Two of Gilroy’s three mayoral candidates for the Nov. 6 election met individually with the Dispatch Editorial Board Tuesday morning to talk about major issues concerning Gilroy, and to highlight their priorities as Gilroy’s next potential leader.
Dion Bracco, councilman and owner of Bracco’s Towing on Monterey Street, and Don Gage, Santa Clara Valley Water District board member and former two-term Gilroy mayor, shared their positions on crime, economic development, their passion for the community, and their vision for Gilroy’s future.
Mayoral candidate and councilman Peter Arellano did not respond to multiple attempts to schedule a meeting with the Editorial Board.
Bracco and Gage imparted a similar vision of establishing a strong Council and competent staff, for the purpose of serving the community to a higher degree.
How they plan to reach that vision, however, differs a bit.
Having felt frustrated with the relationship between Council and city staff for a “long time,” Bracco thinks city employees could use some nudging from the mayor to work more efficiently.
“Government employees are in their own world, they really don’t get it,” Bracco said. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing for employees to know they could lose their job.”
With a stricter attitude toward staff than he said is currently held, Bracco said that more extensive performance reviews, trainings, breakdowns of workflow, and transparency between Council and staff are steps he would make to ensure that staff will begin serving residents as efficiently as they should be.
Bracco came off especially critical of City Administrator Tom Haglund, who he says does not listen to the demands and goals of Council.
“A strong mayor can say to the city manager, ‘that’s not what was asked for,’” he said.
But right now, Bracco said, the Council is weak and just “takes whatever they are told,” from staff. Bracco said the Council needs a competent mayor to pump life back into the system.
And as for the bickering going on among members, including a recent tense exchange between Councilman Peter Arellano and Councilman Bob Dillon that led to Arellano angrily leaving a meeting earlier this month, Bracco said a stronger leader would have “never let it get there.”
“Peter should have been talked to months ago about his behavior on the dais, and it never happened,” he said.
Gage also believes that Council is in need of a little CPR. Touting his experience on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and the Santa Clara Valley Water District as well as his past positive track record as Gilroy’s mayor in the 1980s, Gage believes that he has what it takes to put the pieces of a broken Council back together.
Suggesting that the City should “take lessons from the private sector,” Gage said that he plans to restore city staff to better serve their primary customer – the residents of Gilroy.
But Gage, unlike Bracco, thinks the primary problem lays in a slack Council, not an inefficient staff.
“I think Tom is doing a great job, but you don’t have leadership at the Council level to give direction to him,” Gage said. “I think there is a big disconnect between the Council and the staff because the staff doesn’t know what the Council wants.”
The key to fixing that, Gage said, is to demand more from the Council: Talking to members to define clear, specific goals both individually and collectively, and insist on more accountability and follow-up for regular Council reports from committee meetings.
Gage said he plans to break down the organization of city employees, and listen to both staff and residents to figure out what areas most lack in their service to the community, and restore service to those areas – whether that be police staffing, city planning staffing, or anything else.
Gage thinks the money to increase services can come from playing to Gilroy’s biggest strength: Tax revenue from businesses.
“We have a lot of business here, we have a lot of ways to increase existing funds, and we are not maximizing them,” he said, referring to the Gilroy Premium Outlets and the car dealerships that make up a large percent of Gilroy’s tax revenue. “We need to work with them to produce more revenue.”
During the question-and-answer based interview, candidates touched upon a range of issues.
Bracco made these points:
• The City needs to fix its streets. “If they don’t fix Church Street, soon you’ll need a four-wheel drive to get through there,” he said.
• He would restore Council retreats to what they once were. “Our previous city manager had retreats based on what the council members wanted to see,” he said. This year, Bracco said, Council members hardly got a crack at contributing to the retreat agenda.
•He pledged to form an interfaith council of pastors and other religious leaders. “These folks are uniquely gifted to solve social issues,” he said. “When you’re dealing with social issues it’s best to let folks like the faith community come to the table to seek solutions.”
• With the City funding the Economic Development Commission $300,000 per year, he expects significant results.
• He’s against Gilroy’s possible participation in the Santa Clara Valley Habitat Plan, the multi-agency, $660 million, 2800-page plan that is said to streamline regulations for developers and protect open spaces. “I don’t think the people of the Habitat Plan even know what’s in it,” he said.
• Downtown revitalization is not Bracco’s top priority. “Downtown is a small part of Gilroy. It deserves attention, but so does the rest of the city,” he said.
• Passionate about preventing teen crime, Bracco wants to increase the City’s recreation services. “I think it helps with crime, at the end of the day,” he said.
Gage, meanwhile, said:
•The Council’s handling of the pool at South Valley Middle School was “ridiculous,” in their “arbitrary” timing. He said he is open to fixing the pool, but it should be based on the City’s budget cycle.
• He didn’t understand the City’s decision to hire an ombudsman for the planning department. “Why don’t we spend the money to fix the problem that calls for the guy in the first place?” he said.
• He thinks retreats have become “useless” because members go with their arms crossed instead of presenting their goals. He also wants the public to be more aware of and involved with retreat discussion.
• He said all public comment for Council sessions should be held at the beginning of the meeting, so residents aren’t waiting around all evening to speak for three minutes. “People have a right to come and speak, don’t make them wait for half a meeting,” he said.
• He said as mayor, he would not accept responses of “no report” from Council members who sit on committees. He said he needs more accountability from members to hear what exactly is going on at committee meetings.
• He would make Council members do their homework before meetings, and said he has no problem calling out members who ask a question that had been answered in the packet that was given to them days before the meeting. “If they ask a question that is in the documentation, I will gently mention, yeah it’s on page six on the staff report,” he said.
• He believes the City and Gilroy Unified School District need to work together, and that GUSD’s budget crisis is a “community problem,” not just a school board problem. “If you’re not dealing with it as a community, you’re making a mistake,” he said.
The Editorial Board is comprised of community members Rose Barry, Gary Walton, Jeff Martin, Jane Howard, Jay Baksa and Jack Foley, and Editor Mark Derry. The Board meets every other week to discuss local issues and reach a majority decision on positions for editorials. News reporters sometimes sit in and report on meetings with community members but do not discuss or vote on issues with the Editorial Board.