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Candidates sound off on prior City Council votes
debate pic2
Turlock City Council candidate Timm LaVelle (right) answers a question at Monday’s public forum sponsored by the Journal and Cal State Stanislaus. Also pictured are candidates Forrest White (left) and Pat Noda. - photo by MAEGAN MARTENS / The Journal

The third and final public forum for Turlock City Council candidates did a bit of looking forward to candidates’ plans for office – as all forums do – but also took the time to look back at how candidates would have voted on four key issues which faced the current council this year.

The Monday debate, sponsored by the Turlock Journal and California State University, Stanislaus, began with the standard opening statements from five of the six candidates, as David “DJ” Fransen did not attend the debate. But after the traditional opening, the forum quickly segued into the rearward-looking “Candidate Voting Scorecard.”

Candidates were first asked if they would have approved the plan which placed “In God We Trust” on the wall behind the council dais.

Bill DeHart, director of marketing at Turlock’s Covenant Village, would have voted yes.

“It’s more than just institutional, it’s more than just historical,” DeHart said. “… The principles on which our country was founded are as important now as they were then.”

Candidate Forrest White, a former Turlock Recreation manager and retired San Joaquin County Fair CEO, would have also voted yes. He said the vote for “In God We Trust” helped to heal a divide in the community following the abandonment of opening invocations, which were used to begin council meetings until a lawsuit was filed last year.

Candidate Timm LaVelle, a small business owner and a former Turlock Unified School District trustee, said he would also have voted yes, but did not elaborate on his reasons.

Both Candidates Jeremy Rocha, a recent CSU Stanislaus Political Science graduate and agribusinessman, and Pat Noda, a businessman, opposed the measure, but for differing reasons. Rocha said he believes the space should have been home to an official city seal, while Noda based his vote on the national motto’s religious basis.

“I believe in the separation of church and state,” Noda said. “Not only that, but if we allow the protestants to put that on the wall, we should allow the Hindus, the Buddhists, the atheists to put whatever they want.”

When asked if they would have approved the $2.7 million renovation of Turlock High’s Joe Debely Stadium, all but one candidate said no.

“I spoke out against that, and I would have voted no,” LaVelle said. “I felt it was inappropriate to spend redevelopment funds that come from downtown property owners on a football field.”

DeHart said there remained a question as to whether redevelopment funds were best used on the project, and also whether the move was entirely legal as the stadium sits outside of RDA boundaries. Noda said the project was too expensive, and that students could have used the track and field as it was. Rocha said that, while the renovation was a worthy project, it was an improper use of RDA funds and should have been financed by fundraising.

Only White supported the project. White also supported the plan to rebuild the burned-down Carnegie Arts Center, a later question asked of candidates.

“They’ll benefit the community, and they’ll also benefit the youth,” White said. “Sometimes you have to make a strong statement about your community, and strong facilities are a way to make that statement.”

LaVelle also would have voted for the Carnegie reconstruction, he said, as it is a city building in need of rehabilitation. He said he believes the Carnegie will be a cornerstone for the redevelopment of downtown.

DeHart and Rocha both opposed the$5.3 million Carnegie reconstruction because the construction will be done by a Sacramento firm. Both wanted a Turlock company to rebuild the Carnegie, and Rocha also voiced a desire to see the project proceed as a joint venture between CSU Stanislaus, TUSD, and the community.

Noda was also against the Carnegie project, as he believed the non-profit Carnegie Foundation should have contributed more to the cost.

The final past item brought before the candidates was the issue of abstaining from council votes, a practice barred by a split council decision earlier this year.

DeHart said he would have voted against eliminating abstentions, as he believes the Brown Act requires abstentions in some situations. White was also against the required yes or no vote, saying there are some situations where council members are completely conflicted on an issue, and others where council members do not have all the facts. LaVelle agreed, saying council members need the option if they do not have all the information.

Rocha took issue with the other candidates’ responses in voicing his support for the abolition of abstentions.

“As a leader, you have to have all the information,” Rocha said. “To say you walked into a meeting and didn’t know what was going on, then you didn’t do your homework prior to that meeting.”

Noda was also in favor of the required yes or no vote, as he believes council members should take the responsibility to vote on every issue.

The debate proceeded on with prepared questions looking toward the future, asking candidates how they would address the budget, Turlock’s ban on big box stores, homeless shelters, the city’s growth, economic development, and Turlock’s involvement in the arts following the 2008 elimination of the position of Arts Facilitator.

Questions were also fielded from the audience, including a query on how the city could become more involved with CSU Stanislaus.

Answers varied, from Rocha’s stance that students should become involved in city studies and a youth leadership council, to White’s opinion that the school should offer extension classes downtown and at the rebuilt Carnegie Arts Center. DeHart said the university can begin to better integrate with the community during the coming 2011 NCAA Track finals, employing local volunteers.

LaVelle said Turlock should evolve into a university town, akin to Davis, Chico, or San Luis Obispo. He cited the city of Madison, Wisc. which has over 200 businesses built by former Wisconsin students.

“We need to think of Turlock in that sense,” LaVelle said. “Great things can happen in a joint venture with each other.”

Monday’s Turlock City Council debate will be replayed on CSU Stanislaus’ cable channel 2. The Turlock City Council Election will be held Nov. 2.

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.