A longtime Atwater resident pulled papers Monday to run against Mayor Joan Faul, the first challenge the 73-year-old mayor will face since 2006.
Jim Price, 63, on Monday confirmed plans to run for mayor in November’s election, saying it was something people have urged him to do for years. Price has sat in the audience of City Council meetings during the past 14 years, often speaking up during the public comment periods and challenging politicians on their decisions.
Now, Price said, he’s ready to sit at the council dais. “I’ve done as much as I can from the sidelines, and the sidelines aren’t working anymore,” he said. “I’ve got to get into the game.”
Price, who’s vice president of operations at Gemini Flight Support at Castle Airport, said the city’s leadership lacks transparency, openness and communication. His decision to run for mayor was further fueled by budget talks last month.
Atwater, which flirted with bankruptcy a few short years ago, is once again facing fiscal difficulties. “Now we have a budget where we only have $2,000 left in the reserves,” Price said. “The city’s financial consultant made it very clear the next year and the ones after that are going to be years we’re going to be in a sea of red ink.”
If elected, Price said, he will require a detailed report of the city’s financial condition every 90 days, which will be presented in a public forum. He suggested establishing a citizen advisory committee to make recommendations and look at privatizing some city services and streamline others. “I want the council to know what’s going on so we can take action and do something,” he said.
Price also advocated increasing the public comment period from three minutes to five minutes, allowing residents to get “more involved” in their local government. Price has lived in Atwater since 1980.
Faul did not return calls seeking comment Monday, but she has confirmed her intent to seek re-election in previous interviews. Faul has been on the City Council about 12 years and ran unopposed for mayor in the 2010 election.
Atwater has three seats open in November’s general election: the mayoral seat, that of Councilman Jeff Rivero and Mayor Pro Tem Craig Mooneyham.
Atwater resident Bill Barkman pulled papers Monday to run for one of the two spots on the City Council. The pastor and former retail management executive said his bid for council is spurred by a desire to see the city succeed.
“I think Atwater can experience a great future, but it has to plant the seeds now to realize it in the future,” said Barkman, 61, who has lived in Atwater for six years. “I’ve managed organizations much larger than the city as far as budgets and personnel are concerned, and I think my business sense will be a value to the city and the community.”
Barkman joins James Vineyard, a retired fire department captain, who announced his intention to run for City Council earlier this year. Vineyard, who has lived in Atwater more than 28 years, has started campaigning and launched a Facebook page last month.
Vineyard, 57, said the city’s financial state also motivated his political aspirations, saying he would take steps to ensure money is not transferred from some city accounts.
“My plan is to be a watchdog of that budget and make sure the money designated for certain budget items stays there,” Vineyard said. “We are in budget crisis, but there are expenditures being made to spend money we don’t have.”
“They’re running the city deeper into debt,” he added, “and then (they) decide to raise taxes on the citizens and cut employees with furloughs.”
Rivero, who’s up for re-election in November, said he’s unsure if he will run. “There are a lot of pros and cons on both sides,” Rivero said, who was elected to council in May 2009. “I still have a little time left to decide.”
Mooneyham, who was elected in 2010, would not confirm or deny plans to run for re-election when reached on Monday.
“I really don’t know,” Mooneyham said. “I haven’t decided.”
Monday was the first day candidates could pull papers to run in November. The deadline is Aug. 8, according to the Merced County elections office.