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Our Recommendations on Critical Moraga Races and Decisions
Moraga-Orinda Fire District
Our recommendation for the MOFD Director races (there are three divisions with competitors) is that you pay attention.
We have great respect for firefighters and all first responders. We believe good governance and fiduciary responsibility is critical. Our steering committee has personal relationships with a number of the competing candidates, hence our recommendation for you to decide based on your research and the factual information below and in our associated articles.
Three union-funded candidates are vying for director seats against independent residents. The union-funded candidates have ties to the firefighter unions and either active or previous experience as firefighters or administrators. The non-union-funded, independent candidates are very successful businesspeople.
A good overview of the candidates is in the San Jose Mercury News/East Bay Times editorial linked below, which highlights some of the issues. (Again, we neither endorse nor condemn their conclusions or recommendations)
Click here to read their article.
For a district just beginning to make progress on paying down significant, unfunded pension liabilities following nationwide attention on MOFD "pension spiking" a few years ago, the race is creating a local "fox guarding the henhouse" concern type of story. It's a valid concern and merits consideration.
Aside from resumes/background alone, we suggest you consider whether the perception/possibility of potential conflicts of interest of union-funded candidates outweighs their respective knowledge of fire district governance, fiduciary responsibility and needs/operations against the independent resident candidates who may have less knowledge of fire prevention and operations, but who don't have the potential conflict of interest related to compensation, benefits and addressing unfunded pension liabilities.
Want to discuss? There's a NextDoor thread here.
Moraga Town Council
Recommend: Steve Woehleke
With a degree in engineering, an MBA, and Project Management Professional certification, we believe Steve brings the skills and mindset for effective governance in Moraga.
His observations regarding the current town council’s decision making (the process, outcomes, and quality) are insightful and consistent with what we’ve seen during the past few years.
He is well-versed in the wide range of issues brought before the council, including development, finance and budgets, infrastructure, and governance. His town volunteer experience includes two decades on the Design Review Board, Planning Commission, and Hacienda Foundation Board. He is an advocate of open space, well-planned infill development, and a collaborative approach.
Steve believes cost savings do, indeed, exist at town hall and further believes that better planning, engineering, thinking and decision-making – including peer reviews of capital-intensive projects – will result in more cost-effective operations and reduce unnecessary capital expenses and unpleasant project overruns. Steve also believes the town’s propensity to spend money on “nice to haves” (e.g. a community gym) vs “must haves” (e.g. infrastructure) needs to be corrected, especially before seeking additional tax money from residents. He’s right.
Most importantly, we find Steve trustworthy and believable, and his willingness to listen to residents, be transparent, and act in our best interests – after election day – resonates as genuine.
We note that an email endorsing other candidates specifically questioned Steve’s commitment to open space. That contention isn’t consistent with our understanding nor discussions with him, so we fact-checked it: The email mischaracterizes Steve’s commitment to open space and his more recent recorded statements about it. His commitment to open space is no less than any other candidate’s and his comment regarding the recent passage of the hillside/ridgeline ordinance expressed his support for the ordinance but the unfortunate reality that a more collaborative process wasn’t used to avoid the lawsuit the town now faces.
Recommend: Mike McCluer
A retired financial executive with roles as a CFO with the obvious experience in budgeting and finance, Mike caught our attention when he mentioned that he is convinced there are cost savings at town hall, and those cost savings should be explored and realized – along with better planning and budgeting – before seeking more money from voters. In particular, Mike believes the town ought not waste money duplicating “back office” functions (e.g. accounting) that our neighbors have, and we should instead save money by pooling or sharing those similar services. He’s right.
His experience in finance and business management would help improve financial management & analysis, decision making and organizational accountability, all things the current town council lacks and that have been absent for years.
Like the other candidates, Mike’s support of open space is sufficiently strong and credible. As with Steve, Mike’s credible commitment to transparency transcends incumbent councilmember Dave Trotter’s far narrower interpretation of it.
Our only concerns include (1) his support for a community gym, which he clarified was only in the event that necessary housekeeping and financial stability were accomplished first, and (2) the appearance of a budding alliance with Dave Trotter based in part on his gym support and an email circulating from Trotter’s de facto campaign manager that maligned Steve Woehleke and totally misrepresented his commitment to open space in support of Trotter and McCluer. Mike assured us he is and will remain independent.
Can Not Recommend: Dave Trotter
After 12 years on the town council, Dave is the only person now running who was present and involved with the decisions that, over time, have led to unfunded infrastructure, fiscal emergencies, objectionable "infill" development, skyrocketing legal fees, and a general distrust for the town council.
Although many of us on the editorial committee here supported Dave in previous elections and appreciate his longstanding dedication to serving the town and its residents, we don't recommend him for a variety of reasons.
Many of Dave's decisions have resulted in a string of suboptimal outcomes at town hall and for Moraga – a pattern that we conclude has little chance of abating with Dave being on the council for what would be 16 consecutive years.
In particular, our greatest concerns about Dave include:
His unwillingness to abandon his decade-old dream for a community gym, including using millions in unrestricted town money while storm drains remain unfunded until we vote for a new tax. In the face of what he has characterized as "critical" unfunded infrastructure needs, budgeted surpluses consistently under 1%, and despite the town's most recent resident survey indicating a lack of interest and perception of it as low priority, it's demonstrative of hubris and an unwillingness to prioritize.
In addition, Dave was involved in an unauthorized negotiation with the owner of the Rheem Theater, spending over $35,000 of our money on legal fees and conferring $2 million in development rights (for a proposed 4 story apartment building), then later touting his involvement as "saving the Rheem". Similarly, Dave was part of a Hacienda subcommittee that directly contravened Town Council instructions to develop an RFP for a potential restaurant at the Hacienda, but instead incurred over $10,000 in legal fees directly negotiating with a single vendor in a deal that ultimately unraveled. And still today, the Hacienda Restaurant idea, at the expense of funding infrastructure, remains on the town council agenda.
He has demonstrated an unwillingness to accept that the town has a spending problem, or might even have a spending problem, instead relying on a decade-old document that specifically indicates expense analysis and operational efficiency was not part of its scope. It's a convenient sound bite with absolutely no basis in reality.
Politically-convenient framing of issues and outcomes that we believe are disingenuous and are reflective of how business should not be conducted with public money and resources. For example, Dave pressed for the storm drain tax while cautioning residents the town didn't know "when or if" it would be reimbursed by the Feds, although 90% reimbursement already was assured. When the checks arrived, Dave characterized it as a "win" for his "get reimbursements" promise.
Finally, Dave has been involved in frequent "closed sessions" of the town council, about which the town consistently says there is "no reportable action" but during which it is clear actions were taken and decisions made. Perhaps the most recent, glaring example is the town manager contract that was drafted and countersigned before the council had an open meeting to discuss candidates and decisions.
The bottom line is that Dave has had long enough (12 years) to make an impact, the town's current state isn't reflective of sufficient success, and we no longer are comfortable trusting the decisions he chooses to make on our behalf.
State Proposition 6 - YES
Prop 6 repeals the recently-enacted SB1 increased gas tax and DMV fees that the legislature passed without a vote of CA citizens.
The tax is costing Moragans at least $2.4MM/year in return for just $250k being sent to the town.
A recent town newsletter bemoaned the potential loss of $250k/year making it seem like a longstanding funding source for roads would disappear. However, Moraga has received funding just once.
What they also failed to mention in the newsletter - and failed to consider when endorsing this tax - was the significant cost to Moraga households and families in return for a little graft of "free money" from Sacramento.
We strongly recommend YES on Prop 6.
Election-Related Articles (click to read)
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