At the last city council meeting of 2019, the Cloverdale City Council chose Gus Wolter as the city’s 2020 mayor.
Wolter, in his fifth term as a councilmember, isn’t a stranger to the gavel.
Unlike most larger cities, where the mayor is elected by the citizenry, the mayor for Cloverdale is elected by the city council, which every December appoints one of its members as mayor for the upcoming year.
Wolter was voted in by four out of the five councilmembers, including Mary Ann Brigham, Jason Turner, outgoing Mayor Melanie Bagby and himself. Councilmember Jason Turner was chosen to be vice mayor.
Councilmember Marta Cruz did not vote in favor of appointing Wolter as mayor.
This is Wolter’s fifth time serving as the city’s mayor. His last year as mayor was in 2017.
“It is a privilege, and I don’t take it for granted for one minute,” Wolter said. “I enjoy it — not that you get an extra vote, not that you get anything special — but just representing the city.”
He said that he enjoys the day-to-day duties of the mayor, like attending ribbon cuttings.
What does Wolter see as the mayor’s role?
When asked how he interprets the role of mayor, Wolter said that he views himself as a peacekeeper and facilitator.
“I view myself kind of as a facilitator to make sure that city business moves forward without any animosity toward one another,” Wolter said. “I think I can do that, but I don’t want to see us run like Washington: Republicans and Democrats. We’re a nonpartisan city council, and your political party usually doesn’t come into account because we’re talking about local things.
“It’s being a peacekeeper — run the meetings so that every councilmember gets to say what they want to say, and that every individual in the audience gets to say what they want to say. One of the things that I pride myself on is public comment. When somebody comes up in front of the city council, they have three minutes. I don’t sit there with my clock. If they’re going to take three and a half, that’s fine. I think I’ve been doing this long enough, I can see when (somebody) is rambling. If somebody is making some pretty good points, just let them talk — it’s their town.”
One of the things he likes best about the position is interacting with the public. A self-proclaimed outspoken member of town, Wolter said that he’s fond of walking up to people he may not recognize during events like Friday Night Live and asking them what brings them to town.
Goals for the city
“I think the growth of the city and my goals have always been shortsighted in the sense of, ‘what can I accomplish in 12 months?’ and then ‘what’s going to take longer?’ An example of that is I'm not going to get in the way of the Cherry Creek project, where we’re coming to agreements on how we’re going to develop that property there. On the short term basis, I want to see us come to a conclusion with Alexander Valley Healthcare on Thyme Square — that’s almost done.”
Wolter also pointed to tracking some projects that had to be placed on hold or elongated due to the loss of development money that was provided by the state, such as the development of a new police station or the repaving of city roads. For the ladder, Wolter said that the city “needs to start thinking outside of the box” when it comes to figuring out how to pay for local road improvements.
“I think those are tangible (goals). We can touch the end result at some point,” he said.
When it comes to intangible goals, he said that he wants to continue to promote a “feeling of family” in Cloverdale. The feeling of family works hand in hand with Cloverdale’s small town charm, Wolter said, and he wants to continue to find ways to promote citywide camaraderie.
When asked about what he views as some of the major hurdles that the city will have to address in the coming year, Wolter said that the major hurdles include the local homeless population, as well as the future finances of the city.
Wolter and Brigham co-chair the city’s ad hoc committee focused on homelessness, and Wolter and Bagby both sit on the Fourth District Homeless Task Force put together by Fourth District Supervisor James Gore.
“The definition of ‘homeless’ is a pretty big umbrella. Underneath that umbrella is Mom and Dad with a little kid who are living in a motor home and are trying to make ends meet. Also underneath that umbrella we have the person who is dependent on drugs to get through, and probably has some mental health issues. Then we have the person who definitely has mental health issues,” Wolter said. “We classify them all together as ‘homeless,’ and I don’t think that’s fair. Mom and Dad are a victim of circumstances, those are the ones that we can help immediately. The others need tender, loving care in a different direction and we can’t control what they do.”
When figuring out how the city can both address and help shelterless people, Wolter said that while there are local organizations working to help folks get food and clothing, the city needs to be careful with how it intervenes with those programs.
“The best thing the city can do is stay away from it,” he said, talking about the food and clothing distribution program that happens at St. Peter Church every Tuesday morning. “Once the city gets in, there’s all kinds of regulations.”
Should the city get involved with that program or any other local ones, there would be “too much red tape,” he said, which would ultimately hinder the efforts.
One of the things that Wolter wants to see the city do in 2020 is to pursue a ballot initiative that would remove the sunset on Cloverdale’s user utility tax, which is set to sunset in 2022.
“As it is right now, we have to remember to deduct $400,000 from our income,” to account for the potential loss in tax revenue should the user utility tax be allowed to sunset.
Getting prepared for emergencies
Like other cities in the county, Cloverdale is working on its emergency preparedness plan.
“We had the 2017 fires and we were saying, ‘we’ve got to come up with a disaster program,’ and as the date of the 2017 fires got further and further into the distance, the need for emergency kind of diminished,” Wolter said. “Along came the Kincade Fire and we’re back on board now.”
Wolter doesn’t want the city to lose sight of creating an emergency preparedness plan, and he doesn’t want Cloverdale’s disaster preparedness efforts to be fire-specific. In March 2019, Cloverdale suffered some damages due to flooding and, living in California, there’s always the threat of a large earthquake.
In cases of countywide emergency, Wolter acknowledged that Cloverdale is often “an island,” since it’s the northernmost city in the county. Should a disaster hit any location south of town (like the Kincade Fire did), most folks outside of Cloverdale are directed to evacuate south, whereas Cloverdalians are likely to be evacuated north to a different county.
“The big thing for me is understanding that Cloverdale has to be completely independent and take care of itself because we’re an island,” he said. “If it’s just Cloverdale being hit with the disaster, we would get all kinds of help from the county, but when it’s a countywide disaster we’re all on our own.”
Wolter commended the response efforts of places like the Cloverdale Citrus Fair during the Kincade Fire, but said that there’s still work to be done.
As part of its disaster planning, Wolter specifically said that the city needs to coordinate with local assisted living facilities to make sure that they have an evacuation plan for some of Cloverdale’s more vulnerable citizens.