.
Before interviewing the candidates, the Editorial Board of the Dispatch asked each to respond to a dozen written questions. The Editorial Board stipulated that the responses to each question be limited to 400 words and let the candidates know that the answers would be published at www.gilroydispatch.com and sent out to subscribers to the Dispatch mobile application.

Here are the answers. The responses have not been edited for grammar or clarity.

Councilman and candidate Peter Arellano was the only person in the race who did not respond to the request.

1. What are the best characteristics of Gilroy?

Without sounding like a commercial, what isn’t there not to like about Gilroy? Watching Gilroy grow from a small town into a small City is very exciting. There still is a lot of small town in us. Look at how popular volunteerism is here. You have everything from the VIP’s, to clubs & organizations, to those that put on the Garlic Festival to the Downtown Live concerts and wine strolls.

What is most touching is how this community can come together, as we did to honor two of our own combat fallen. Being the only city in Santa Clara County not bordered by another city may have something to do with it. For a small city, we are still very independent and in most circles, proud of our agricultural roots.

2. What does Gilroy need to improve on most?

Communication and Public Relations. We are very good at selling ourselves to the outside world, but lousy at selling Gilroy to Gilroyians. Because of the limited media outlets in Gilroy, it is difficult to get information out to the public. Only 30% of the household in Gilroy have cable. That means that 70% of the households are not able to view much of what goes on. One possibility is to team up with CMAP and DISH/Direct TV to have a channel 17 placed on there systems.

We also have to start taking the possibility of the High-Speed Rail more seriously. Gilroy is the key to their vision for a Central Valley to SF link. Without us, most of their vision is out the window. So we are in the perfect position to dictate some terms to them, rather then the other way around.

3. Do you believe that the public employee benefit system, including retirement, needs reform? If so, be specific on what you would advocate.

Yes, reform is needed. The system did not occur overnight and can’t be fixed overnight. Council has started the change by decreasing payroll and pension expenses through negotiations. The benefit packages that we now have came in part because of the free market system that was part of this region for many years. Now that that system is no long in place, and most importantly can not be maintained economically.

I see PERS going down the same slippery slop that Social Security has, name, having more money going out then what is coming in. We have seen over the years over the years the increase burden placed on cities when PERS mis-calculates. As nice as it would be to buy out PERS and start another form of retirement plan would cost the City too much. We need to find a way to transfer the responsibility of employee retirement plans to the employee, taking the City out of the picture. And again, be cause of the economical climate we are in, employees will also have to start taking on the lion’s share of their benefits.

4. Did the City Council pursue the right course of action to shut down MediLeaf, the medical marijuana dispensary in Gilroy? Explain your position. Also, will you vote for or against state Proposition 19?

You first have to separate the two issues regarding MediLeaf. There is the issue of a dispensary and then there is the issue of a business opening up and operating without a business license. I am in favor of using what ever it takes to relieve the pain and suffering of an individual. But like any other substance used for that purpose, there needs to be regulation. Though the intent of the Medical Marijuana law was geared towards allowing individuals to use marijuana to relieve their pain and suffering, it was not geared towards individuals or co-ops become whole sellers. So was Council correct in not wanting that type of business in Gilroy, the answer is yes.

To the second part of the question, I am reminded of what the definition of anarchy is – an absence or non-recognition of authority and order in any given sphere. If the City had not gone to Court over the opening of MediLeaf, then there would have been an absence of authority and any business, no matter what it was, could have opened up anywhere they wanted and the City would have been left helpless in their attempts to regulate business in this city.

And as far as how I will vote on Prop 19, I will be voting no.

5. What is your perception of the current Gilroy City Council?

There is always a feeling out period when a new Council is seated, especially when you have three new members seated. But in most cases, this should not take more then a few months and a couple of informal get togethers. In the case of this Council, grated they had some of the toughest decision that a Council has had to make, I felt that instead of working together, there was too much infighting and individual positioning. On a positive note, I have seen some improvement over the last few months. The majority of the Council has moved away from the individual(s) that do not want to work together, towards a direction of working out issues. There is the beginning of team work going on. Let me through in a disclaimer regarding teamwork. Teamwork does not mean everyone agrees and votes together. At the Council level I define it as meaning that all members work together, and productively, for a common goal or good.

6. Would you seriously consider contracting out for city public safety services? Why or why not?

Before any serious consideration, I would first have to see what that type of proposal would bring. I have yet to see anything proposal that I would feeling comfortable with. I like the idea of local control, though, which we would lose if we contracted out.

7. What is downtown’s role in the community? Is it important? If so, what would you do to revitalize the area?

Past Councils have worked very hard to help the downtown. I see the areas such as the Outlets as a regional location, open to everyone. But the downtown is ours. When last on Council I was an advocate for the mixed use of downtown (commercial & residential.) Two things need to occur for the downtown to become a vital part of Gilroy, 1. We have over 52,000 people living in Gilroy. We need to sell the idea of using/enjoying the downtown much the same way that a Walt Disney sold the idea that we all had to go to Disneyland. This can only be done if all parties with an interest in the downtown sell the idea to the community that they need to come downtown. Something else that needs to be sold, and this time to the business, is if there is to be a life downtown, it can’t close up at 6 or 7 pm. 2. You have to have something to sale. We need to attract new business to the downtown that will entice people to want to come. We need to loosen the restraints on existing business so they can make improvements without the City demanding unreasonable fees and counter-productive plan checking.

8. What ideas do you have for economic development and job creation? Please be specific.

This is a question that has been asked of every candidate probably for the past 50 years. We pretty much have the model down for attracting retail. What I believe, and if it has already been done – great, is to do a study on the key things large companies look for before moving into a community. Once we have an answer, then we should adjust the General Plan to incorporate that vision and put it into action.

9. Tell us something about you personally that wouldn’t show up on your resume, but that would help make you an effective Council member?

Sometimes saying less is more effective then a 20 minute oration. Say what you mean and mean what you say. No matter what you think you know, always give the issue before you a fair hearing.

10. Are city expenditures properly balanced between public safety and other city services such as parks and recreation? If not, what change would you advocate?

I believe in what I call the City’s Core Responsibilities – Public Safety, Water & Sewer and the logistical support to maintain them. Look at how you run your household in this economic climate. Have we not had to make adjustments in our own lives? Yes we have. The City has had to make cut backs in Public Safety along with all other services. Can additional adjustments be made? But in any society Public Safety is always the number one goal. And the nature of the beast is that Public Safety is also the most expensive.

11. In calendar year 2009, 30 city employees made more than $20,000 in overtime pay led by Fire Captains Ed Bozzo ($54,368 in OT pay), Paul Butler ($41,267 in OT pay) and Chris Weber ($36,554 in OT pay). Is this a city management issue? If so, what changes would you advocate?

As Division Chief Bozzo pointed out in his reply to this question, almost 100% of his overtime was reimbursed back to the City by the State. And I would also say that good portions of the Captains pay were also reimbursed. If you look at the question in the narrow frame in which it offered, you would have to make the assumption that there is a problem with management. No one that is responsible for a budget wants to go back to their boss and ask for addition monies to cover overtime.

In the Public Safety area, you have to cover a position whether or not someone is on vacation, sick, etc. In the case of Fire, most of the overtime is paid because of a Cal-Fire request for a strike team. When this happens, the State pays to or reimburses the City for the use of the personnel used, the equipment used and for the back-feeling of position that strike team members vacated. And another important point to bring up at this time is that any overtime paid out does not affect that individuals retirement numbers. Retirement is based solely on base pay.

Anyone that has to prepare a budget knows to always hole a little back for that unknown factor. Sometime the unknown stays with in the parameters you set up and sometimes it does not, but you always try to make up the difference somewhere else. Also, when having to back fill a position for any length of time, it is still more cost effect to pay overtime then to hire an additional body. Why? Because you are paying for an extra body with the additional cost of an additional body’s benefits.

As for making changes, without knowing the exact reason for the overtime, it would be difficult to say what I would change.

12. What is your vision for Gilroy and what would you do specifically to advance that vision?

First and foremost without the cooperation of the employees in getting our finances under control, there can be no vision. The trust that once existed between Council and the employees needs to be improved. This can only be accomplished through open and frank discussions with all parties.

I want to stop using the term “customer” service when talking about when an employee is dealing with a citizen of Gilroy. We are all part of a community. And a person that deals with City employees should not be looked upon as if they are straighter who just walked off the street, but part of the community.

I want to see better cooperation between the business community and City Hall. Again, without working with them there can be no vision.

I also see Gilroy moving forward and planning for the future, not just with a 20-year General Plan, but a more comprehensive detail design of where we are and where we want to go.

All this can only be done with community support

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Q&A with candidate Dion Bracco

Q&A with candidate Pasquale Greco

Q&A with candidate Paul Kloecker

Q&A with candidate Peter Leroe-Muñoz

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