Modesto Bee endorses
Garrad Marsh for mayor
In editorial, Bee says Marsh and Brad Hawn are both strong candidates
In many ways, Modesto voters can't lose when they mark their mail ballots to pick the city's next mayor.
Brad Hawn and Garrad Marsh each appear to have what it takes to lead the city through what arguably are the most challenging times in generations.
Both have deep roots in the community, having lived and worked here for much of their lives. Both have experience in and knowledge of city government, each having served two terms on the City Council. Both have strong track records of community service. Both have demonstrated an ability to lead. Both have shown integrity in their public and personal lives.
Watch video of Brad Hawn and Garrad Marsh discussing the issues with The Bee editorial board at www.modbee.com/elections.
In other words, Hawn and Marsh consistently have displayed the combination of commitment, competence and character that is so critically needed in the citizens we elect to public office.
Until this week, their campaigns had been admirably positive, with each candidate focusing on his own personal strengths and plans for our city. Sadly, that ended with Hawn's release of a mailer accusing Marsh of being "a Village I developer with a questionable record and fiscally irresponsible positions" and using a Bee excerpt in a misleading way.
This isn't the first time that Marsh has been characterized as a developer, which is somewhat ironic given his strong record as a slow- or smart-growth advocate. He was a co-author of Measure E, a 2008 initiative approved by Stanislaus County voters that prohibits housing developments in unincorporated areas without a public vote. One of his campaign themes is that the city needs to grow up, not out, and he would focus on bringing a stronger mix of housing and businesses to downtown.
Each man told The Bee he expects to spend about $200,000 by the Feb. 7 election. That amount includes the four-way contest in November and their runoff campaigns. Hawn has gotten much of his financial support from developers and the business community. Marsh's top supporters include public employee unions and some in business. (A look at big donations to the candidates and all the current council members will appear on this page Sunday.)
Over their eight years on the council, served simultaneously, Hawn and Marsh have voted the same on the overwhelming majority of issues, including city labor agreements. They parted ways last summer, when Hawn proposed three advisory measures on pension reform, raising them at the final opportunity to get them on the fall ballot. Marsh opposed putting the measures on the ballot but a council majority agreed with Hawn, who has subsequently made this a key issue in his campaign.
All three measures passed, but since the council cannot make substantive changes in employee pensions outside of bargaining, the impact isn't yet clear.
In The Bee's joint interview with the two, Marsh said he would like to see the city bargain changes in the expensive benefit that allows retiring employees to trade in a day's unused sick leave for a month's health insurance coverage as well as change the ratio of employee to employer contribution to the pension program — currently the city pays the share for both.
In the interview, the candidates were cordial to each other and well informed on all the issues. But Marsh responded more directly and specifically to several of our questions — often citing his company's own business practices.
For instance, when asked whether the city should follow in the footsteps of the county and seek permanent concessions from employees, Marsh said yes, suggesting compensation reductions of up to 5 percent, either in salary or benefits. Hawn merely suggested the pension reform measures approved in November have gotten the discussion rolling for reform.
While their votes during their terms on the council are similar, Hawn and Marsh do not have matching interests.
Using his knowledge as a civil and structural engineer, Hawn has taken a very hands-on approach to many of the city's water and sewer issues over the years, far more than would be expected of an elected official. He was an initiator of the sewer bank, which allowed businesses to turn in unused sewer capacity, making it available for new or expanding businesses. He's very involved with the long-term project to recycle waste water for use on farms on the county's West Side.
Hawn also has gotten involved in neighborhood projects, including community improvement programs in the airport district. He's been interested in the mayor's position for years and started raising funds in 2009.
Marsh has been a strong supporter of arts and civic groups, hosting fund-raisers at his home and business, and serving on the boards of a number of civic groups. During budget discussions, he urged the council to protect the McHenry Museum and Mansion, saying "these are the only cultural assets we have, and we should not abandon them."
In his words and his actions — our interviews and from the council dais — over the past few years, Marsh has emphasized the need for the city to be fully transparent in how it conducts its business.
He's forthright in acknowledging that the city did not do an adequate job in verifying contractors and spending in the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. He wants city leaders to be more open about their expenses, and to that end he proposed in 2010 that the expense claims of all council members should be put on the council agenda quarterly for public review.
Restoring public support and participation in city government in the coming years is going to take many things: honesty, integrity, transparency and cooperation. It will take brave leaders and those with a creative eye toward solving some very difficult problems.
Modestans are fortunate to have two well-qualified candidates seeking the same office — a situation we hope repeats itself in the future.
That said, in light of the challenges that lay ahead and the leadership characteristics needed to meet them, we believe Garrad Marsh is the stronger of two strong mayoral candidates.
Blog Post by Patty Hughes