This November there are three regular-term Porterville City Council seats open, and one short-term seat. Only Mayor Milt Stowe’s seat remains intact, with his current term lasting through November, 2018.
The short-term seat, a two-year term, has only one candidate running, long-time council member, Cameron Hamilton. This seat is currently held by council’s appointee, Monte Reyes, who filled the void following the passing of former member Pete McCracken.
The three regular term seats, are currently held by Hamilton, Councilman Brian Ward, and Councilwoman Virginia Gurrola. Ward is seeking re-election to his seat; Gurrola is not. The candidates for these seats include Ward, Reyes, Shelbie Akin, Martha Flores, Austin Drake Slater and Richard Stadtherr.
Shelby Akin is an events manager for a security technology company. She has served for the past four years on the Burton School Board of Trustees, and has been active in the Leadership Porterville Board since 2008, being the current board chair. She is also active within her church. She is married and has three children.
Martha Flores was born and raised in Porterville. She is now retired, having worked for the Porterville Unified School District as an administrative assistant. She has been a regular attendee of city council meetings since 2003. Flores served on the Sierra View District Hospital Board for four years – three years as the board vice chair. She has worked with a variety of non-profit organizations and been a small business owner.
Current Councilman Monte Reyes is a 2010 graduate of Leadership Porterville, and is the immediate past chair of that organization. He has served on the Porterville Chamber of Commerce Board, was chair of the Porterville Arts Commission, and is serving on the Tulare County Economic Board of Directors, where he has recently been named vice chair. He said he feels he has a well-rounded view of how the city functions.
Austin Drake Slater is vice president of Porterville City College’s Associated Student Body, with which he has been involved for the past three years. Through the college’s student body, he worked with the Porterville Area Coordinating Council to supply families in need with water. The 20-year-old’s candidacy platform is “One United Porterville.” He is a political science major.
Richard Stradtherr is a long-time Porterville resident and a graduate of Monache High School. He served on city council from 2002-2006, serving as mayor for one of those years. In his work, he is a controller, who has a MBA in business administration. He is a certified public accountant and a certified internal auditor.
Brian Ward moved to Porterville in 2005. He is a psychologist, who works with the Burton School District. Ward first ran for city council in 2007 and was elected. He has served on council ever since. He is very involved in his church, he said. Ward is married and has five children.
Porterville’s Biggest Issue
At a recent candidate forum, held at City Hall and moderated by PK-The Redhead from K-TIP radio, the candidates were asked, “What is the biggest issue in the city.”
“The root cause, of just about all of Porterville’s problems, is economic development,” Stradtherr responded. “Trying to figure out how do we bring more money into this town, than we send out. That affects just about everything we want to do – it affects the kind of infrastructure that we want. But, this town has to figure out how do we bring in more money than goes out – otherwise we’ll never solve any other problems for the people in this community.”
“Right now, I feel the biggest issue facing Porterville is definitely water,” Reyes said. “I think water is the key to a lot of things that are ailing the city. With that being said, I think that the city is doing a great job at handling the water issue right now. I think we have taken control of it as best we can.
“But that being said, local control is definitely very important for us to try to maintain. I think that regulations at the state level have put local control at risk. I think we are being asked to do far more than we can afford to do but we’re stretching it as thinly as possible, to keep our service up to a high level.
“I think that development – housing, economic and otherwise are also at risk. Without water, none of those things can be further developed. I think the quality of life is also at play, when you are talking about water. I think that a lot of people have had to make some concessions with the way they like to live – whether they like to swim in a pool or wash their car. I think that a lot of those things have come to a grinding halt, because of the water.”
Slater looked at something different.
“One of the major issues that I have chosen to focus on, in my campaign, has been jobs. Looking at the county, we have a fairly high unemployment rate of 12.3%. And, also when you look at education 68% of our population has a high school degree, but it only translates into 11% of our population having their bachelor’s degree.
“I think we need to focus on creating jobs that aren’t geared toward college graduates. Now, as you know, government can’t create jobs, but it can use proposals that will help, slowly and surely, create jobs through the power of committees, through bringing up these issues to schools, to businesses, and helping us all grow, collaboratively, together.”
Flores responded, “I believe we have to take into consideration all issues, because every member of this community has one, or two, or several. I believe in the promotion of building economic opportunities to continue to retain existing businesses, and attract new business – to work in the heart of the city for the revitalization of the empty building and the vacant lots, with the infrastructure already in place. And, of course, to support new business development.
“While we have to promote business development, we have to make sure that we promote public safety and that we have adequate safety for the annexation and the new businesses, as we continue to grow in business development and annexations.”
“I believe water, probably, is our most important issue at this time,” Akin said. I have the opportunity, two years ago, to sit down and talk with somebody. They said that water storage is probably our biggest challenge and that was, of course, before the drought came right in our backyard. If we can work on that, I think it would solve a lot of issues. Community involvement, second to that, would address the economic issue – the buildings, the infrastructure, safety. If you get the community involved, I think, that would solve a lot of issues.”
Lastly, Ward said, “As the other candidates have mentioned, we have an issue with water, and coming down the road is air quality. And, those two things affect everything in our lives including economic output of the community. So, one of the challenges we are facing is the EPA regulations that may come upon us because of, actually, the federal government fumbling the ball. And, if those regulations come upon us, then you are looking at tying up all of the economic components because of the power that they can put upon us in terms of ordering no-drive days, and suspending the ability of issue permits.
“The other focus of the council has been clearly on the water issue. If you don’t have water, and water pressure, you can’t expand businesses. You can’t expand infrastructure. You can’t create new development. So, all of those things are tied to building and strengthening of the economic engine of the community.”
It is clear that all the candidates feel water and economic development are important to the City of Porterville. It is up to the voters to decide, which candidates they feel are approaching these and other matters, in the way the voters want to move the city forward.