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Preserve Petaluma City Council balance of power

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Diversity of opinion is a good thing for a public board. It ensures most segments of the community are represented and tough decisions receive proper scrutiny.

Collegiality is also a good thing for a public board — business grinds to a halt in a toxic climate where leaders are constantly sniping each other.

The Petaluma City Council, which has in the past been beset by crippling infighting and personality clashes, has for the last four years gelled as a body. The council during this period has been like a well-oiled machine, highly productive, yet diverse enough to have thoughtful debate on key issues such as affordable housing, tax increases, fiscal policy and cannabis regulations.

With four seats up for grabs on the city council — three council seats plus the separately elected mayor — the November election is a pivotal moment for Petaluma. Mayor David Glass and Councilman Chris Albertson are not seeking reelection, leaving a gap in experience and institutional knowledge that will be tough to fill.

Additionally, City Manager John Brown, who has been at the helm of the administration for a decade, is retiring in November, meaning the next council will choose his successor.

Voters this election would be wise to preserve the balance of power on the city’s governing body to ensure that it continues to function smoothly for the next four years. The best way to accomplish this is by electing Teresa Barrett as mayor and Dave King, Michael Regan and Kevin McDonnell to the city council.

It is not an easy decision. There are 10 candidates — most of them highly qualified — on the ballot seeking to volunteer their time and expertise to serve the city, and Petaluma voters are faced with an embarrassment of riches. Nearly all would make fine city leaders, but some standout among this stellar crop.

Barrett and King are effective incumbents who have earned their reelection through hard work and adept decision making over the past four years. Their institutional knowledge will be critical as Petaluma faces hard choices about how to grow as a diverse city and how to surmount looming financial challenges.

The remaining six council candidates can be divided into two distinct categories — a bloc of older, progressive leaning candidates, and a trio of young moderates. McDonnell rises to the top of the former category, and he would best represent the seat held by Councilwoman Barrett if she ascends to the mayor’s chair. Regan would add youth to the council and is the best choice to fill Councilman Albertson’s seat.

Barrett for mayor

Barrett, 70, is no stranger to Petaluma politics, having served 12 years on the city council and nine on the planning commission as well as various boards and commissions. She is a proven leader who is not afraid to make hard, principle-based decisions, even if they aren’t politically popular.

A political ally of Mayor Glass, she has embraced the “progressive” label, championing environmental issues and pushing developers to provide more benefits to the community. She has taken heat in the past for votes against the Rainier crosstown connector, but she says she supports the controversial project as long as the city can figure out how to pay for it.

She is well positioned to tackle Petaluma’s toughest looming challenge — the housing crisis. A supporter of higher developer fees to pay for affordable housing, Barrett is in favor of building more walkable housing projects around transit centers.

Barrett faces two challengers in the race, Mike Harris and Brian Powell.

If he had picked up 85 more votes in the 2014 mayoral race, Harris would be running for reelection this year. A three-term city councilman, Harris, 47, would have been a fine mayor, and the Argus-Courier endorsed him over Glass four years ago.

Since then, he has remained active in leadership roles, including on the Petaluma Educational Foundation board and Friends of the SRJC Trust Petaluma campus. His seat on the Petaluma Area Chamber of Commerce makes him the most business-friendly candidate, and his job as an executive for a financial services company gives him a strong fiscal background.

A former Republican, Harris said he left the party after the 2014 election to become an independent. While he has endorsements from local and state Democratic officials, the move makes it hard to discern his political leanings and could signal a willingness to make decisions because they are politically popular.

Powell, 38, has the least political experience of the three candidates. He can trace his family’s roots in Petaluma back a century, and he wants an end to all development in order to preserve the city’s character. But such a no-growth stance would exacerbate the housing crisis, further marginalizing working class families who are the backbone of the community.

King, Regan, McDonnell for council

In his four years on the council, King, 61, has been the closest thing the city has to a swing vote. A lawyer and independent thinker, King asks tough questions and deliberates before every decision. He will continue to be a supporter of building the Rainier extension and for finding money to fix the streets.

A former Sonoma Clean Power board member, he favors sound environmental policy. He also helped craft Petaluma’s human rights ordinance, affirming support for immigrants in the city.

At 38, Regan would be the second youngest member of the city council. A mortgage broker, his insider experience in the housing market makes him uniquely qualified to take on the city’s housing crisis. Regan, who grew up in Petaluma, already has solid leadership experience, chairing the city’s transit advisory committee and helming the Petaluma Educational Foundation board.

McDonnell, 61, is already working to solve the housing crisis from a progressive perspective. The civil engineer founded the Know Before You Grow forums, which have been convening panelists to discuss how Petaluma should develop in a healthy, environmentally friendly way. An advocate for youth sports and local parks, he is the chair of the recreation, music and parks commission.

The remaining candidates in the race are Scott Alonso, Denis Pocekay, D’Lynda Fischer and Robert Conklin.

Alonso, 32, is a former staffer for Assemblyman Marc Levine and a rising star in the Democratic party. Currently serving on the planning commission, he will be a formidable council candidate in two years if he does not win a seat in November.

Pocekay, 69, is involved with several progressive causes, including advocating for immigrants, workers and tenants. A doctor, his compassion for the poor and less fortunate stands out among other candidates.

Fischer, 58, is a relative newcomer to Petaluma, having moved here in 2013, but her roots in progressive causes run deep. She has a background in urban planning, and does work for nonprofits, including Daily Acts.

Lifelong Petaluman Conklin, 40, lacks political leadership experience, but the San Francisco city fleet manager and father of two young children brings the perspective of a working class family man.

Petaluma voters have the difficult task of choosing from among so many qualified candidates this November. But in order to preserve the current city council makeup, which is working well, the choice is clear. The Argus-Courier recommends Teresa Barrett for Petaluma mayor and Dave King, Michael Regan and Kevin McDonnell for Petaluma City Council.