July 29, 2014

Atwater mayor welcomes two challengers in race for seat

Atwater Mayor Joan Faul confirmed plans to seek re-election this November, but the 73-year-old could have competition from two challengers.

Atwater Mayor Joan Faul confirmed plans to seek re-election this November, but the 73-year-old could have competition from two challengers.

Jim Price, 63, vice president of operations at Gemini Flight Support, and Wayne Wallace, 77, a retired business owner, both pulled papers last week to run against Faul, but they haven’t completed the filing process. Faul ran uncontested in the last election.

Faul said the competition doesn’t faze her, and she’s ready to fight for another term in office.

“I think it’s great. It’s a democratic process,” said Faul, a retired educator and school administrator. “I welcome Mr. Price, and I welcome Mr. Wallace.”

Faul, a Patterson native, was first elected to the Atwater City Council in 2002. In 2006, she was elected as mayor and has remained in that office. Faul said she decided to run again because she wants to oversee the “financial plan” of the city to ensure its solvency.

Atwater flirted with bankruptcy a few years ago and continues to operate with a barely balanced budget.

“We’ve balanced the budget the last two years – that’s a first for us – but we have to continue with the same pattern,” Faul said. “We are no longer in stage one of bankruptcy, but we have to continue to follow our financial plan. That’s the key. We cannot stray off of it.”

Faul said staff should be required to present mandated financial reports to the City Council, giving them a clear picture of the city’s financial condition. A new policy that requires certain interfund transfers be tracked and reported to the council is a step in the right direction, Faul said.

Roughly $8.6 million was shuffled between city enterprise fund accounts to cover shortfalls, the city’s financial consultant reported this month.

The City Council “didn’t know” Atwater was on the brink of bankruptcy the past few years, Faul said, mostly because the previous city manager didn’t communicate with them.

“We didn’t know we were in this financial difficulty,” the mayor said. “City managers are very possessive of their area, and you rely too much on the city managers to tell you how you’re doing.

“So that’s why we want to try to keep the (City) Council more aware of the finances and the movement of the different loans,” she said.

In addition to a shaky budget, Atwater was hit with devastating news that more than 500 jobs will be lost this summer with the closure of AT&T call centers and Mi Pueblo foods. Faul compared the impact of the job losses to the closure of Castle Air Force Base in the 1990s.

“That’s going to take a long time to bounce back from,” she said, adding that at least two new businesses are planned for Atwater – Sonic Drive-in and Boot Barn.

Faul acknowledged a difficult year running the City Council meetings because of a divided council that at times interrupted and personally attacked one another. She recently changed the structure of the meetings to gain better control over them.

The mayor said she believes she’s kept her promises to voters and should be re-elected because of her “unwavering advocacy” for individuals, as well as for her trust and integrity.

Wallace said he’s uncertain if he will make a full-fledged run for mayor. He said he wants to see more candidates enter the mayoral race.

“I’m trying to get some people out of the woodwork to run for office,” Wallace said. “This is the time that Atwater needs someone up there that has brains.”

Price said the city’s financial condition has driven him to make a bid for the mayor’s seat.

“We need new and fresh ideas and solutions,” Price said, “especially in light of the fact that the financial consultant said this is the last year we will have a somewhat balanced budget.”

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