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Some consensus, but transparency and experience biggest issues

On Sept. 8 Sonoma County’s chapter of the League of Women Voters held a candidate forum for those running for the available seats in the town of Windsor. It was the first public outing for the candidates and was done virtually in deference to COVID-19. There are four candidates — Tanya Potter, Dominic Foppoli, Rosa Reynoza and Sam Salmon — for the at-large mayor seat, and two candidates — Jeffrey Leasure and Deborah Fudge — for the District 3 town council seat.

Fudge, Foppoli and Salmon are all current councilmembers. Neither Foppoli nor Salmon’s district is up for election this year, so should either lose the mayoral election, they will serve out the remaining two years of their town council term. Should one of them win the mayoral seat a successor would be picked for their seat, either by appointment or by special election, to be determined at a later time.

Debbie McKay hosted, while Karen Weeks moderated. Candidates were allowed a one minute opening statement, then questions collected from online viewers (or citizens who sent them in ahead of time) were then presented to all candidates, and again they had one minute for their response. The order by which candidates answered rotated through, so that everyone had a chance to go first and last, and everywhere in between.

Questions for all six candidates took up the bulk of the forum, though there were a set of questions that were only for the mayoral candidates. Then each candidate got a one minute closing statement.

Opening statements

For Salmon, Fudge and Foppoli opening statements were used to cover their history of service in the town and also touch on why they were running again. Reynoza has been seeking a seat since 2016, and Leasure ran for council 20 years ago, but both of them used their opening statement to introduce themselves and outline their reasons for running. Potter is a political newcomer, with a long history in military service and law enforcement.

Foppoli: “Everybody who knows me knows I always say Windsor is the greatest town in America, and I’m running to keep it that way and make it even better.”

Fudge: “We have a great small town community, the most reserves of any city in the county, the best roads in the county and we are statistically the safest city in the county, and unlike most towns in Sonoma County, we’ve never had a sales tax. These are all things I think are important reasons for experienced leadership.”

Leasure: “I’m running again because I feel we’ve lost touch with the realities of how our citizens feel about the projects we’re working on and they feel like we’re losing small town character.”

Potter: “I’m running because I want to ensure Windsor stays the safest town and to make sure we’re supporting local businesses and streamlining the approach to keeping them open and bringing a voice back to the citizens.

Reynoza: “My parents moved to Windsor in 1979, I was raised here, grew up on these streets and attended our public school system and here and now I’m almost done raising my own three children here, and it is my privilege to say I’m a candidate for the mayor of Windsor.”

Salmon: “I think the council sometimes brings issues to the table that in my experience as a long-standing member, haven’t been vetted properly. I want to work with you to focus on housing for you and our working families, not housing for our government.”

What’s something new you would bring to the council?

Fudge: “I would bring all my existing experience and planning background to keep Windsor a small town with small town character, which I’ve done since 1996. But, something new I’m bringing is what I’m learning about climate change and sustainability.

Leasure: “For me, I’ve been sitting back last 20 years learning while serving on the planning commission and redevelopment oversight committee and bond oversight and other nonprofits, learning what we need to do to bring jobs to Windsor. Deb brought up sustainability and working through global climate change, and the SMART train isn’t the answer. COVID has given us the opportunity to bring more jobs to Windsor, within homes and in closer proximity. Getting people off the freeway is the way to get greenhouse gas reductions.”

Potter: “I have significant experience in public safety and an understanding of some things happening in our community people think are not happening, like human trafficking and drug crimes and I want to bring awareness … As mayor I would always support our public safety as well as ensure we aware and working towards the best of emergency preparation … to make safe from crime and national disasters.”

Reynoza: “We need a new voice and that’s what I’m going to bring is a broader representation on this council. I’m here to be the voice for those working hard every day and can’t make it to meetings.”

Salmon: “I’m 70 years old and I’ve been on the council for 26 years and my history the last 10 years has been one of ineffectiveness and I hope the mayor would be helpful in changing that. I want units that are affordable by design and to eliminate growth pressures on the edge of town such as the north of Jensen project.”

Foppoli: “First of all, if you ask the average Windsor resident, they’re pretty happy with our town, and happy with how the council has led, but we can always do better. The two years I’ve served as mayor has been as tumultuous as can be, and the council has done a great job with how to react to a cataclysm. We need to support local business, and we need new ideas (like Thursday Street East) which is something we’ve been doing.”

Other issues: Town Green/Civic Center, transparency and equity

Leasure, Salmon and Reynoza are completely opposed to the proposed hotel and civic center project on the eastern edge of the Green and think all current buildings should remain as is, while Fudge and Foppoli are in favor of the project, though both acknowledged the preliminary proposal is not likely to be the final one. Potter is in favor of a hybrid model, with a smaller project but completing the edge of the Green and improving the civic center offerings.

Questions about outreach and equity, as well as bilingual communication were given to all the candidates, and current council members pointed out that translation services are always available at meetings in in city hall and that social media posts are routinely posted in English and Spanish. Reynoza stated that translation wasn’t enough, that the town should also consider using whatever venues or platforms favored by the Latinx community. Potter and Leasure agreed with the others' statements.

When questions were posed about what role the public should play in decision making, current council members talked about how they make themselves available via social media and giving out their cell and home phone numbers (Salmon admits he does neither, and has suffered in the wake of COVID since most of his interaction with the public took place during events on the Town Green.)

Potter, Leasure and Reynoza all pointed out that the method of communication was less important than the consideration of the communication and that additional outreach from the town about changes or projects, including adding more committees and participants, is key.

Closing statements

Foppoli: “I love this town, I’ve had the honor to lead last two years, and we’re doing it all with the lowest taxes of any city in Sonoma County and the strongest reserves. I’m blessed to come onto a council that had been leading so well and I want to continue to do that. It’s a phenomenal town, it’s such an honor to be mayor, and I look forward to a few more years.”

Fudge: “I still have the same passion and energy I’ve had since day one. I love this place; I’ve been here 30 years something I’m proud of is the SMART train coming to Windsor in 2021. What new people don’t know is that I helped create the town they love and I’m not about changing it.”

Leasure: “I’d like to thank the current council members for their hard work, I recognize it’s a lot of work ... you have the opportunity to elect someone who will talk to you before making a decision, ask for input to create jobs by looking at new opportunities, I don’t support the SMART train as an answer for getting cars off the road …  and I want make a better Windsor going forward.”

Potter: “Windsor is the best because it’s made up of the best families. But their voices aren’t being heard. We need new voices on town council that will actively listen.”

Reynoza: “When get your ballot you’re going see four names for mayor. Two of those people have two more years, so this is the best opportunity to add a new voice and I think that new voice should be someone attending regular meetings. I will listen and represent you. I have been outside looking in, it’s now my turn to be inside looking out.”

Salmon: “After 26 years in office, why run for mayor? I have no ambition other than the next two years in office and I provide a voice still that is often the lone dissenting voice. I’m really disgusted with myself for being so ineffective. Let your voice be heard through your vote. Value what have and don’t want to lose this very special place, and I’ll spend your money as carefully as spend own.

To watch the entire forum, go the League of Women Voters YouTube Channel.

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