(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. Only Smith replied to our request as of press deadline. Casey’s response came too late and will be printed next week.
Length of residency in Ceres: 34 years,
Education: B.A. Degree in Political Science from Long Beach State (Cal State, Long Beach).
Career history and current employer: City of Modesto, Director of Parks and Recreation Department since 2019. Employed by City of Modesto since 1995 (25 years).
14 years on the Ceres Planning Commission – Current Chair
14 years on the Ceres Downtown Revitalization Area Board – Current Chair.
Family: Divorced; two sons, Ryan Smith, 36; Tyler Smith, 32; and three grandchildren.
Key endorsements received: Stanislaus/Tuolumne Counties Central Labor Council, Modesto Bee, former Mayor Chris Vierra, former Mayor Eric Ingwerson, former Councilmen Ken Lane and Mike Kline.
Q: Please explain why you decided to run for City Council.
A: I’ve lived in Ceres for more than 34 years and raised my two sons here. I love Ceres, the closeness of the community, the family friendly atmosphere and activities and the richness of the culture and traditions. The future of Ceres is very bright and I have the experience to help move us forward. I have over 25 years’ experience in municipal government and 14 years as a Ceres Planning Commissioner. I believe that right now, the Council needs someone with experience to fill the District 1 vacancy.
Q: What quality of life issues are you most concerned about and what specific ideas do you have for solutions?
A: Public Safety and blight. I’m concerned about our ability to attract and retain qualified police officers. Most communities are experiencing a challenge in this area. Our compensation package should be competitive with other cities in our comparison market. Making sure we can recruit and retain qualified and experienced police officers will allow us to be more effective in addressing crime and public safety issues. In terms of blight, I’m concerned about property maintenance, both commercial and residential. Partnering with business districts and neighborhood groups, education and enforcement are some of the tools that should be expanded to address the blight problem.
Q: What priorities would you hold as a member of the Ceres City Council?
A: Economic development, quality of life and public safety. My immediate focus will be hiring and working with a new city manager to fill the city engineer and Community Development Director positions as well as fill the full time Economic Development Manager.
Q: What letter grade (A, B, C D or F) would you give the current City Council and why?
A: C- I give the current council a C- because of the absence of leadership and the failure to work together to accomplish a basic responsibility: pass a budget in a timely manner.
Q: What experiences make you the most qualified person to win the election?
A: I have over 25 years’ experience in municipal government as an employee of the city of Modesto and 14 years as a member of the Ceres Planning Commission and Ceres Downtown Revitalization Area Board. This experience includes administration, budget, personnel, economic development, redevelopment, community development, and parks, recreation and neighborhood development. In addition, as a planning commissioner I have 14 years’ experience in land use decisions.
Q: If elected, what steps would you take to put the city of Ceres on a firmer financial footing?
A: My first step will be to work with the city manager and finance director to fully review and understand the city’s operating budget (all funds). I have over 25 years’ experience in municipal operating budgets which will allow me to get up to speed very quickly. I believe growing the revenue base is a critical part of stabilizing our budget. We have several projects either currently under construction or to begin in the near future. It’s important to make sure these development projects are completed as quickly as possible.
Q: If you could change one thing in the zoning code, what would it be and why?
A: Placement of garbage toters behind a fenced area. This requirement was recently restored.
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: I am also concerned with blight, trash and unkempt properties. The visual appearance of a community sends a message about who we are and what we value. I believe we can do better. We can do better through partnerships, education and enforcement. Using all communication tools available, we should start an education program that teaches our residents and businesses about the impact of blight, trash and unkempt properties on the community as a whole. And no education campaign can be successful with an enforcement component. While we do have a code enforcement unit, it doesn’t seem they have enough staff to handle all the demand.
Q: How do you feel outsiders view Ceres and why do you think that is the case?
A: I’m sure there are some people who have a negative view of Ceres, just as there are those that with a positive view from good memories and experiences of their time in Ceres. People’s views are formed from personal experiences and sometimes because of what they see or read.
Q: What are your feelings about the surface water project that is underway?
A: I think this is an important water project that provides long-term options for providing water to our businesses and residents. With the growing number of wells that are testing for contaminants, we need an additional resource for water that we own and control.
Q: Are there any statements you would like to make regarding any issue or topic that we have not asked above?
A: Thank you for the opportunity to participate. Ceres is facing a lot of challenges and opportunities. We need experience on the Council to address them. I have the experience and leadership abilities to keep Ceres moving forward.