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Mayoral forum illustrates differences Allison K. Sampite | Sat, Oct 30 2010 12:00 PM

At a National City mayoral forum Tuesday night, four candidates answered questions regarding their views of National City.

Mayor Ron Morrison, vice mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis, city treasurer Mitchel Beauchamp and community activist Darryl Gorham agreed that budget and pension reform are the most important issues to be addressed.

Currently, the city has a balanced budget but may be looking at a $2 million deficit for the 2011-2012 fiscal year if current spending levels do not stay where they are.

According to Morrison, other cities are looking to National City as an example for government pension and fiscal reform.

Gorham said reforming the pension plan to balance the budget is a major component in the future of National City. The mayor and council, along with city management, have agreed to contribute 8 percent of their pensions beginning July 1, 2011.

Sotelo-Solis said budget constraints are the toughest challenge to overcome. "We need responsible jobs and to work with small businesses in the community," she said.

She also said that in 2016 the one-cent sales tax will sunset and the city would need to look at what the next steps are. Sotelo-Solis also mentioned fiscal responsibility. "Are we truly being fair and making cuts across the board?"

Beauchamp said it's the labor unions who are a detriment to city finances. "They have demands to keep high salaries and pensions. The labor unions are not good for this community," he said.

Gorham said financial stability is number one. "Once that's in order, everything else comes," he said. "We have to raise alternative money."

Morrison agreed.

"Financially we are getting our house in order," he said. "Status quo will put us into bankruptcy."

Candidates have different ideas of how to improve National City.

Morrison said the city should focus on long-range planning.

"If you look at our neighborhoods today and compare them to 10 years ago, you'll see major improvements," he said. "We're going to continue to make quality of life improvements."

Sotelo-Solis said the city needs to maintain a positive image. "We need to encourage the business community to join organizations like the Chamber of Commerce," she said. "We also need to create affordable housing to improve the west side. Residents are the lifeblood of the city and businesses are the backbone," she said.

Beauchamp said it's important to be business-friendly and have diverse businesses in the city. "We also need to encourage volunteerism and give people the opportunity to help," he said. "We need to keep projects coming in."

Gorham said the city needs to create a new stream of revenue. "We have to reinvent local government and start thinking outside the box. The old funds ain't gonna get it."

Plans for financial and economic improvements in the city differ among candidates.

Morrison said preparing for the future and getting vacant lots ready for development is important. "Bringing in revenue for new businesses is important but we have to watch our spending," he added.

Sotelo-Solis said going after agencies for grants is key. "It's about creative finances and what we do to provide for our city," she said. "We need to build bridges and I am a coalition builder."

Beauchamp said that a creative way to generate revenue should be a straight line. "Prop 13 put us in the situation we're in and the one percent sales tax saved us," he said.

Gorham said local government must be reinvented. "We need to negotiate with cell phone companies for towers on city-owned properties and renegotiate our interest at banks."

According to Morrison, National City's crime rate has fallen 25 percent in the last four years and is continuing to drop.

All candidates said the streets of National City are safe overall but there is still room for improvement.

"I am public safety's number one choice," Sotelo-Solis said.

Sotelo-Solis has received financial backing from the fire union.

"It's important that we have open dialogue with the police department and engage youth to get involved in organizations."

Beauchamp said Police Chief Adolfo Gonzales has turned the police department around.

"It's important to keep youth active so they are not inclined to get involved with gangs or graffiti," he said.

Gorham said that National City is one of the safest cities in the county.

Candidates said being an approachable mayor is important for National City residents.

"I'm not a real social guy," Beauchamp said. "But I think you have to be available and go after the right people."

Gorham said he's heard it's difficult to reach an elected official. "The mayor and council people should have a free zone of two, three, four hours a week for citizens with no appointment to come in and say what's on their mind. I think people would feel more engaged in the process," he said.

Morrison said he talks to people all the time and freely gives out his personal numbers so he can be reached.

Sotelo-Solis said it's important that people have confidence in their mayor. "You need to go to the people - the government is there to serve them. You have to have an open door of communication on whatever level that may be."

Some candidates said working with the different departments in the City means knowing your job.

"We're not the boss," Morrison said. "All too often we forget our position - our job is to set policy. We should be looking at what's best for the City regardless of what it does to us politically. I pitch in for whatever needs to be done.

Sotelo-Solis said the council works day in and out with city staff. "We are the conduits of the city manager and it's really important to understand staff's role."

Gorham said a line of communication needs to be open for mutual respect. "If I were mayor I would not have a few people around," he said. "I demand excellence."

Beauchamp and Gorham have not taken any endorsements, while Morrison has raised approximately $22,000, which he said is mostly from National City businesses and Sotelo-Solis has nearly $40,000.

Morrison said there's no reason for a change in leadership now. "It's not the time for playing games or on-the-job training," he said.

"The things before us are monumental tasks," Morrison said. "This is not a stepping stone ... I have a proven record of results. My aspirations are your aspirations. Are we going in the right direction? I leave it up to you to be the judge."

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chiquita Says:

Sun, Oct 31 2010 11:59 AM

Alejandra is a liar, she promised our kids community service hours in return to campaign for her, she did this when she passed out fliers Sweetwater High School. She forgot to tell them it was against state law! She is what we don't want our children to turn out to be!!!!!!

superfood Says:

Sat, Oct 30 2010 09:14 PM

Sotelo-Solis was fired by Assemblywoman Saldana, and now she wants to be mayor? That's a scary thought!

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