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Candidate forum sparks heated debate

By: Art Garcia Telegraph Correspondent
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Candidates for local offices in the Nov. 6 general election touted their credentials and swapped verbal punches at a forum last week sponsored by the El Dorado Hills Tea Party Patriots at the Holiday Inn hotel. Most of the swipes were directed at El Dorado Hills Fire Chief Dave Roberts, who made a presentation that disputed major findings of the El Dorado County Grand Jury in its 2011-2012 report on the local fire district and the fire department. Among other speakers were incumbent county superior court Judge Warren Curt Stracener and attorney Joseph Hoffman, who seeks to unseat Stracener; candidates for the El Dorado Hills Community Service District board of directors and for the fire district board. Stracener was appointed to the superior court bench by former Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger two years ago and has served since as a juvenile court and general traffic court judge in Placerville. Stracener highlighted his “strong background in working with kids.” He taught high school for 11 years and education law through University of San Francisco Extension and at California State University, Sacramento. He also has 20 years of litigation experience in California courts. Describing himself as a “judicial philosopher,” Stracener also announced that he had just been endorsed for re-election by the National Rifle Association. Joseph noted he’s been a gun owner all his adult life and is “proud I live in a county where our sheriff also understands the right to carry a firearm.” He said local courts are in a financial struggle, with the government taking money out of the court system. “It’s getting harder and harder to provide access to justice. That’s one of the reasons I’m running for judge,” Hoffman said. Joseph has practiced law in El Dorado County more than 17 years and shares a small law practice with his attorney wife. He has served as a pro tem judge and a private judge. “As a lawyer in a small office, I run a business, making payroll, managing employees and making marketing decisions. That makes me financially responsible,” he said. “That’s something I look forward to taking to the bench, being aware of people’s time and money.” Four of the six candidates running for the CSD board of directors were present. Bill Tobin said fiscal responsibility goes “far beyond” simply balancing the budget. The district has taken in $600,000 less in revenue over the past three years “and that makes it much more important to make wise decisions on how we spend that money.” There’s been an increase of more than $130,000 for legal services, bringing that budget total expense for fiscal 2012-13 to more than $200,000, he said. “I see a top-heavy district staff that has too many managers and too many supervisors,” said Tobin. “I will ask for a complete review of our legal service needs and options. That $200,000 yearly budget for legal fees is ridiculous,” he charged. Guy Gertsch is a four-year CSD board incumbent who said he’s “a strong advocate for living within our means. We do not need to grow the government any larger.” Gertsch also said “frivolous spending was in place and needed to be corrected” when he first joined the board. “Upon being elected, I immediately brought fiscal responsibility, accountability and fiscal sanity to the board,” he said. “We executed a plan of realignment of resources and employees and right-sized CSD.” Candidate Terry Crumpley, an independent certified public accountant, said she “understands the books, I know the books. There’s a lot of talent in El Dorado Hills¾CPAs, attorneys¾the CSD should turn to as volunteers. There are a lot of ideas out there and we just need to make it happen.” There are five candidates for the fire district board, including incumbent Jim Hartley, an El Dorado Hills resident 33 years and a retired long-time fireman who has been on the board since 2000. “During my tenure, the board has planned and built three fire stations, paying cash for each of them. There are very few agencies around, local, state or federal, able to operate that way,” he said. Hartley noted the district has no debt, no loans and no bonds. “We do have a record of 49 years of balanced budgets and we have a reserve that’s approaching $22 million,” he noted. John Peterson, a former Bay Area fireman, declared it’s “time to say goodbye to the incumbents and to fiscal irresponsibility.” Sherry Petersen said she’s read the grand jury report on the local fire district and found the fire department “fiscally irresponsible. There are lots of opportunities to save money in this department,” she asserted. John Hidahl, who’s lived in El Dorado Hills since 1978 and served on the fire district board since 1981, countered those claims, saying he believes “We have a board that’s responsive and has made moves and transitions that make sense, as opposed to cutting things in half. “My commitment is to continue the fire department’s legacy of ‘service before self’. Stay the course, stay with the current board members. We have a strategic plan and we have executed it,” he said. Craig Petersen read the grand jury’s report on the fire department and became interested in running for the fire board. He began attending board meetings and said he found “a lot of rubber-stamping going on by the board members. “It’s pretty much ‘yes, yes, yes’ without many questions,” he said. “Visitors are asking all the questions and answers aren’t forthcoming. “Yes, our fire department does a good job, yes they’re all dedicated. We like our firemen,” said Petersen. “That’s not the problem. We don’t like the performance of the board.” Fire Chief Roberts disputed many of the grand jury’s findings and criticisms of his department, especially its charge that spending is “out of control” and that the average El Dorado Hills fire fighter receives a total annual compensation, with benefits, of $202,000. He called the grand jury report “not very factual.” The department’s response to the grand jury’s report on the district’s management, operations and spending can be found at edhfire.com,/news-events/news/330.