PATTERSON -- Youth, seniors and whether to bring back a city police department were hot topics Monday at a crowded, lively and civil candidate debate. But asked about Patterson's single most pressing need, seven of eight candidates said it's jobs. Meaning the city needs more of them lots more.
Mayor Luis Molina and council candidates Sheree Lustgarten and Dennis McCord said Patterson should create more training opportunities. Troy McComak, Molina's only challenger, said he would make it easier for small businesses to set up in Patterson because red tape sank his vision for a paintball business.
Councilman Dominic Farinha and council candidates Tony Camacho and Carlos Fierros also urged economic development.
Councilwoman Annette Smith stood alone in saying the city's most important issue is restoring its Police Department, which she believes could be done in 18 months to two years. That would require canceling a police services contract with the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department.
Others at Monday's forum, held by the Patterson-Westley Chamber of Commerce, Soroptimists and the Patterson Irrigator, jumped on the notion, some saying the contract should go as soon as possible.
"You have to wait for the police to come. They're not very personal. I call them attack dogs; that seems to be their personality. They come in shooting," McComak said.
Lustgarten and Fierros favor saying goodbye to deputies as well. Molina and Farinha said Patterson should negotiate for more officers, and Camacho agreed.
McCord said businesses won't locate in Patterson if people don't feel safe, but defended deputies as "very good, very nice and very professional" people for whom he has the "greatest respect." They probably get rotated too soon to other communities, he said.
The four council challengers are gunning for the two seats held by Smith and Farinha.
Several candidates said that youth need more opportunities and that seniors must not go hungry.
"We as a community can do more for ourselves than somebody from the outside," Molina said, reflecting on two spring months when thousands of meals were not delivered across the county when its contractor ran out of money because of increased demand. He said, "We need to look for a long-term solution."
Fierros said, "We can speculate on what we think youth need, but that's not what counts. We've got to sit together with them to bring forth their ideas."
Lustgarten, a regular in the audience at council meetings, said 65 percent of Patterson residents speak Spanish, yet real-time interpreting is not provided at meetings.
Asked about grand jury criticism, McCord said, "Trust has to be maintained for government to be effective. If you don't have people's trust, you cannot govern."
Some challengers said the council needs new leadership, while incumbents said they want more time to finish important work. "I want to continue positive progress and consider new options for the future," Farinha said.
Smith noted an impressive list of companies attracted to Patterson in recent times, including Kohl's, CVS Pharmacy and Grainger, and current deals that will bring Wal-Mart and Amazon. "It took focus, determination and unyielding will," she said.
Camacho said he joined the Army National Guard "because I love my country. I'm doing this (campaign) because we love our town."
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2390.