(Editor’s note: The Courier asked City Council candidates James Casey, Laurie Smith and Connie Vasquez to answer a questionnaire about their views on city matters. Smith reply was published August 18. Vasquez replied that she wouldn't have time to answer. Casey’s response follows.)
Length of residency in Ceres: 47 years.
Education: Turlock High School graduate of 1967, attended Southern Oregon College, 1967-68; served in the U.S. Army 1968-1971 (rank E-5); earned associate degree from Modesto Junior College in 1973; attended Cal Stanislaus State, 1973-1974.
Career history and current employer: Past chairman of the California Moving & Storage Association; member of St. Jude’s Catholic Church; past chairman of St. Jude’s Finance Committee; and member of the Knights of Columbus, Stanislaus County Farm Bureau and the Ceres Chamber of Commerce. Owner of Casey Moving System (previously Turlock Van & Storage/Stockton Van & Storage).
Family: Wife of 52 years Kathleen; children; daughter Bernice and son-in-law Kurt; son, Jay Casey and daughter-in-law Anna; and five grandchildren.
Key endorsements received: None listed.
Q: Please explain why you decided to run for City Council.
A: Over the past several years I have noticed a decline in our City Council coming together as a team to ensure the best possible benefit for our residents. I believe I have the maturity and understanding of a variety of personalities to bring consensus to a group of people working toward the same goal. My experience as a local businessperson has allowed me to understand that opposing views and opinions can be helpful in achieving a successful outcome to many issues.
Q: What quality of life issues are you most concerned about and what specific ideas do you have for solutions?
A: For me quality of life issues provided by a city include several obvious issues including safety, transportation, recreation, aesthetically pleasing presentation of the city, sensible development serving all social strata’s and providing business opportunities for the residents of the city. To put it simple, give the people what they need.
If elected, I would work diligently to bring all city departments together, review responsibilities of each department, and ensure they are providing the services required and expected of city residents. I would rely on the experience of the California League of Cities to provide existing documents on areas of concern which would assist in the decision-making process towards improving the overall services the city provides.
Additionally, I would bring together citizens of Ceres as an advisory group to meet as necessary and solicit their input relative to the development and future needs of the city. I would, from time to time, meet with the civic organizations in Ceres, the Ceres Ministerial Association, the Historical Society, service clubs and senior citizens groups to discuss matters of interest relative to economic and residential development, or whatever their concerns are.
Q: What priorities would you hold as a member of the Ceres City Council?
A: As I walked the streets of District 1, the concerns I heard first and last from my neighbors were the conditions of our neighborhood. We need to have a stronger code enforcement unit. If elected to the Ceres City Council I will make this a priority. I will work with the city manager and chief of police to ensure they recognize how important this is for the residence of Ceres.
I would review all issues that come before the City Council to be voted on. I would make sure I had read and understood the requests and policies set before me. I would make it a point to look at alternatives and make decisions based on the needs of the citizens and the city.
Unquestionably, I would make myself available to all the citizens of Ceres to address their concerns and refer them, if necessary, to the proper city department who can assist them.
Q: What letter grade (A, B, C D or F) would you give the current City Council and why?
A: I would give the current city council a C-. It’s difficult to discern why some members of the council decided to become a candidate. It is apparent some members have little knowledge of how a city operates and the laws that govern council members actions.
Q: What experiences make you the most qualified person to win the election?
A: Serving in the military has instilled in me a devotion to duty, following directives and working as a team to reach a common goal. I have carried those philosophies throughout my life which has resulted in a very successful local business which has been in operations for more than 47 years.
Over the years of managing my business I have had the opportunity to understand the complexities of working with governmental entities relative to finance, development, and personnel issues. Understanding individual personalities, I have trained and instructed my employees to perform diligently to ensure the success of the company based on the mission and adherence to state and federal laws
Being a longtime Ceres resident, I understand how the city developed and the obstacles we face as we move into the future. I understand issues of infrastructure, business/residential development, water quality and recreation possibilities for our residents. Currently the City of Ceres is in a developmental mode, and I hope to be part of how that mode continues into the future and compliment that growth to enhance the quality of life for all Ceres residents.
Q: If elected, what steps would you take to put the city of Ceres on a firmer financial footing?
A: Financial stability is the lifeblood of any business or governmental entity. If elected I would work to ensure the city works within a balanced budget based on sound fiscal opportunities. Those opportunities could be taxes as necessary, certain fees, available grants from stater or federal agencies, fair and accurate development fees and making sure individual departments do not bundle their request with a wish list outside of what is necessary. As necessary I would ensure the employment of the best candidates for new positions as needed.
Q: If you could change one thing in the zoning code, what would it be and why?
A: Private residences and businesses in the area where a zone change would be made need to be notified in same manner that their vote is solicited not just a legal notice in paper and bulk mail.
Q: Lots of folks are concerned with how Ceres looks with blight, trash and unkempt properties. How much of a concern is this to you and do you have any specific ideas on how the city can improve its appearance as well as encourage residents to take pride in their neighborhoods?
A: The appearance of Ceres is high on my priority list of things that must change. For some time, the city has been sliding into a disheveled appearance that I believe some people wonder “Why would I want to live there?”
I believe the city leaders have had little interest in maintaining an attractivecity that people want to visit. For the city to become attractive to others it must start from the top leader down to the people doing the work, and that is not happening.
If elected I would, through the city manager, bring the Police Department and Beautification Committee together and review the current existing committee plan and explore ways to ensure its everyday implementation by all employees. This would be accomplished by training sessions for all applicable employees and a mandate for all department heads including the city manager. This would become a citywide endeavor with consequences for those who do not comply. A simple thing such as picking up a bottle on the sidewalk goes a long way to show pride in your city.
Q: How do you feel outsiders view Ceres and why do you think that is the case?
A: I believe nonresidents of Ceres think of us as a place you pass through to get somewhere else. Ceres has had no attraction to outsiders that would entice them to stop and visit or shop. The two main thoroughfares for outsiders offer very little for the business minded person. Hatch Road, particularly the west end, makes a person want to get through the area as soon as possible, in addition to not being attractive it appears unsafe to the casual observer.
I believe a truly knowledgeable and progressive minded city manager, planner and economic developer should take a close and truthful look at the city as a whole and describe what they see, they may be surprised, then again, maybe not. Certainly, Ceres has the staple business enterprises that families need to survive, beyond that people either go to Modesto or Turlock.
Current developments at the southern entrance to Ceres are a welcome addition and hopefully that trend will continue. If it does continue city staff still has the responsibility to maintain the city in a condition that welcomes the travelling visitor to stop and maybe shop. Finding those specific staff members is the secret.
Q: What are your feelings about the surface water project that is underway?
A: The best thing about the surface water project is that it shows someone was thinking of future needs and how to bring it to fruition. I was disappointed when Modesto dropped out of the project because that caused the cost to Ceres and Turlock to rise significantly. How that plays out remains to be seen.
We all know that water in California has been a needed commodity for all cities and unincorporated areas for many years. The surface water project is a pro-active approach to a regional problem that is well served to be discussed and implemented at this time. Currently the state is in a drought of historic proportions and water distribution plans are now being discussed by various water districts. The current drought may or may not have an impact on the on-going water project. Another year of a drought season will be devastating for not only the valley but California as a whole.
I would think now is the time for a committee to be formed, statewide if it
Isn’t already, to study future water needs as it relates to water storage, effect on active aquifers in all regions and how irrigation pumps affect the water table for domestic use. The success to all issues is a pro-active approach and not reactive.