76 days until the election yet local candidate kept under wraps

As the presidential campaign moves forward many pundits are questioning the credentials of Senator Obama, Democratic candidate to be commander-in-chief of the country. For several months polls have shown him leading Senator McCain by most of the major pollsters. However, as time passes and he is exposed to the public where his policy proposals are being challenged, that lead has now disappeared.

While I will not go out on a limb, the one fact that cannot be denied is the value of exposing all of the candidates strengths and weaknesses to the electorate.

Let me now shift gears to a conversation I had with an LA County campaign consultant who also sells “slate” mailers. You find them in your mail box in every election. The cards have different titles and include candidate names and/or names with photos, listing candidates for president to the lowest political rungs be it city council, school district trustee or your local water district board.

He said that given some basic information on our city he could enter the race remotely and, given a reasonable amount of cash, could win simply by the mail pieces he created and distributed.

Fast forward from that 10 year old conversation to Aug 21, 2008.  We are now at the 76 day mark until the Nov 4th General Election. As the days and weeks move into the fall season we surely know a great deal about the major presidential candidates but what do we know about the Mission Viejo city council challengers to represent 100,000 citizens with a budget of $60 million dollars?

Yes, we might get to see them on COX cable the weekend before the election, but that cable program is limited to nothing but quick sound bites due to their tight schedule of other south county races.

Not entering the spin cycle, but, for better or worse, two of these challengers have served the city or participated in the process for the past 10 years. Neil Lonsinger was Trish Kelley’s appointee to the Planning Commission and ran for office before. As such most of the residents are aware of Neil. Another challenger is Cathy Schlicht who attends almost every city council and many of our planning commission meetings. When Frank Ury first created his blog she was one of his hand selected contributors invited to share information on local city issues. In fact she even drove one of the trucks used in Frank’s 2004 campaign with a large sign promoting him.  Having assisted in every campaign of the current council she is well versed on the history of Mission Viejo, the candidates policy voting record, as well as current and future issues being discussed today.

One of the remaining candidates is Rich Atkinson. He was appointed to our Planning Commission by council member Trish Kelley after Neil retired from that post.  In my interview with each of the challengers, that were posted on the Orange Juice blog, you will discover that both Judy Rackauckas and LAPD Sgt. Michael Williamson told me they were not going to file candidate statements or spend much money in this election. Sadly, that’s a problem every challenger faces when trying to unseat incumbent council members who have access to big pots of greenbacks filled with “special interest” money.

The other challenger in our 2008 council race is 8 year resident Rich Atkinson who is a San Clemente Code Enforcement employee. In my interview with Rich he told me that they have a budget of $68,000 with a target to raise $75,000.  Time out!

Are we trying to buy a seat on the council? The most money anyone has ever spent in our city was appointed incumbent Roger Faubel who spent $80,000 in his 2000 campaign in losing to challenger Gail Reavis. Ask any consultant and they will tell you that having that much money for a local seat is a nice war chest.
However, we must go back to the premise of this story. Other than what his “handlers” wrote in his candidate statement, what do we really know about Rich Atkinson?

Having attended most of the council meetings in our city’s 20 year existence I have never seen him there. One challenger seems to recall seeing him in the council chamber on one recent occasion.

Neil Lonsinger and Cathy Schlicht, two of the 2008 candidates, attended and participated in both the three hour Special Meeting of our Investment Advisory Board last Friday as well as the city council meeting on Monday evening regarding the ATS proposal to sell our cell tower leases. This proposal included around 200 pages of documentation that contained detailed data such as what rights we be giving up should the sale of our leases be approved. If you are a serious candidate for elected office, in any city, and a major decision is being discussed and possibly voted on, one would expect that you, at a minimum, appear at one of the meetings where said topic is being debated. While you don’t have to jump in with your own opinion, you at least gain insight into a broad spectrum of thoughts of the five member boards by listening to their varied interpretations of the proposal.  Friday’s meeting was not televised. As such you are clueless having missed that opportunity.

Let me share Rich Atkinson’s comments that I posted on July 22nd, a full month ago. Furthermore I called him back to make sure that there were no misquotes or statements in our interview which I copied him on at that time. To repeat, while we are much smaller in size and budget when compared to the city of Anaheim or Santa Ana, $60 million dollars is a sizable sum to be spending. In that interview I asked Mr. Atkinson about his role and participation on the planning commission in regard to recent Capital Improvement Projects, CIP’s, that have appeared in my stories including the expansion of our Norman Murray Community and Senior Center and it’s dozen Change Orders. That is the type of project that surely runs through the planning commission, PC.  Rich told me that he does not remember any of the changes being presented to him at the PC nor did he have any knowledge of the current desire to create a new CIP to add lockers at our Montanoso Recreation Center saying that it might be treated as an administrative decision. If so he should not be taking any credit for participating in the PC actions on these CIP’s.

Rich informed me that he already has the endorsement of Trish Kelley as well as Laguna Niguel council members Paul Glaab and Linda Linholm.

Folks. They live across the freeway from Mission Viejo. Ask yourself the $64,000 dollar question. Why are they endorsing Rich Atkinson, a truly “stealth” candidate who has a zero track record of participation in our city? While some may question the policy challenges of Cathy Schlicht she at least has been there for the residents questioning the excessive and uncontrolled spending of our tax dollars every month.

Juice readers. Just as we learn more about Senators Obama and McCain, Mission Viejo voters want to know who the challengers are.

We each have experience with incumbents based on their voting record and attitudes toward the public which cannot be denied. In this year’s Mission Viejo race we surely know councilman Frank Ury based on his supporting the “monetization” and sale of city assets, approval of a dozen change orders to the Murray expansion where the CIP escalated from $5.5 million to over $15 million. Most recently his voting to participate in the 2009 Tournament of Roses parade approving a budget of $300,000 for 30 seconds of fame, (unless the project is blocked), to showing disrespect for another council member while on the dais to his vote to block “transparency in government” by elimination of our former unanimous council approval to pull routine Consent Calendar items for direct discussion prior to his 2004 election.

Stay tuned. More to follow!

About Larry Gilbert