One incumbent, one former councilman and one newcomer each took a seat in front of a crowd of a couple dozen residents on Oct. 5, fielding questions about the community and why they are running for a City Council post.
All shared similar views about why they want to serve – noting Escalon as a good place to live and raise a family, with a low crime rate and a responsive government – and all are aiming to keep it that way.
Incumbent councilman Jeff Laugero is seeking to return for another four-year term. Former councilman and past Police Chief Walt Murken is back in the running, and newcomer Will Smith, a superintendent for the City of Hanford, is in his first try for a council seat. The three gathered for a Meet the Candidates night at the Escalon Library.
Laugero and Murken were both born and raised in the community, Smith classified himself as the ‘youngster’ of the group in terms of city longevity, though he has lived here for 17 years.
Questions gathered by the sponsoring Chamber of Commerce organization were posed to each candidate by reigning Miss Escalon Briana Brasil, with each given a specific amount of time to answer.
All candidates were in agreement on the city’s ‘slow growth’ ordinance, and all said they would keep that in effect.
Smith said part of his decision to run for council was to make sure that city finances are in order and he pointed to his work with the City of Hanford as being a positive for him in that regard, as he works with budgets on a regular basis. He added that many in the community were concerned about recent utility rate hikes.
“Council has been reluctant in the past to raise fees,” explained Murken, adding that the council finally was forced into raising the fees because the wastewater system is at capacity.
Laugero, who was on the council that just raised the fees, said it was part of “long-term planning” and is necessary to maintain and upgrade the city’s facilities.
“The council did a great job,” Smith agreed.” “The rates needed to be increased, I want to be sure the fees go to the (wastewater treatment) plant.”
On the question of working with the Chamber of Commerce to help bring more business to the community, the three also agreed that the city and Chamber need to work cooperatively, enticing new business and, if possible, promote the city through a number of regional venues.
A question regarding the Brown Act had the candidates all agreeing that there doesn’t seem to be an issue with that locally.
“I can’t think of a time when ‘back door deals’ were made,” Murken said of his tenure on the council.
“I think this council is very concerned about being transparent,” Laugero added, with the goal to be open with the public on a variety of issues.
Smith was quick to join in, saying he didn’t see any back door deals being done either.
From the audience, member Will Hecht asked about protecting the city’s quality of life and maintaining an existing greenbelt.
“I love it,” Smith said of the greenbelt area that separates Escalon from its neighboring communities and provides him with a 10 minute drive with no city in any direction.
Laugero said anytime you have a buffer, it helps “protect what we have here” and the greenbelt is a good idea.
“We still want Escalon to grow, but controlled and slowly,” Murken said, noting that maintaining the greenbelt will help maintain that control.
All three council hopefuls also said they are ‘out and about’ in the community and would love the opportunity to talk to residents about the issues. Laugero, in fact, said he often gets into conversations with residents now, as he is a sitting council member.
They also encouraged residents to get involved and attend council meetings if possible.
The three candidates will battle for two available seats on the council; there are no districts in Escalon and the Nov. 8 election will be an at-large race. The top two vote getters will win the seats.