October 12, 2013

Rodriguez, Zoslocki, Burnside for Modesto council

The Modesto Bee editorial board recommends three for Modesto City Council openings: Jon Rodriguez in District 2, Bill Zoslocki in District 4 and Stephanie Burnside in District 5

Voters in three of Modesto’s six City Council districts will choose their representative in next month’s election.

There will be at least two new faces on the council because Joe Muratore, representing District 4 (La Loma and east side), and Dave Geer, representing District 2 (south and west side) are not seeking a second term.

The newcomers will join a council facing big decisions on land use, money and employee bargaining. Those are perennially important topics for the city, but even more so now.

The city is updating its General Plan and has gotten recommendations from the Chamber of Commerce to expand west of Highway 99 and north. And there’s that thorny issue of business development along Kiernan Avenue and the future of Salida.

The outcome of Measure X will determine whether the city has a massive influx of new money, which the current council has promised to spend primarily on restoring and adding specific positions. But if the new revenue is kept separate from the existing budget, as the council assures, then the old budget has some serious red ink to confront, much of it tied to pension and retiree health care obligations.

Finally, the contracts are up with five of the six unions, and inevitably they will be seeking higher pay and benefits after a few years of furloughs and concessions. The contract with the police officers’ union expires next June.

The Bee editorial board met with most of the candidates over the last several weeks. The information gathered at those meetings and in other reporting were used in reaching these recommendations.

District 2

This district was drawn with the expectation that it would be represented by a Hispanic because of the large Hispanic population. Instead, it has been ably represented by Geer, who easily defeated a Hispanic candidate four years ago.

This election, there are three Hispanics in the contest: Tony Madrigal, Jon Rodriguez and Juan Telles.

Madrigal would appear on paper to be the strongest because he served two terms on the Santa Cruz City Council before returning to Stanislaus County last winter. However, Madrigal’s political experience comes with heavy baggage.

Over the years, voters have willingly overlooked one youthful mistake by a candidate, but Madrigal’s record is just littered with them: multiple convictions for driving without a valid license, a reckless driving conviction, making a lewd comment about a woman during a police ride-along – something for which he issued a public apology – and then a mediocre attendance record at council meetings.

Madrigal, who just turned 40, says he has learned from his mistakes. We found this pattern of poor judgment and behavior so troubling that we cannot recommend him.

The other two candidates are younger and less experienced with government, but both grew up in Modesto and know the neighborhood issues. Telles, 23, is to be commended for his enthusiasm and willingness to represent his district.

Rodriguez, 26, is the more articulate and informed between the two. He earned the endorsement of the Modesto Chamber of Commerce and did a lot to prepare as a candidate, meeting with a number of people to learn about the city and how to run.

Jon Rodriguez surely has more to learn, but we think he will do that and is the best choice in this district.

District 4

There are four men in this race, but two are not running viable campaigns. Ryan Schambers, 20, has not had time to attend forums (including our meeting) in part because of his college studies and work. Juan Melgoza, 31, has some of the same challenges because of his work and family obligations.

That leaves Bill Zoslocki, 60, a longtime homebuilder currently in commercial real estate, and Rickey McGill, 63, who is a retired educator from the California Youth Authority. Both have run before – Zoslocki for mayor two years ago and McGill at least six times, including four races for the Modesto City Schools board.

Between the two, Zoslocki is by far the more knowledgeable about city issues, especially those involving planning and development. He participated in the Comprehensive Fee Task Force, the citizen panel that came up with meaningful recommendations for the city to charge reasonable development fees. Zoslocki has experience with several civic organizations. We will fault him on one thing in this campaign: not publicly stating his position on Measure X.

However, overall, Bill Zoslocki is the strongest candidate for District 4.

District 5

This contest is a repeat of the 2011 race between Stephanie Burnside, then an appointed incumbent, and Jenny Ketchum Kenoyer.

Kenoyer has established a remarkable record of attending council and committee meetings as an interested citizen. When she lost the 2011 election, she said she would stay involved, and she has.

But Burnside, who owns a business with her husband, has done a very good job on the council, putting in 30 hours a week or more. Burnside represents the city on the Regional Fire Authority board and at California Transportation Commission meetings. When she was appointed, Burnside had a lot to learn and, to her credit, she has learned a lot.

As we’ve said before, she is one of the two fiscal hawks on the current council, and she is willing to ask questions and challenge assumptions on budget matters. Whatever the outcome of Measure X, we expect Burnside will be watching the spending.

While we commend Kenoyer’s sincerity and commitment, we think Burnside has earned a full four-year term on the council.

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