Public safety, economic growth and investing in Merced youths were top concerns discussed at a forum of candidates running for the Merced County Board of Supervisors, the first of several public sessions scheduled ahead of the June 7 elections.
The Tuesday evening forum, hosted by the Merced Organizing Project, drew eight of the 10 candidates running for three open seats for districts 1, 2, and 4. District 4 candidates Lloyd Pareira and Jack Mobley did not participate.
The forum, held at Stephen Leonard Park for a third year, was moderated by Sun-Star Managing Editor Michelle Morgante.
Marlen Gaytan, a UC Merced student who asked the candidates what they would do to create jobs for a young and growing workforce, said for the most part, she felt she got a better understanding of the candidates’ views and what kind of supervisor they would be.
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“Most of them got straight to the point and were focused,” Gaytan said. “Some beat around the bush, and some got too personal with each other instead of addressing the issue itself.”
Livingston Mayor Rodrigo Espinoza, who is challenging District 1 incumbent John Pedrozo, criticized supervisors’ use of discretionary funding, calling them “slush funds.”
“If I get elected as supervisor, I don’t need a slush fund to commit that money to these (youth) activities,” Espinoza said. “The salary is $100,000. I can donate my own money to provide $1-2,000 to provide the youth with activities. I don’t need to be taking a slush fund for those events.”
Ramon Prado, a District 4 candidate, and Casey Steed, a District 2 candidate, also said the supervisors’ pay is too high and the discretionary funds are unnecessary.
Pedrozo said he doesn’t consider the discretionary funding a slush fund and gave examples of how he uses the money to help youth organizations.
“I focus on all the youth programs that I can support,” he said.
MOP asked the candidates how they would provide economic growth for the region, how to expand health care opportunities for undocumented immigrants and what programs and opportunities they would create for youths.
The candidates seemed to be in consensus that public safety and economic growth were key challenges for Merced County to overcome. Candidates agreed a broad and underlying solution to many of the county’s problems was to invest in child education and other youth opportunities.
The candidates also briefly addressed the state’s historic drought, revenue-sharing agreements between the cities and the county, supervisor discretionary funds and working with UC Merced.
Members of the audience also were given the opportunity to ask questions, which included what the candidates believed the county’s top challenges are and what the candidates believe set them apart from the others.
The Merced Organizing Project is a multicultural and multifaith-based grass-roots community organization made up of local congregations, community groups, organizations and individuals who are concerned about the well-being of families in Merced.
Supervisors serve four-year terms. Three of the county’s five district seats are up for vote in the June 7 election: District 1, which stretches from Le Grand and Planada to Livingston, encompassing parts of South Merced along the way; District 2, made up mostly of north and central Merced; and District 4, which stretches from Snelling to Gustine.