|From left: Greg August, Sue Kristjansson, Carol Sullivan, Bill Zimmerman, Wallace Edgerton, Darcy Kuenzi, John F. Smith, Scott Mann.|
Although there are marked differences in philosophy among the candidates, the participants generally were respectful during the forum, which was sponsored by Southern California Edison and the Menifee Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Eight of the nine candidates were present, with District 1 council candidate Nick Martin the only one absent. Each were given opportunities to make opening and closing statements and responded to questions posed by the moderator, Bob Duistermars.
Candidates were questioned in three groups, according to the office they are seeking. City council districts 2 and 4 are not up for re-election in the city's voting system. Those council members -- John Denver and Tom Fuhrman - listened from the audience.
Darcy Kuenzi, a city council member during Menifee's first four years of cityhood, said she is proud of the council's accomplishments and wants to "continue the progress we're making." She reiterated her support of continued development, focusing on developing a "core downtown area."
"It's important to determine what kind of businesses we should bring to this area," she said. "We have a tremendous opportunity with both our rural areas and our urban development to make Menifee a unique, desirable place for people to come, now and in the future."
Kuenzi on the controversial topic of appropriate decorum during the public comments section of city council meetings: "The purpose of public comments is to allow people to bring an issue to the council that is not on the agenda. Intentionally ridiculing council members and pitting members against each other should not be allowed."
Kuenzi works in the office of County Supervisor Marion Ashley and is a former CEO of the Menifee Valley Chamber of Commerce. She said she "has a regional perspective and the background and knowledge to represent this city."
Scott Mann, a former city council member and current member of the Menifee Union School District governing board, said he believes Menifee "needs stronger leadership than it has. I've devoted my life to public service. As mayor, I will bring these collective experiences to City Hall."
Mann said that "with the right infrastructure, we can attract the right businesses and services."
"We need an economic plan that will foster engineers, not cashiers," said Mann, who would like to see large corporations come to town rather than simply small retail businesses. "I'm absolutely, unequivocally in favor of fast tracking those kind of businesses in Menifee. I would dangle every incentive in front of them."
Mann on the subject of decorum in council meetings: "When speakers come to the podium, they have a constitutional right to speak on any topic. To the extent that slurs or combative language are used ... as a public servant, you've got to have a thick skin. It would have to be a severe situation for me to gavel somebody out and clear the room."
John F. Smith, the only mayoral candidate with no previous political experience, bases his platform on a promise to serve the public without obligation to any special interests.
"I'm sick and tired of promises made to special interests," Smith said. "It's the taxpayers that elect us. I have accepted no contributions and I will not seek them. I work for you."
Smith said he is in favor of improved decorum at council meetings.
"I would like to see the opportunity for the public to voice their opinion in other avenues," he said. "We could have group forums where residents can speak in a neutral environment, outside City Hall. The city chambers have to be run professionally. We can't have outbursts and disrespect. Those people have to be removed."
He also said development that has already been planned is "essential for the community, but after all that, we should take a breather and make sure parks and open spaces are preserved." He is in favor of recruiting white collar companies to Menifee.
District 1 candidates
Greg August said his first responsibility would be to the voters of District 1. "All my decisions would be checked and balanced against the people in my district," he said.
When asked why he is running for city council, August said, "It all boils down to 3 1/2 years of disbelief and shock in what is happening in our city. There is an attitude of intolerance and indifference to the public that must stop."
August took exception to a comment he attributed to Mayor John Denver that the city council meetings are for the council members and not the people. He also criticized a quote from council member Sue Kristjansson, who told a Menifee 24/7 reporter "I long for the day when city council meetings will be boring..."
Saying he has knocked on the door of every house in District 1 except those in gated communities, August said he has been told that the seniors "want restored trust and confidence in the people in City Hall. We need to bring the seniors together with the single families and make sure everybody has a seat at the table."
Current council member Sue Kristjansson said she has "had a wonderful relationship with Menifee that I would like to continue. This should be a place where people know they can settle forever and be proud of the amenities."
She said the No. 1 priority must be public safety that allows the citizens of her district to connect with the rest of the city. She also is a strong proponent of bringing a Boys and Girls Club to Menifee, believing that placing one in her district would provide recreational opportunities that would enhance public safety and reduce crime.
Kristjansson said she believes that an increase in sales tax because of recent new businesses will put the city in a position to improve public safety and transportation services.
Kritjansson on attracting white collar firms to Menifee: "You can't just go to a big firm and say 'Come to Menifee.' Certain criteria are involved. They need to know there is a workforce here to support it."
In responding to August's comments about her quote, she said, "Yes, I did say I long for the days when council meetings would be boring, because I want a council that does not create a circus act the first and third Tuesdays of every month."
Carol "Red" Sullivan is a longtime resident of the Sun City senior community and serves as president of Menifee/Sun City Concern. Thus her priority in her third attempt to win a city council seat is the well being and safety of the many senior citizens who live in District 1.
She also spoke of her experience working with youth as president of the Rotary Club, leading her to believe "I have an understanding of the unique dynamics of this community." She is in favor of a Boys and Girls Club in Menifee, but believes her district is not the best place for it.
"The Sun City Shopping Center is a priority," she said. "We need to get it revitalized. If the seniors had the same businesses you have on Newport Road, they would be able to take advantage of them. It's difficult for them to travel to the other side of town."
Sullivan on development in Menifee: "I don't like high density development. We don't need five-story buildings here. We need trails and parks and we need to revitalize Sun City."
District 3 candidates
Wallace Edgerton is running for re-election to the council, having served as the city's first mayor and currently as a council member. He has a long background in politics, serving many years on the Long Beach City Council before moving to Menifee.
"District 3 is a microcosm of the whole city," he said. "Many development plans are already intract. To roll those over automatically is not something I'm favor of. We've brought in too much low income housing. We've got to fight for better housing prices in Menifee."
Edgerton re-emphasized his position that city employees are improperly pushing some proposals on the city council, citing a recently approved draft housing element sent to the state and a proposal to buy three Toyota Priuses he said the city would "pay double for."
"The staff has taken the position we have to follow everything the state tells you, and that simply isn't true," he said. "There are legal cases that prove that's not true. We need to take back control of housing in Menifee."
Bill Zimmerman is chairman of the Planning Commission and is running for city council for the first time. He emphasized his efforts to attend as many city functions as possible, showing interest in the business community by attending Chamber of Commerce events and other city functions where he can interact with residents.
Zimmerman asked for a show of hands of those in attendance who had seen him at Chamber of Commerce Events and those who had seen Edgerton at such events. After many more hands were raised for Zimmerman, he stated his case for winning a council seat in no uncertain terms.
"If your car is running rough, you take it to a mechanic or you fix it yourself," he said. "You pull out the spark plugs and look at them. Same way with a city. You have to ask yourself, 'Do I want to put this old, worn spark plug back in the engine?' You have two spark plugs in your hand now; put the nice, shiny, clean one into the engine and get this city moving."
Zimmerman, another proponent of a Boys and Girls Club in Menifee, says he wants to contribute to positive development in the city by helping eliminate what he sees as a "disconnect" between some city council members.
"I want to join city council to be a team player," he said.