When economic times get tough, even communities like Walnut Creek face challenging budget decisions that are easily second-guessed, especially in a campaign season.
Witness the Nov. 6 election for three City Council seats. Two candidates, Bob Simmons, the only remaining incumbent in the race, and Loella Haskew, a certified public accountant, support the current council's division of funds. Challengers Barry Grove, a county deputy district attorney, and Justin Wedel, a technology consultant, say the city has underfunded police.
We agree with Simmons and Haskew, and accordingly endorse them. The council has wisely balanced priorities. In the past five years, the number of sworn police has declined about 4 percent while other city positions have been cut 15 percent. The notions that police have suffered disproportionately and that the city is unsafe are simply untrue.
Residents move to Walnut Creek not only because of the relative safety of the community but also because of the amenities the city offers, from open space to excellent arts and recreation programs.
The City Council increased fees for those programs. It has also correctly insisted that police make reasonable contributions toward their lucrative pensions. Both steps freed up money for services, including police.
Simmons, an attorney and mediator with a long history of civic involvement, has been an excellent council member who has fully supported the council's balanced approach. Haskew's financial expertise and recent service on the Community Blue Ribbon Task Force on Fiscal Health provide her critical background needed to serve effectively in these challenging times.
While our endorsements of Simmons and Haskew are easy, we are left with a tough choice between Wedel and Grove for the third seat. Unfortunately, incumbent Councilman Kish Rajan has dropped out the race to take a state job, but his name will still appear on the ballot.
We passed over Wedel when he ran two years ago. At the time, he advocated for more police officers at the expense of other services. Although his words have changed, his positions haven't. He says that cuts in the police department are "ridiculous" and intimates that the city has not bargained fairly with police.
But Grove troubles us more. A representative of fellow prosecutors in the district attorney's office during labor negotiations, he considers himself as an expert negotiator who now wants to directly represent the city in its bargaining. He says the city should stop hiring paid negotiators for bargaining with employee unions.
That's disturbing on many fronts. For starters, we don't believe Grove can effectively represent labor interests in one organization and taxpayers in another. Second, the city should have the option of expert representation in such high-stakes bargaining.
So we endorse Wedel for the third seat because Grove's perspective is even less acceptable. We wish we had another option.