RIVERBANK -- This city of about 21,000 residents has been in the news in recent months for all of the wrong reasons: from the arrest of a councilman on drug charges to boorish behavior at council meetings to the unexpected resignation of a councilman.
But that hasn't stopped nine candidates from running for two council seats in the Nov. 4 election. Incumbents Sandy Benitez and Dave White are not running for re-election.
The candidates make up a strong and talented field. The nine include three with law degrees, a retired Navy commander, a business owner and two with extensive community involvement.
Eight of them spoke Wednesday at a forum sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. Candidate Israel Hernandez Reyes did not attend.
Riverbank native, political consultant and former Modesto City Councilman Balvino Irizarry came away impressed.
"They seemed to have knowledge of the community and the issues," he said, adding that they were focused on solutions and not on the divisiveness and rancor that has undermined the current City Council.
City officials say there is a lot that is right about Riverbank, from its 16 parks and renovated downtown to the construction of a teen center and the Crossroads shopping center, which provides one-stop shopping and generates millions in sales tax revenue for the city.
But Riverbank faces challenges.
The council effectively has been at three members since July 29 after Councilman Danny Fielder's unexpected resignation. White, 71, has been in the hospital and a rehabilitation center since June 15.
At least three of the five council members must be present for the council to meet. But that's been a problem. White's grandson and fellow council member Jesse James White, 21, missed three meetings in August in which the council was set to discuss how to replace Fielder.
Special election in March
Mayor Virginia Madueño and City Manager Rich Holmer were recommending the city appoint one of the nine candidates. But because the council made no decision within 30 days of Fielder's resignation, the city must hold a special election in March at a cost of as much as $35,000 to fill the vacancy.
The Whites often have been on the losing side of 3-2 votes and have bickered with other council members. At one point, Madueño considered bringing in a facilitator to help the council get along.
At Wednesday's forum, candidates talked about residents' fear of gangs, controlling city spending, and keeping and bringing jobs to a city with an unemployment rate of 25.6 percent in July, the second highest among Stanislaus County's nine cities.
Some talked about the need for repairs and upgrades at the city's waste-water treatment plant. The council has stalemated on whether to raise monthly sewer bills to pay for the work.
They also talked about the need to bring civility back to council meetings. They spoke about the city's opportunities, such as the redevelopment of the former Army ammunition plant into a jobs-rich industrial park.
Here are the candidates:
Larry King: He owns Oakdale Hearing Aid Co. and has lived in Riverbank for two decades. This is his second attempt at a seat on the Riverbank City Council. He ran for mayor last year. He wants to replace the council bickering with cooperation and more effective communication between the city and its residents.
Keenon Krick: He is a planning coordinator with the Stanislaus County Office of Education and works with Riverbank schools on their after-school programs. He would like to see more cooperation between the city and local school districts to use limited resources more effectively. He's especially keen to make sure the city properly promotes the former ammo plant to businesses.
Ric McGinnis: He served on the council from 2001 to 2006. His civic activities include being the co-founder and managing director of Rio Arts, Performing and Visual Arts; nine years with Friends of Jacob Myers Park; and a decade working on promoting and redeveloping downtown. McGinnis says he has the leadership and experience to right the council and help the city move forward.
Allison Nobert: She is a civil prosecutor for the state. At Wednesday's forum, she said Riverbank is the poster child for the recession because of its high unemployment and vacant housing rates. She would form an economic task force to create jobs in the city.
Dotty Nygard: She may be best known to voters as one of the leaders of Riverbank Citizens for Fair Change, which tried to recall the Whites last year and is trying to recall Jesse James White after his May arrest on drug possession charges. But she's active in the community as a volunteer for Earth Day, the Riverbank Fiesta and Relay for Life. She's president of the nonprofit Riverbank Community Gardens. As an emergency room charge nurse, Nygard says she knows how to make tough decisions and work as part of a team.
Richard O'Brien: He came in a close second to Madueño in the November 2009 mayor's race out of a field of six candidates. He is a retired Navy commander who manages one of his family's three grocery stores. His nephew Bill O'Brien is a former Riverbank mayor and serves on the county Board of Supervisors. O'Brien says the city must learn to live within its means. Something's wrong, he says, when the city asks the county to let it delay making annual payments on a $500,000 loan. He says it doesn't make sense that city workers have received raises while city residents have lost ground during the recession.
Israel Hernandez Reyes: He is a 2010 graduate of Riverbank High School and works part time as a city recreation leader. He says his focus will be on making the city a better place for children. He wants the city to work with the schools to educate parents about the dangers their children face from gangs, teen sex, drugs and alcohol and come up with ways to help the city's youth.
Nadine Salim: She is a dependency court attorney who represents parents whose children have been removed from their homes by Child Protective Services. She says she's a passionate advocate but knows how to listen and reach consensus, skills she says are needed on the council. Salim told The Bee that she has questions about some of the city's financial decisions, such as the 2007 purchase of the Del Rio Theater for $1.7 million and city salaries. In July, The Bee reported that the average city salary jumped 32 percent in four years, from $47,205 in 2005 to $62,467 last year.
Jeanine Tucker: She is the court operations manager for Stanislaus County Superior Court and has a law degree from Santa Clara University. Like the other candidates, she's focused on bringing jobs to the city. But she wants to restore the public's trust in City Hall. She is a past president of the Modesto 500 Lions Club. The Lions' motto is "We Serve," and at Wednesday's forum, Tucker talked about her desire to serve the city.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2316.