Below find notes taken during the Contra Costa County Supervisor Candidate Forum, held May 3, at the Concord Hilton. The luncheon was hosted by the Contra Costa Council. This post covers the questions, responses and notable exchanges between incumbent John Gioia (JG), and challenger Mister Phillips (MP).
MP- Background: was raised in the west county from a family that has been there for 4 generations. He is a practicing attorney in the Civil Rights field. Believes that we can have local hire practices rather than the current method of allowing local businesses to rebid in competition for lowest bidder status. States that things have been getting worse. Makes a point that he is not against business.
JG- Grew up in West County where he was a teacher and his father was a teacher. He has two children ages 5 and 18. Has been on the Board of Supervisors for 11 ½ years. Is proud of his accomplishments to keep Doctors Hospital open, increase summer youth programs as well as after school programs, health clinics at schools. Supported the Sales Tax Transportation package and reminds everyone that all county’s have had cuts in revenue.
Question: Pension benefits are described as unsustainable, what is your position on the alternatives of (a) Higher employee contributions, or (b) a Two Tier system
MP- he addressed the issue of spiking and took the position that anyone working 20 hours for the county is not retired and should not be getting retirement funds.
JG- we need a new tier and as the county pays 75% of the pension contributions we need to “address” this. Declined to get into specifics stating that this needs to be involved in negotiations with the unions and public posturing does not help the resolution.
Question: The Fire Department District has 86% of its budget going to salaries and benefits. They are also losing revenue what is to be done?
JG- The firemen gave up 5% recently, we drew reserves from the Fire District to assist but sees no way out but to reduce overtime, stations and possible brownouts of service.
MP- We cannot cut public safety it is a matter of spending priorities.
Check back for notes from District 1 debate with Mike McGill and Karen Mitchoff.
This triggered some back and forth with Gioia pointing out that the Fire District is a wholly self contained budget element, and we cannot transfer General Funds from the county to the Fire District. This was a strong point for Gioia who also raised the prospect of going to the voters for more revenue for the Fire District, which in turn triggered the arguments into the next question of taxes.
Question- where do you stand on new taxes.
MP- “We are doing taxes backwards;” believes we should be raising taxes when times are good and people have money and not when times are rough. Is opposed to new taxes. Says that the county has been running defecits since 2005 before the recession.
JG- will support taxes that the people propose such as El Sobrante asking for a $38 tax hike to get more sheriff patrols in their area.
Question Water issues- No real differences here, both do not want the water going south mindlessly.
Question: Do Supervisors defer too much to each other on district issues and how to handle conflicts between local and greater county good?
This triggered one of the more contentious exchanges when Phillips accused Gioia of voting directly against the interest of District 1. When asked for details he brought up that Gioia cut the funding for the DA’s office when Richmond/West County has the highest crime area in the County and 2nd highest in the state. Gioia countered that the budget crisis is real and that the board provided $700K to get the DA’s office fully functioning.
Question- do you support the state initiative to block the state from taking City funds?
MP- In favor of it.
JG- Proposes it, says we need big reform such as a constitutional convention not piece meal changes.
In their summary their remarks:
MP- hammered away that after 12 years of Gioia in office that things are not better on crime, schools, and that we were in trouble before the recession. Things will not get better unless there is a change in leadership or else you will continue to get the same results.
JG- Things are better with the new Urban Limit, better ambulance response time, and more after school programs.
Check back soon for notes taken from the District 4 debate featuring Mike McGill and Karen Mitchoff.