RIVERBANK -- RIVERBANK Voters will choose between two familiar names for mayor this fall: incumbent Virginia Madueño and Councilman Richard O'Brien.
O'Brien is a retired Navy commander and manages one of his family's three grocery stores. Madueño owns a public relations, marketing and community outreach firm.
Both said they respect each other and met Monday over coffee to talk about the race. But that doesn't mean there are not clear differences between the two, and they aren't reluctant to point them out.
Madueño, 46, said she has worked tirelessly on economic development during her tenure, trying to attract new businesses while keeping existing ones in town. She was elected in November 2009 to fill the remaining term of a mayor who had resigned.
She added that she's active in the community and able to unite residents. "One thing I bring to the table that's different from Richard is I'm a person who likes to get out there and get people involved and get them together," she said. "I like to solve problems."
O'Brien, 60, was elected to the council in November 2010. He said he is running because of a lack of accountability at City Hall. He said too many times, the city has embarked on a major undertaking without a clear understanding of the scope or cost of the venture.
Riverbank has spent more than $600,000 on outside legal help in three years on such matters as its aborted effort to have a judge remove embattled Councilman Jesse James White from office, an investigation and termination of former City Manager Rich Holmer, and a lawsuit against Tuolumne County over its approval of a quarry that would ship rock by rail through downtown Riverbank.
Since his election in November 2008, White, 23, has been arrested twice in incidents involving drugs or alcohol and survived two recall attempts and a grand jury report that called for his ouster.
O'Brien opposed using the courts to remove White, saying it would be a waste of taxpayer money.
Costly effort abandoned
In February, the council abandoned its effort after spending more than $53,000 on legal costs. City officials said they believed they would have prevailed, but they dropped the case because White had vowed to appeal if he lost.
Madueño said there was overwhelming community support for trying to remove White. "I will support anything that brings justice to the table
," she said. "We were doing the right thing."
O'Brien said he would have handled the Holmer matter differently by asking a neighboring city to conduct the investigation. He said that would have been faster and cheaper than bringing in outside attorneys.
Madueño said she wished the city could have resolved the matter sooner and for less money, but she said Riverbank was dealing with a complex, serious matter and had to follow protocol.
Holmer was accused of sexual harassment and retaliation involving a city employee, accusations he has denied. In February, city officials said the legal cost for the Holmer matter was $73,000.
Madueño and O'Brien also disagree over how the city handled its redevelopment agency debt. In 2007, the RDA issued $15.4 million in bonds to eliminate blight and spur economic development, with projects such as rebuilding downtown and buying the landmark Del Rio Theater.
But the RDA's revenue nose-dived in the real estate crash and it faced defaulting on its debt. And in January, the council voted 4-1 to walk away from repaying that debt, with O'Brien casting the "no" vote. The responsibility for the debt fell upon a successor agency created by the state as part of its plan that eliminated redevelopment statewide.
City obligations noted
O'Brien said that because the city had benefited from redevelopment, it had an obligation to pay its debt. He added that the city had an obligation to the investors who owned the bonds. The city could have found a way to pay the debt while not sacrificing essential city services, he said.
Madueño said Tuesday that it was a difficult decision, but "vital services" were at risk if the city assumed the debt. She added that she has been working to get someone with a strong business and finance background to serve on the successor agency to assist it.
The filing period for city council and other local races on the Nov. 6 ballot started this week and ends Aug. 10. As of Tuesday, only O'Brien had pulled papers for the Riverbank mayor's race.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2316.