FREMONT -- Fremont in many ways is the awkward teenager of Bay Area cities.

With more than 200,000 residents, it's grown too big to be quaint and cute, but not quite big enough to measure up to metropolises like Oakland and San Jose.

For politicians, there's a growing question whether Fremont, which is comfortably the Bay Area's fourth-largest city, should continue governing itself like a modest suburb with a part-time council and a strong city manager, or more like a big city with a stronger mayor and a larger, full-time City Council whose members represent specific districts rather than the entire city.

It's an issue that council members acknowledge should be discussed sometime in the next four years. But it also divides many in city government, including the two incumbents running for re-election to the City Council on Nov. 2 -- Anu Natarajan and Bill Harrison -- as well as their two most prominent challengers -- Kathy McDonald and Vinnie Bacon, both members of the Fremont Citizens Network.

Natarajan is the council's most vocal supporter of a more assertive City Council and district elections.

A professional, seven-member council representing districts, instead of the entire city, could better represent Fremont's interests on powerful regional boards, and provide better constituent service, she said.


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"Having districts makes council members more accountable (to the voters) and makes us more of an advocate for the community," Natarajan said. Currently, she said, council members who have no section of the city to call their own do minimal community outreach and instead rely on city employees to interact with the community and bring their concerns to the council.

"I think that contributes to this layer of distrust from voters," she said. "If I represented a district, (instead of the entire city) I could hold regular town hall meetings and be able to connect more with the community."

Harrison said he'd support enlarging the council to seven members, but fears that a full-time council with for each member and a presence at City Hall would infuse politics into the day-to-day operations of the city.

He's also concerned that district elections would Balkanize the city, leading to districts competing for different public projects. "It's taken us 50 years to come together as one city," he said.

Since its birth in 1956, Fremont has been run by a professional city manager, hired by five part-time City Council members who have no paid staff and no offices at City Hall.

To change that arrangement, Fremont voters would have to approve a city charter delineating a different government structure.

Fremont voters in 1998 narrowly rejected a charter that would have made few substantive changes to city government. At the time, Fremont already was the most populous California city without a charter.

After another decade of population growth, there is growing support among politicians for a charter, but little agreement over how the city should be governed.

Bacon said he supports a full-time council paid on par with professionals and a strong mayor, who would share power with the city manager.

The current City Council "is just not enough involved in what is going on," Bacon said.

"The council pretty much doesn't have the time or the expertise to challenge (city staff members)," he said.

Bacon envisioned a seven-member council in which five members represent districts and two council members represent the city as a whole.

McDonald, who is running alongside Bacon, also supports district elections, which she said would bring more energy and accountability to Fremont politics, but she doesn't support a full-time City Council.

"I'm a little skeptical that full-time, paid politicians would give us better results than an unpaid council," she said. "I can't imagine that we could offer enough money to get really qualified council members."

Several much smaller East Bay cities, including Hayward, San Leandro and Berkeley have district elections. Berkeley council members have offices at City Hall and a full-time staff person to deal with constituent issues and consider policy initiatives.

Fremont council candidate John Herndon said he supports both district elections and a full-time council.

"Right now, not all the districts are represented," he said. "With a district, you could go out into the field more and not just read the reports given to you by the city (staff members)."

But several other candidates see no need to change Fremont's governing structure.

Carl Flynn said district elections would lead to more partisan politics, and, noting that San Jose council members make $90,000 a year, he said a full-time council "just isn't good for the city's coffers."

Vladimir Rodriguez said he didn't have an opinion on district elections, but said the city doesn't have enough money for full-time council members.

Fremont council candidate Fazlur Khan said he would like to see more council members, but not district elections. "Everyone should participate as a united, one Fremont," he said.

Linda Susoev, who has run many times for City Council, wasn't sure about district elections, but said she didn't want Fremont to have a full-time council. "I would leave it the way it is," she said.

Contact Matthew Artz at 510-353-7002. For more Fremont news, read his blog at www.ibabuzz.com/tricitybeat.

Anu Natarajan
Age: 48
Occupation: Program director for the American Leadership Forum
Fremont residency: 15 years
Family: Husband and 7-year-old daughter
Education: Master's, Urban Design and Urban Planning, University of Washington in Seattle
Elected positions held: Fremont City Council member
Other experience: Planning commissioner, event chair for Celebrate Fremont, board member of Stopwaste.org
Party affiliation: Democrat
Car: Toyota Prius 2001

Linda Susoev
Age: 56
Occupation: Jack-of-all-trades
Fremont residency: More than 40 years
Family: Single
Education: Eden High School, Hayward
Elected positions held: None
Other experience: Has run for elected office numerous times since 1989
Party affiliation: Democrat
Car: None

Kathy McDonald
Age: 47
Occupation: Former HR consultant
Fremont residency: Five years
Family: Husband and two children, ages 14 and 17
Education: Master's, Human Resources Management and Industrial Relations, Rutgers University
Elected positions held: None
Other experience: Real estate, outside chemical sales, technical/business recruitment; various volunteer experience, including event planning, fundraising, and community organization.
Party affiliation: Democrat
Car: Hyundai Accent

Vinnie Bacon
Age: 49
Occupation: Technical support manager
Fremont residency: 17 years
Family: Wife and 13-year-old son
Education: Master's, city planning and transportation engineering, UC Berkeley
Elected positions held: None
Other experience: Alameda County Workforce Investment board member, Bay Area Chapter of the Sierra Club, executive committee, 12 years high tech management experience
Party affiliation: Democrat
Car: Toyota Prius

Fazlur Khan
Age: 71
Occupation: Retired banker, CEO, Business Development Experts
Fremont residency: 25 years
Family: Wife, three daughters, multiple grandchildren
Education: College degree in economics and political science
Elected positions held: None
Other experience: Fremont Chamber of Commerce board member, more than three decades in international banking
Party affiliation: Democrat
Car: Honda Civic

Bill Harrison
Age: 41
Occupation: CPA and co-owner, Harrison Accounting Group
Fremont residency: 41 years
Family: Wife and two sons, ages 8 and 6
Education: Bachelor's, business economics, UC Santa Barbara
Elected positions held: Fremont City Council member
Other experience: Fremont planning commissioner; Warm Springs BART Policy Advisory Committee, Sunol Express Lane Joint Powers Authority
Party affiliation: Democrat
Car: GMC Yukon Denali