Candidates forum reveals major differences

By Peggy Spear on October 8, 2018

Two distinct slates emerged in a civil but passionate candidates forum for the two open Clayton City Council seats.

It was city experience vs. new voices at the Sept. 24 event, sponsored by the League of Women Voters, the Clayton branch of the American Association of University Woman and the Community Library Association.

In one corner, council incumbent David Shuey and planning commissioner C.W. Wolfe emphasized their experience, while newcomers Brian Buddell and Jeff Wan took hard swipes at the way the council has made decisions.

Downtown at issue

At the heart of the matter was downtown development. Yet it seemed the two factions differed on every issue moderator Gail Murray addressed – underscoring the sometimes brutal campaign being played out on social media sites and around town.

Wan opened the debate saying that the council had made “bad decisions” when it came to three recent issues: It ignored parolee housing until it was almost too late to do something about it; it is selling big lots where the community holds its many activities; and it is planning to build high-density housing on three lots downtown.

Those issues would come up time and again in the one-hour debate.

In Shuey’s opening statement, he cautioned voters to be wary of campaign claims. “You can’t fact check future promises,” he said. “You can only look at a proven track record, noting that he and Wolfe have “decades” of experience gained through city service and volunteerism. Shuey has held a council seat for 16 years and is running for a fifth term.

Buddell credited the current and past councils for many good decisions. “The parks, the concerts, all those things are the reason I moved here with my family.” But he doesn’t like the way he says the current council appears to be “embracing big development downtown.”

Wolfe, best known as the voice of the town’s Fourth of July Parade, said Clayton’s biggest issue is to “heal the divide and come together.” Wolfe has served on the planning commission for two years, one year as the chair and is an active member of the Clayton Business and Community Association.

Wan and Buddell were notably silent on their civic engagement or volunteer experience. Wan, the father of three young children, said his volunteer time has been limited to helping with his children’s activities. Buddell “declined to state” what, if any, community service experience he has saying his time and donations “are for cause, not praise.”

When asked what is Clayton’s biggest challenge, Shuey said it’s the unfunded state mandates that small towns like Clayton can’t afford. “Housing issues, zoning, parolee housing – all of those things are there.”

Buddell says the city is showing “fear” in the face of these mandates and should be fighting the state. As an “experienced litigator,” he said he is willing to take on the state.

Wan said the biggest issue was what to do with the downtown. “The council persists in trying to sell off our city,” he said, referring to the downtown lot that local organizations use for festivals and events. He also called attention to the high vacancy rate in the town center, saying “the city should do more” to encourage businesses to move into town and suggested the city consider a “vacancy tax” on building owners.

The city is aware of the vacancies, Shuey said. “We’ve looked at a vacancy tax and other ways to bring business downtown, but we can’t force the owners of buildings to do something they don’t want to do.”

Going to the voters?

When asked if all zoning issues should go to a citywide vote, the candidates differed sharply on the role and responsibility of elected council members.

Wolfe said the role is one of leadership, and that’s why the council exists. “What you put us here for is to lead… If our decisions aren’t right, then you are going to remove us.”

Buddell sees the council member as strictly a “conduit” between the city and the residents, pledging only to “vote your will, not mine.” He added: “I’m not a king.”

Wan said the referendum is a potential tool but that more citizen input was the key.

Shuey also sees the council member as a leadership role and said a referendum should not be mandated on every development.

“Every time we do a special election, it costs the city anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000,” he said. “We cannot do a mandatory vote (on every project), because we elect officials to make those decisions under the rules and regulations.”

Both Wan and Buddell were sharply critical of what they see as a lack of communication from the city. A major project should never come as a “surprise” to the citizens, Wan said. Buddell promised a “town hall meeting every month” if elected.

One of the hottest exchanges of the evening came on the question of high-density, affordable housing. Buddell criticized the city for what he sees as “bending over backward to encourage three-story, three-unit developments.”

“There is no three-story project that is ready to come to the Planning Commission or the council yet,” Shuey rebutted.

Further, Shuey said that, if elected, Wan’s and Buddell’s public opposition sets them both up for recusal when it comes time to vote on a project. “The law requires you to stay unbiased so that you can keep fair and impartial when it comes before the council,” Shuey said.

Wan disagreed, saying candidates don’t need to “hold their voices.” He said he also is opposed to large-scale downtown developments.

For a full screening of the one-hour forum, visit the city website at www.ci.clayton.ca.us. The video is under Agendas and Meetings.

Previous post:

Next post: