Three candidates are running for two open seats on the Monrovia City Council and voters will choose between them on April 9. Each candidate responded to the same questions for Patch's online candidate forum. This is the first installment from write-in candidate Robert Parry.
1. Please tell us about yourself and why you should be elected to represent the people of Monrovia.
First off, I am Maribel’s husband and Christopher’s father. I am a small-business owner here in Monrovia. Compass Check consulting provides big business expertise to help small businesses grow strategically. I am also an Army National Guard Officer, currently commanding a company of 171 Soldiers. I have served in Iraq and Afghanistan where I earned a Bronze Star and the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. I have been active in many activities, including Monrovia Reads, Big Brothers (for more than 12 years), veterans’ organizations, and I was the organizer of a neighborhood alliance to address some problems on my street. I believe Monrovians should write my name on their ballots because I have a history of leadership, understand the needs of our business community and have proven I’m not afraid to challenge City Hall.
2. The Gold Line is finally back on track after a series of expensive lawsuits. What does the city still need to do to take advantage of the development opportunities along the Foothill Extension?
The Gold Line is a tremendous opportunity for local transportation, but I’m concerned about the effects it may have on local business. Research that my firm did shows that over 65% of visitors to Old Town are not Monrovians. We need to be very careful to ensure that the Gold Line area development does not draw visitors away from Old Town. That said, with the demise of redevelopment, the Council’s ability to influence the Gold Line is limited, so “taking advantage” of it is largely in private hands. Refusing to approve perfectly legal projects because they are not perfect for the community risks even more law suits than this project has already caused and we cannot afford.
3. The city has been adjusting to the reality of a shrinking budget for some time now. What are your budgetary priorities? What, specifically, would you cut to make the budget leaner if need be?
My first budget priority is the budget itself. My business experience in the financial services industry tells me that tough times remain ahead. Things like the Federal budget sequestration will impact our revenues (for instance, my neighbor is a Federal employee who is facing a 22-day furlough. That’s income he won’t have to spend in our stores and restaurants). My only spending priority is public safety. I have seen first-hand that our police department is stretched very thin, especially on the investigations side. The department is authorized 65 positions, but many of them are “frozen,” leaving just 47 officers working. The Special Enforcement Team has been put back on patrol. Detective staffing is down 40%. That must be the highest priority, and I will oppose any cuts to those departments. However, I believe that there are inexpensive ways of adding resources and developing savings, such as increased use of reserve officers. With the State’s prison realignment putting criminals back on the streets, major challenges lie ahead. My only other spending priority, I am concerned about the lack of a community park south of Huntington Drive, and feel that needs to be addressed out of simple fairness and to reverse lingering concern about past inequities.
4. With the elimination of its redevelopment agency, Monrovia has lost a tool that city leaders have long championed as a key to the city's prosperity. How can the city move forward and encourage economic development without the use of redevelopment?
The City’s dedication to creating a positive business environment has won awards, and redevelopment was clearly a key tool in our economic development efforts. Though our resources are limited by the demise of redevelopment, there are other things we can do to make Monrovia attractive to businesses. For example, in the past I’ve discussed with retiring councilman Joe Garcia the idea of the City or Chamber of Commerce sponsoring regional advertisements to attract home buyers to Monrovia. The same qualities that attract home buyers will attract shoppers and visitors and thus businesses. I believe we need to be very careful about tax credits, as I’m not convinced they historically pay-off, and other communities have seen them be money losers that end with law suits.
5. What differentiates you from your fellow candidates? You've all posted positions on key issues on your websites. Where is there agreement? Where is there disagreement?
I think the primary differentiation I bring is my depth and breadth of life and professional experience. Having served in combat, I certainly have done things a lot of people have not. However, what sets me apart isn’t my ability to get shot at, but rather the experience I’ve developed in building teams and leading folks under less than ideal conditions. I’ve also learned a lot about holding my ground, which has translated to my rather well-known ability to speak my mind. Thankfully, we really agree on a lot, especially topics like historic preservation. But, I’m concerned that my opponents seem satisfied with the state of our police and fire departments. Many of their position statements are very general. I talk to our cops and fire fighters – union leaders, rank-in-file, and managers – and I know there are many issues in their minds. I’m concerned about staffing levels and resources in the police department. I want to make sure we’re taking the best approach.
6. Public employee retirement benefits remain a contentious issue and the city has sought and obtained some concessions from its employee unions. What still needs to be done with the city's retirement system?
Monrovia faced a tough choice in adopting the 3% at 55 system for non-public safety employees, because that is where the market led them. But this system gives public employees a huge benefit that the average citizen cannot imagine. The only two options are either to raise taxes on the citizens so public employees can reap the rewards, or for employees to contribute more to pay for this luxury, which they already have done to an extent. I won’t support a tax increase.
7. Costly stormwater regulations are proving to be a burden for local governments. How can Monrovia abide by the new mandates?
I think this will require a regional approach, requiring help from our local assembly, state senate and congressional representatives. These unfunded mandates must end, something politicians have been saying for over a decade, but there’s perhaps no issues that make this more clear than this one and prison re-alignment. Short of that, the only responsible solution will be a bond issue to pay for it. That is something that must go before the voters, but the alternative will be costly law suits.
8. Candidates often talk about the importance of maintaining public safety. How do you think the local public safety agencies are performing? What, if anything, needs to be done to make the community safer?
My experience with police and fire departments is quite intimate. As a reporter, I saw the ground truth of police and fire work. I’ve been first to the scene of major blazes and consoled fire fighters after the death of a child in a Christmas tree fire. Having survived bombings and gun fights in combat, I’d much rather do that than go into a burning house. I’ve seen cops in brutal fights with violent suspects and seen the gritty reality of their work. Talking to Monrovia’s cops and firefighters, I see cracks developing. More than 10% of authorized police positions are frozen. The police department’s Special Enforcement Team was forced back into standard patrol duties by a lack of resources. The detective bureau is 40% below its historic staffing. We can only ask them to do “more with less” for so long, before it becomes a matter of doing “less with less.” Now, with State prison realignment sending criminals back to our streets, those cracks are going to widen. The good news, is that our police management team has great respect from the beat cops, and the gang injunction is working very well. Gang crime has plunged and gang members are moving out of town. This is a far cry from when my wife and I first moved to Monrovia, and gang shootings were a grave concern. However, the injunction is only effective if there are cops on the street to enforce it, and our SET team was the primary element for that duty. I’ve heard rumblings in the fire department of staffing changes and equipment concerns. While I will obviously wait to consider all facts and input, given the recent rash of major house fires and the older nature of many of our homes and buildings, it is vital that we maintain the highest quality equipment, training and staffing.