Stanislaus County supervisors were lazy and showed weak leadership by imposing across-the-board budget cuts instead of prioritizing, four men running for two seats said in Thursday's debate.
Their comments irritated a fifth candidate, Dick Monteith, the only incumbent on the June ballot. He and his fellow supervisors have less control than people think because of state and federal mandates, Monteith said, his voice rising in defense of difficult spending decisions.
His challengers for the board's District 4 seat, former Modesto Mayor Carmen Sabatino and former City Councilman Balvino Irizarry, suggested Monteith has accomplished little during his four-year term.
Irizarry said he would "get things done and move projects forward, not just be someone who is going to hold the seat." And Sabatino said, "I can replace the do-nothing incumbent who is afraid to take a hard stand on issues." He called Irizarry a "political opportunist."
Monteith also became defensive about the supervisors' majority votes favoring Gerry Kamilos' vision of West Park, a huge business complex planned near Crows Landing, when some candidates roundly criticized the plan.
"You may disagree with me, but we have to start looking beyond just today to the future" and thousands of new jobs, Monteith said at the forum, hosted by the League of Women Voters.
Sabatino strongly opposes the project, as does Terry Withrow, who is running against Bill Lyons for the board's District 3 seat.
West Park provided "inspiration for me to get involved," said Withrow, the only one of the five candidates with no prior political experience. He called the plan "a perfect example of what's wrong with the system," because supervisors ignored pleas of West Side residents as well as the recommendation of a committee supervisors had appointed.
Lyons, a former California agriculture secretary, emphasized his many endorsements and long record of service, saying, "I will bring taxpayers the kind of experience they need to solve these problems."
Lyons enjoys support from the man he hopes to succeed, Supervisor Jeff Grover, and often lines up with the establishment on issues. But he said he disagrees with recent orders that all 27 departments reduce spending by 9 percent, resulting in dozens of layoffs including 52 in the Sheriff's Department.
The others agreed that better leaders would have protected essential services, with Lyons and Withrow saying law enforcement would be last on their list to cut. Sabatino, an outspoken critic of Sheriff Adam Christianson, who is running for re-election, said he should lay off his three captains.
Monteith reminded observers that the board required 12 percent cuts from most of the county's 27 departments last year, and took just 5 percent from the Sheriff's Department, district attorney's office and probation department.
Monteith added that board members took 5 percent pay reductions last year and again this year. The other four said they would not oppose 10-percent pay cuts for the board.
Notable quotes from Thursday's debate:
Monteith: "(Regionalism) is not a cure for all things. Pride is what establishes a community. That's hard to do on a regional basis."
Sabatino: "In the interest of savings, we can have regionalism. But we shouldn't be giving up our liberties."
Irizarry: "Across-the-board cuts is the easy and lazy way of approaching it."
Lyons: "We need to make leadership decisions. We need to protect our citizens, so (the Sheriff's Department) would be the last place to take a cut."
Withrow: "We've taken way too much (farmland) out of production. It amazes me that we continue to pave over it and bring cities right up against it, making it impossible for them to farm."
Candidates for county clerk-recorder also squared off Thursday. Incumbent Lee Lundrigan said her office has preserved nearly 900 aging, fragile records and is in a multiyear project of digitizing records. Challenger Terry Harwell said he would purge voter rolls to save money. He had no answers for some questions.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2394.