Roseville City Council candidates discuss issues at forum

Talk pension reform, higher education, downtown redevelopment
By: Sena Christian, Staff Reporter
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The candidates for Roseville City Council agree that job creation and stimulating the local economy are the two main concerns in the city's near future.

During a candidate forum co-hosted by the Roseville Coalition of Neighborhood Associations and League of Women Voters of Placer County on Tuesday, six of the seven candidates fielded nine questions in front of a packed crowd at Martha Riley Community Library. Candidate John Schwartz was unable to attend due to illness.

They responded to questions submitted by residents on pension reform, gang violence, higher education, the Town Square project, a proposed roundabout downtown and more.

Incumbents Mayor Pauline Roccucci and Councilwoman Carol Garcia regularly noted their work with the council while their challengers tried to set themselves apart in indentifying what qualities they'd bring if elected.

Ensuring Roseville's fiscal responsibility became a common theme, although candidate Scott Alvord - owner of A Dash of Panache and president of the Downtown Merchants Association - clarified his definition of the phrase.

Alvord said being fiscally responsible doesn't mean hiding taxpayer money under a mattress until economic conditions improve.

"It's taking our taxpayer money and investing in things that pay back to our citizens," Alvord said.

Candidates were asked about pension reform and retiree health benefits. Garcia said Roseville hasn't yet implemented the state's new two-tier system, but there is a five-year plan to pay back unfunded liabilities the city wasn't able to contribute money to during the economic downturn.

Candidates Bonnie Gore, who works in government affairs for Kaiser Permanente, and Tracy Mendonsa, a regulatory compliance analyst, agreed that achieving a fair salary and benefits for employees without financially harming the city is a tough balancing act.

"The city shouldn't overpay, but we must pay enough to attract the talent we need," Mendonsa said.

Roccucci thanked the city's employee groups for making concessions to help balance the budget.

Alvord said high bond debt causes cities to suffer financial problems, not high pensions. He said Roseville has a low bond debt but needs to find new ways to stimulate the economy. 

Candidate Phil Ozenick - chairman of Friends of Roseville, a citizens watchdog group - noted how former City Manager Craig Robinson earns a nearly $190,000 annual pension. Ozenick's group has been circulating a petition to cap salaries for city management/confidential employees. He's running as the "taxpayer's friend."

"That will be one way to lower the pension," Ozenick said.

Candidates were asked who has financially supported their campaigns. Gore and Mendonsa said they are not taking any money from unions.

"I'd rather run an honest campaign and owe no one than owe everyone," Mendonsa said.

Roccucci said she's running a grassroots campaign. Garcia has received contributions from family, friends and residents. The maximum contribution amount is $500.

Alvord said he's received support from unions and "not at all because I've promised them something." Ozenick said it's too early to say where the money is coming from.

Candidates were asked whether the city should encourage a college or university to locate here, which was a big issue in the election two years ago. Roseville is moving forward on this effort, Garcia said, with the formation of a higher education task force. The candidates agreed this focus is a smart idea, while acknowledging getting a university here isn't something that will happen overnight.

They also supported - for the most part - the revitalization of Old Town and downtown.

"I'm excited about the Downtown Specific Plan," Garcia said. "And none of that money has come from the general fund. All of it comes from the Strategic Improvement Fund."

Gore said residents are lucky to live in a city with councils and staff that show forethought, noting the Town Square currently under construction.

"I'm looking forward to having a community living room where we can come together," Gore said.

Sena Christian can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT.