With the retirement of a mayor who has been in office for a quarter of a century and two City Council seats up for grabs, Carlsbad voters will have their first opportunity in decades to make a substantial change in city leadership.
The incumbents have a lot going for them. The city’s in better financial shape than its neighbors, and public opinion surveys show three out of four Carlsbadians have faith in their city government.
Here’s a peek at the candidacies of two council members who say they want to be Carlsbad’s next mayor, Matt Hall and Keith Blackburn.
Hall’s website carries misinformation about a measure on the November ballot.
The 16-year council veteran urges passage of an “initiative calling for a two-tiered pension system for city employees.” Unless he’s busily gathering petition signatures, no such initiative exists.
The two-tiered system is already a done deal for police and firefighters, imposed on them in May at the same time council members voted to place a city charter amendment on the ballot. Replying to my request for clarification, the Hall campaign supplied me with the amendment’s language. It would give the council the right to reduce pension benefits while requiring a vote of the people to increase them. It applies to public safety personnel only, not all city employees, as Hall’s website claims.
Whether it was intentionally deceptive or not, the misinformation shows how politicians lose their credibility.
In April 2009, Hall voted against starting construction on the Alga Norte swim complex, despite an $11 million surplus in the construction budget.
As it turns out, the city wound up with a $5 million surplus, another $1 million bailout for the failing golf course, and a vacant lot waiting for a pool. Hall says he can’t wait to build the pool now that a $1 million surplus has been forecast for next year’s budget.
Blackburn voted with Ann Kulchin to begin construction of Alga Norte last year.
The council’s rookie and the lady were the visionaries. Had their view prevailed, the city’s return on its investment in Carlsbad’s recreational health and safety would be a lot closer today to paying dividends.
When it comes to city employee benefits, Blackburn’s primary concern is to keep them competitive with surrounding cities. He’s not opposed to reductions in pension formulas. But lower benefits, he points out, could hinder the city’s ability to compete for and retain the best employees, increasing training costs caused by higher employee turnover.
Those who claim Carlsbad’s enviable quality of life will always attract the best people have apparently not heard about commuting.
Tune in next time for my take on other council contenders.
Richard J. Riehl writes from Carlsbad. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.