When it comes to Crescent City Council politics, a lot has changed in two years.
In 2008, nine candidates were seeking three seats on the Council. The Triplicate found it impossible to endorse any of the incumbents who had been presiding over a financial mess at City Hall. The city had suspended discretionary spending because it didn't know how much money it had. And it had thrown away about $160,000 in failed attempts to balance its books.
Fast-forward to today when the city has achieved a modicum of financial stability in spite of the hard economic times. At the very least, the financial books are in much better order. Basic services are being provided, some money is being directed toward the Visitors Bureau as an investment in our tourism-based future, the city is cooperating with the harbor and we're on the verge of an acceptable conclusion to a bitter period of dissent with the completion of the sewage treatment plant expansion.
It's no longer time to call for change at any cost. Especially when we now know just how much change can cost. Donna Westfall was elected in '08 as an outspoken critic of the way the city had approved the treatment plant expansion without a public vote. She had barely been sworn in before turning on her flame-thrower, launching costly recall petition campaigns against all of her colleagues.
None of those campaigns succeeded, but Westfall's actions have been a huge distraction for a Council that has otherwise done a decent job of taking care of business. Keep in mind that she remains on the Council another two years, along with Kathryn Murray and Charles Slert, no matter what voters decide Nov. 2.
There are three candidates for two seats this time around, including incumbent Kelly Schellong and former Councilman Richard Enea. The third candidate, James Barrett, is an intriguing agent of change. But again, change can be sometimes be for the worse.
Barrett, a nursing assistant, is an outspoken critic of City Hall. Early on he said the biggest election issue was the Council's "loss of respect for the people and businesses of Crescent City." He said "neither citizens nor businesses are respected at the Council meetings."
While the Council in general and Mayor Schellong in particular might not always run the meetings to perfection, that is hardly the biggest issue facing the city.
Barrett is straightforward and strident in arguing that the city is subsidizing non-city residents by providing them with water and sewer service. But he doesn't seem to acknowledge that those non-city residents do pay for those services, and that the time for the city to demand annexation before extending its utility services has long since past.
He said he did not support Westfall's recall campaigns or her ill-advised effort to force a public vote on rolling back sewer rate increases, which could have devastated the city budget. Nevertheless, we are apprehensive about the potential for Westfall and Barrett to constitute two-fifths of the City Council. He does come across as more reasonable than she is, so if you want to roll the dice and try shaking things up again, he's your guy.
We prefer the option of re-electing Schellong and returning Enea to the Council.
Schellong, voted by her colleagues to hold the position of mayor for the second year in a row, is a marketing executive with Bicoastal Media. She is a positive and energetic representative for the city. And again, she has presided over a Council that has seemingly gotten its act together in setting budget priorities and overseeing a staff that has balanced the books.
We do wish she understood why we were so critical of the Council taking a 40 percent pay raise last year during tight budget times. True, it only raised the monthly stipend for Council members from $434 to $610, but it sent the wrong message to citizens. On the other hand, she sent exactly the right message about regional cooperation when she pushed for expansion of the city sewer system to serve the only seafood processing plant in the harbor.
Enea has always been knowledgeable about city government issues, and has remained so even after voters ousted him two years ago. He currently serves on the city Planning Commission.
Enea is a former cop, and we support his contention that public safety should be a top budget priority. His call for a full-time code enforcement officer to help reduce blight deserves serious consideration.
The Triplicate endorses Richard Enea and Kelly Schellong for the Crescent City Council.
- The Triplicate