In an hour-long candidate forum for the county's District 4 supervisor seat, incumbent Nate Miley and his challenger Tojo Thomas debated on several topics ranging from the county budget to criminal justice realignment to redevelopment and incorporation.
Put on by the Eden Area League of Women Voters, moderator Earl Hamlin gave each candidate five minutes to make opening statements and talk about their agendas for the district, which includes Castro Valley, Ashland, Cherryland, Fairview, El Portal Ridge, Pleasanton, East Oakland, and Montclair.
Thomas, a Fairview resident and 11-year deputy probation officer for the county, said he decided to run this year because of his . Thomas' agenda also includes bringing higher accountability to goverment.
"I need competition," Nate Miley said in his opening statement. "I don't want you to take me for granted."
Miley went on to detail his and said it will help in dealing with all the county's issues from health care reform, transportation and how to "fill the gaps in the unincorporated areas," now that have dissolved.
Candidates were then given two minutes to respond to the following topics and questions asked by attendees of the forum.
Supporting priorites through cutting services and programs or raising taxes and fees
Miley said the county currently faces an $88 million deficit. Despite this, the county has not yet dipped into its $175 million general reserve fund or tapped its overall reserves of $500 million. Instead, he said the county's looked at ways to save money without raising taxes, such as laying off county employees and vanpooling to get employees to work.
Thomas admitted he did not know specific details of the budget but said his staff is helping him better understand it. He said public protection took a hit when in 2010, 20 officers were laid off in the probation department. He hopes to prevent this in the future.
"For me, taking cuts from public safety is an issue," Thomas said.
Should unincorporated counties incorporate?
Despite the expenses that Thomas said would come along with incorporation, especially paying more taxes, he said "if that's what the people want, I'm all for it."
Miley said that despite it being uncommon for unincorporated areas to become cities, it is not always the best way to fix the problems of an area. At the current state of the economy, he does not feel that incorporation would be in the best interest of the unincorporated areas.
"Incorporation isn't a panacea," he added.
What the release of state prisoners into the local areas means for Alameda County
Thomas stressed that residents should be worried about criminals coming to their neighborhoods and said he plans to find a way to hire more law enforcement.
Miley said six county agencies including the sheriff's office and district attorney's office weighed in on criminal justice realignment. It was made in part due to overcrowding, lack of funding and cuts of programs. He added he felt the county could better handle non-violent criminals than the state. A $9 million budget is being used to implement effective social services, such as an individual achievement program, according to Miley.
Lack of a Redevelopment Agency
Miley made it clear how much he opposed the phasing out of the county's redevelopment agency. He said unincorporated areas took the biggest hit because the agency provided the areas much-needed improvements. Despite the $62 million the county is expected to receive back from the state, the money goes into the general fund and can be used for anything from criminal justice to health care for the county.
Thomas mentioned again the budget was not his strength, but he is working with his team to figure out how to make the local economy more successful by developing more small businesses.
Environment, parks and open space
While both are supporters of open space, Miley mentioned his support of Measure D, which reserves less land for urban growth and more land for agriculture and open space. Miley also took into consideration Measure B, which keeps county projects moving along, including bicycle and pedestrian safety and transit center development. He said it impacts jobs, open space and housing.
Legalizing Medicinal Marijuana
Without hesitation, Miley said he was a Prop 215 supporter, which has allowed patients and their designated primary caregivers to grow marijuana for personal medical use. He stressed that many people need the drug and said it should be properly regulated through inspection of compliance.
Thomas shared his worry about having his kids raised nearby marijuana dispensary clubs. He went on to accuse Miley's of supporting medicinal marijuana in part due to a $10,000 campaign donation he received from a local cannabis club.
"I take money from a lot of people," Miley said. "I'm not ashamed about it."
Probation department, county and government scandals, and micromanagement of county departments
Both were given a chance to speak freely about county government.
"I'm growing tired of the growing number of scandals in county government," Thomas said, citing several recent incidents including , , and the .
He said the supervisors should have done a better job in hiring someone qualified.
Miley responded by saying Muhammad was hired to be a "change agent" and they felt he would be a good role model for changing his troubled past into something positive. Miley said they wanted Muhammad to help young people rather than incarcerate them in jail. Miley would not comment on the sexual assault lawsuit because it is still undergoing investigation.
"Things happen and unfortunately they happened with Mr. Muhammad," Miley said.
Thomas had mentioned Miley's involvement with the Associated Community Action Program (ACAP) by voting to bail out it out prior to having it go bankrupt. Its former officers were charged with misusing local and federal funds.
"If someone wants to say I was responsible for ACAP, I stand wrongly accused," Miley said.
Miley said it wasn't his job to micromanage the program. Although he admitted his daughter was one of the 30 employees who worked for the organization, he said it is the responsibility of deparment heads to make sure each department is run properly.
"If they don't do their job, then we'll hire someone who can," Miley said.
However, Thomas said when it comes to crime and money regarding the county, he will step in to micromanage.
To view the candidate forum, check out this video posted on Youtube by Bob Swanson of Supervisor Nate Miley's Office (posted above).
For more information on either candidate, visit their campaign websites:
You can also watch a previous debate of both candidates captured on April 23.