OAKDALE -- Former Mayor Farrell Jackson said that the financially troubled city government needs his experience. The two other candidates for a two-year council seat countered that City Hall could use some fresh ideas.
Voters will decide next month whether Cherilyn Bairos, former city Treasurer Mike Murray or Jackson will complete the unexpired term of former Councilman Jason Howard, who resigned in April when he moved to Grass Valley. Two years remain in the term.
Jackson said people encouraged him to get back into local government, but a July council decision to seek proposals for privatizing public works functions convinced him to run. He said morale is low in the city work force since the council's decision.
Jackson noted that city employees stimulate the local economy when they purchase cars, furniture and other goods from Oakdale businesses. "These are not general fund positions; these positions are supported by enterprise funds," he said. "The enterprise funds can be fixed."
Bairos said she wants to see proposals from outside firms and more facts about privatization. "Let's look at it," she said. "My initial thought is to keep the jobs in Oakdale."
Murray said he doesn't want to see employees lose their jobs. "But I also understand we have to look at alternatives for Oakdale," he said. "If (privatization) is going to save money in the long run, it might be worthwhile."
Murray was city treasurer from 2008 until he resigned the post in May after some residents questioned his effectiveness in light of the city's financial trouble. The treasurer is not responsible for financial oversight; the duties are limited to reviewing and signing monthly reports on city accounts.
He said he's running to restore fiscal responsibility at City Hall. In his opinion, city leaders failed to keep spending in check when the economy was strong. "There were many economists who said the economy was overheated," Murray said. "If they had maintained the spending levels, we would not be in such a dire fiscal situation."
Murray works as the chief information officer for Yosemite Pathology Medical Group in Modesto. If he's elected, he wants to take a top-to-bottom look at every city department and find ways to operate more efficiently.
Another concern is the pension benefits promised for employees, he said. "I don't want to begrudge our police officers or firefighters the pensions that are duly earned, but I don't want to see the city go down in flames because we can't afford to pay these pensions."
Murray said that more commercial development in west Oakdale would keep residents from driving to Riverbank's Crossroads center for their shopping needs. And a greater effort is needed to promote economic development in Oakdale, he said.
Bairos, who grew up on a dairy on the outskirts of town, said she wants to bring business to Oakdale, while supporting the city's agricultural heritage. She envisions a commercial center with clothing and shoe stores and entertainment for families. The city should plan for another grocery store on the city's west side, she said.
"We don't need to put obstacles in front of people who want to bring business to Oakdale," Bairos said.
Bairos works as an insurance agent for AAA in Modesto. She said she has the people skills needed to bring more unity to the council. "We need to do what is best for Oakdale and leave the personal stuff aside," she said. "I'm not political. I just love Oakdale."
Bairos said she supported Measure O, a half-cent sales tax approved by voters almost a year ago. City leaders need to make sure it's spent for the right purposes, she said.
Jackson, who owns rental properties, was mayor for four years before losing to current Mayor Pat Paul in the November 2010 election. He was a councilman from 1998 to 2006.
He said the city needs to change its "crazy system" of charging sewer rates to customers, which left the sewer fund short of cash for making a debt payment this year.
Jackson also vowed to ensure Measure O funds are spent as was promised during the campaign in 2011. He spoke against the measure at council meetings last year, saying it would give consumers a reason not to shop in Oakdale.
Jackson said he wants to generate more property tax revenue for the general fund through industrial expansion. When he was mayor, a team of community leaders worked on economic development and a similar group should be formed again, he said.
In his view, the city needs experienced leaders during this time when it's struggling to maintain a work force. "There is no learning curve for me," he said.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2321.