Tuesday, October 7, 2014
The Press Democrat

Press Democrat Endorses Coursey for City Council

It’s no secret that the Santa Rosa City Council needs renewed focus, if not therapy. For the past two years, the political infighting — much of it centered on funding for public safety, transparency and the conduct of City Councilman Gary Wysocky in particular — have reached new levels of distraction.

But voters have a chance to help set a new tone for the council on Nov. 4 when three seats on the seven-member council await to be filled. In a rarity for Santa Rosa politics, none of the incumbents are seeking re-election, and voters have the opportunity to pick new public servants from among nine candidates running. We recommend the election of Planning Commissioners Ashle Crocker and Curtis Byrd and former columnist Chris Coursey.

An environmental/land use attorney, Crocker, who was raised in Santa Rosa, has now started her own family and is looking to give back through public service. Despite having served on the Planning Commission less than a year, she has distinguished herself as a principled and tireless worker, unafraid to ask hard questions. Her background in environmental law and her experience as a member of the Open Government Task Force are pluses.

Byrd, the grandson of activists Alice and Gilbert Gray, founders of the local branch of the NAACP, has deep roots in the community. He also has a deep understanding of the workings of City Hall, having been on the Planning Commission for four years. Prior to that he served on the Mayor’s Gang Task Force Policy Team and the Community Advisory Board. Bryd has proven himself to be a steady, forward-thinking leader, ready to put the needs of the community ahead of any special interests or ideology. As a west Santa Rosa resident, he also fills a community need for greater representation on the City Council from those living west of Highway 101. Voters rejected district elections on the premise that Santa Rosa could achieve broader geographic representation without resorting to parochial politics. Now’s the chance to prove it — by electing Byrd.

For the third seat, we support Coursey, who is no stranger to Press Democrat readers, having worked as a reporter and columnist here for more than 30 years. Unlike Crocker and Byrd, Coursey has no direct government experience in Santa Rosa. But his 30 years closely following and commenting on community events and politics as a journalist uniquely prepare him for service on the City Council. Readers know him to be deliberate, straightforward and independent. In addition, his experience in working for SMART will be beneficial as the city gears up for the arrival of the train in two years.

Among the others, Tom Schwedhelm, Santa Rosa’s former chief of police, is an appealing choice. Schwedhelm did an admirable job of bringing stability to a department that had been through turmoil and has shown himself to be a sensible decision-maker. But we don’t believe Santa Rosa can afford to have another retired police officer on the council — Ernesto Oliveras being the other — at a time when one of the city’s central debates concerns the growth of the police and fire budgets at the expense of all other services. Furthermore, Schwedhelm’s contention that Measure O, which offers recession-proof assurances of escalating resources for public safety, is not in need of rewording is simply indefensible.

Two other strong candidates are former City Council members John Sawyer, a former downtown business owner, and Lee Pierce, government affairs manager for a local recycling company. Both are astute leaders who have a thorough understanding of the city’s workings. But this election is a chance to bring some new faces and fresh perspectives to the council. It’s time to move forward. Given that, The Press Democrat recommends Ashle Crocker, Curtis Byrd and Chris Coursey.