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Part 2: City Council hopefuls address local issues

October 15, 2012

Five candidates are vying for three available seats on the Bishop City Council. The top three vote-getters at the polls and through mail-in ballots will win election. File photo

 

In exactly three weeks, voters in the City of Bishop will decide the future landscape of the City Council.

Incumbents Susan Cullen, Laura Smith and David Stottlemyre are running for re-election against challengers Patricia Gardner and Keith Glidewell.

The top three vote-getters will earn the three available seats.

Only registered voters within the City of Bishop will be deciding the outcome of the City Council race.

Elsewhere in Inyo County, District 4 voters will be deciding the race between incumbent Supervisor Marty Fortney and challenger Mark Tillemans; District 5 voters will similarly be choosing their next supervisor between Jim Gentry and Matt Kingsley.

All local voters will be weighing in on the Congressional District 8 and Assembly District 26 races, California’s two ballot propositions and the presidential election.

Residents wishing to participate in the Nov. 6 General Election have until Monday, Oct. 22 to register to vote. The voter registration application is accessible at RegisterToVote.ca.gov. Paper applications are available at the Elections Office in the Inyo County Courthouse in Independence, post offices, public libraries and the Department of Motor Vehicles in Bishop.

Following is the concluding portion of a Q&A begun in Saturday’s edition featuring the candidates for Bishop City Council.

Previous installments of this now-concluded series featured the candidates for District 4 and 5 Supervisor.

As with the other installments in this series, the candidates’ answers appear verbatim and in order chosen by drawing.

4.) Where do you stand on the issue of invocations being given at the start of City Council meetings, and the recently adopted guidelines for these invocations?

 

Cullen: I believe that invocations are an important part of our council meetings. Many cities have been sued over invocations and many have stopped giving invocations and many have continued with similar guidelines. The City of Bishop chose to continue to have invocations in conjunction with the new guidelines. Our city attorney worked with many cities to come up with guidelines that meet state law. He is hired to protect the City of Bishop and the City Council members. The City of Bishop can not afford a lawsuit with tax payer money.

Gardner: As a City Council member it is important to remember that you are a caretaker of the City’s money. The city hires an attorney to advise the council and the city staff on legal matters. Just as it makes no sense to pay your physician for advice for your health, then not follow it, it makes no sense to pay your attorney for advice and disregard it. When the City Attorney advises that to choose to disregard a court decision might risk a law suit that could potentially cost the city millions of dollars, I would not disregard that advice. In this instance I would put aside my personal opinion for the protection of the city. I would also continue to watch carefully for any changes in court decisions that would allow us to lawfully adopt a broader opinion.

Stottlemyre: Recently the Council adopted invocation guidelines. This action has been thoroughly covered in both The Inyo Register and The Sheet. We took this action because we have a fiduciary responsibility to our residents, not because we necessarily subscribe to the guidelines themselves or the court decision that caused us to create the guidelines. A current court case involving the City of Lancaster and its invocations may shed some light on any further action by the Council.

Smith: I, along with the majority of our citizens, would like to see invocations continue as they were prior to the new guidelines. With that said, I also do not want to see our city involved in a potential multi-million dollar lawsuit. The current law in the state of California, as our attorney Peter Tracy has stated, is not a good law but it is the law. There is at this time a case against the City of Lancaster, involving their practice of invocations, that will be heard this coming Nov. 8. If the California court rules in favor of Lancaster, we may safely return to our previous invocation practices. If they rule against the city, there is a good possibility that the United States Supreme Court would accept to hear the case. In the past, the Supreme Court has ruled they are not interested in the content of invocations as long as the one bringing it does not promote their particular religion over another. This is based on our freedom of religion and freedom of speech. 

All local religious leaders should be allowed to pray according to their faith when offering their invocation and participation is, of course, optional. 

Glidewell: My primary concern and responsibility as a member of the Bishop City Council, where regular meetings are concerned, is to ensure that meeting participants are made to feel safe, welcome and comfortable. As such, I am in favor of establishing a neutral environment where people of all faiths, as well as those who do not subscribe to any faith, can participate in a tax payer funded City Council meeting without the potential of either being offended or made to feel uncomfortable. We must recognize that there are citizens who do not subscribe to any faith, or have a faith at odds with that of others, and that the routine of invocations obligates everyone in attendance to participate; where listening, remaining seated or leaving the room is potentially awkward or offensive. Contrary to many, I believe the Rubin vs. City of Burbank ruling makes complete sense and should be upheld at the very least. I believe this because the City Council Chambers are an exclusively public environment where the execution of official city business should not be inclusive of obligatory secular religious exercises where the potential to offend, impose, demand or otherwise run sideways of anything less than absolute professionalism and decorum is concerned.

 

5.) City Council members are eligible for health insurance (medical, dental and vision) with either a zero share of cost for the single-beneficiary plan or a $40-a-month share of cost for the family or individual-plus-one-dependent plan. These rates have not been increased in at least 10 years. Would you be willing to vote for higher shares of cost for City Council members, so they are more equitable to what City retirees and current employees pay?

 

Cullen: The City of Bishop has over the years offered the City Council members health care benefits. Due to the rising cost of health care benefits, three years ago the Council voted to adopt a $40 a month share of cost for family. I would be willing to vote for an increase in the share of cost amount to come into line with the retirees and current employees.

When I ran for Council 7 ½ years ago I had no idea that benefits were offered or that we received a stipend as a council member. I just wanted to give back to the community that has meant so much to my family.

Gardner: I believe that City Council members should pay the same rate as city employees and retirees pay. If elected I would ask to reconsider the action taken by the current Council recently. I would vote to change the current premium rate to the amount that is paid by employees. Due to the high cost of insurance, most employers in our area have gone to a share of cost plan; 90/10 is what is now proposed for this next enrollment period. Even with this plan it is a considerable benefit for the council and the retirees that qualify.

Stottlemyre: It is my understanding that health insurance for Council members has been in place for over 35 years. Council members were eligible for the same health insurance plan that other city employees had until this year. This is a topic that has valid points on both sides. Many in the private sector believe that the employee should be responsible for 100 percent of their health insurance, while others believe that the employer should be responsible for some of the costs. There is no right answer to this issue. It is our intent to be fair to all employees with all benefits. I would be open to visiting the Councils health benefits package with the purpose of finding an equitable and satisfactory solution.

Smith: This subject has been discussed by the City Council at a couple of recent public meetings. Including myself, none of the Council members were strongly opposed to an increase in the share of cost. One of the concerns is that with the salary rate for City Council members being $300 per month, we would not want to see the share of cost nearly exceed or eventually even exceed the salary rate. Therefore, there was also the discussion of salary rate increase for Council members. This has not occurred for the last 23 years. For a city of our population, the salary rate could be brought up to $645 per month which would more than cover the cost of raising the medical share of cost. In light of the current economy and budget cuts, the Council as a whole has chosen not to go with a salary increase.

The medical benefit is common among most elected positions. It is an important incentive to attract qualified candidates to fill these positions. It is difficult, at best, to successfully fulfill the requirements of the position and be employed fulltime. 

Glidewell: As I receive health insurance from my employer, securing health insurance through the City of Bishop is of no motivation or interest to me where running for office is concerned. I am, however, undecided on this topic as I see two sides to this issue: One perspective is that with the state and federal budget crisis shrinking everyone’s treasury, it seems only right that City Council members should pitch in and do their part in alleviating the city’s budgetary stress by paying an increased share of health care costs. The other side of the argument, is whether the $300 per month that City Council members earn for the important work they do is adequate compensation, where free health benefits fulfills that lack of compensation. I am undecided on the subject and am open to further discussion and consideration.

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