RIVERBANK -- During a candidates forum this week, Mayor Virginia Madueño and Councilman Richard O'Brien offered contrasting visions on how they would lead the city.
Madueño focused more on moving the city forward as it works with businesses to create jobs.
O'Brien focused on how the city needs to pay more attention to details and how it has paid a steep price for failing to do its due diligence before embarking on major projects.
The two, along with six of the seven City Council candidates, spoke Thursday at a League of Women Voters forum at the Community Center before an audience of about 60 people ahead of the Nov. 6 election.
Madueño pointed to several accomplishments during her tenure.
She said the city has a balanced budget for the first time in several years and has brought in nearly two dozen businesses to the former Riverbank Army Ammunition Plant turned industrial park since the city took it over 2½ years ago. She added that a chicken processor and specialty cheesemaker are moving into the facilities once occupied by Rizo Lopez Foods, which recently relocated to Modesto.
Madueño said the city is working on becoming a better partner with business. She wants that to continue and suggested having a checklist at City Hall that businesses could use to find out exactly what they need.
O'Brien disagreed with Madueño about the city's finances. He said Riverbank balanced its budget by dipping into its reserves. The city also owes $400,000 to the county's Economic Development Bank and about $120,000 for unpaid fire assessments for the Riverbank Housing Authority.
He added that Riverbank has embarked on major projects without a full understanding of what they entail. For instance, Riverbank spent about $600,000 in legal costs in three years, and O'Brien said not all of those legal matters were justified.
For instance, he was the only council member to oppose using the courts last year to try to remove embattled Councilman Jesse James White from office. The council abandoned its effort this year after spending more than $50,000 on outside legal help.
The city said the matter, if pursued, eventually could have cost more than $100,000 and might not have been resolved until White was out of office. White is not running for re-election in November.
O'Brien, a retired Navy commander and manager of one of his family's grocery stores, said his military career included managing big, complex projects and getting them done on or under budget.
Madueño, who owns a public relations firm, said all of the legal costs were justified and claimed they ended up saving the city millions of dollars from lawsuits. She did not elaborate.
She and O'Brien also differed over the council's January decision not to assume the responsibility for the $15.4 million in debt issued by the city's redevelopment agency. Riverbank issued the debt in 2007 to eliminate blight and spur economic development, such as rebuilding downtown and buying the landmark Del Rio Theater.
But the agency's finances nose-dived in the real estate crash and it was not bringing in enough property taxes to meet its annual debt payments. Every council member, except O'Brien, voted to abandon the debt when given that choice as part of the state's plan to abolish redevelopment agencies across California.
O'Brien said walking away from the debt hurts the city's credibility with businesses and could make it more expensive the next time the city borrows money.
Madueño said the decision not to assume the debt was very difficult. She added that the city recently refinanced some of its bonds and no one raised the issue of the redevelopment agency debt.
City Council candidates
The forum also featured six of the seven candidates running for two council seats:
Darlene Barber-Martinez has owned TSW Financial Tax Service for 20 years. Before that, she was a guest service team leader for Target for almost a dozen years.
Cal Campbell is a retired Oakdale schoolteacher. His career in education included administrative work and teaching kindergarten through college.
Leanne Jones Cruz is a special-education teacher at Beyer High School and the school's special-ed department chairwoman. She had a bankruptcy in 1990 and lost a home to foreclosure in 2011 after buying it before the real estate crash and having her pay cut.
Anthony D. McKinney is a Realtor and military veteran. He also filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in May 2009. The bankruptcy was discharged in August 2009. The IRS filed a $20,605 lien against him in 1996, according to records at the Stanislaus County clerk-recorder's office. The lien was satisfied in 2005. The state Employment Development Department recorded two civil judgements totaling about $3,400 against McKinney about a decade ago. Both judgments have been satisfied.
Kathy Salvatore is a Comcast communications consultant. She also serves on the board of the Stanislaus County Police Athletics League.
Jeanine Tucker is a court operations manager for the Stanislaus County Superior Court and the only incumbent in the field. She was elected to the council in a special election in March 2011 to fill the remaining 20 months of the term of a councilman who had resigned. Tucker lost her home to foreclosure in 1991 while a stay-at-home mom and her former husband stopped making the payments.
Jessica Molina, an after-school specialist, did not attend the forum.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2316.