City Council candidate Clint Paulson reached out to me a few days ago, and asked why I was interviewing certain candidates and not others.I was willing to give Mr. Paulson another look, since he reached out to me. I was also impressed that he brought to voters' attention that the city had spent $100 k on a mailer to inform voters about the importance of the 2014 city election.
That money would have brought back the Wilson Park Fourth of July program! How much more waste is going on in the city of Torrance?
More is revealed.
Thank you, Mr. Paulson for reaching out to me.
1. Why are you running for city council this year? Did you ever plan on running for office before?
I believe we are in the midst of a significant sea change here in Torrance. We have been sailing along quite nicely for many years. The water, however, has become increasingly unsettled and unless we course correct quickly I believe the quality of life in Torrance will be significantly reduced. Toyota leaving is just the first wave. We can’t afford to elect leaders right now that are unwilling or unable to address the significant challenges we currently face. I wanted to run to try and effectuate change before it is too late.
I have always wanted to run for office. I was very involved in student government in both high school and college and attended law school with an eye towards public service. Having babies and young children, not to mention a career, has kept me from being as involved as I would like in recent years, but now my kids are older and I am more able to turn my focus to community matters.
2. You are a registered Democrat (or what?). Why?
I am not a registered Democrat. In fact, I am not and have never been registered with any political party. I believe partisan politics is a leading contributor to much of the dysfunction we see in government today. I also believe my views do not nicely fit into one particular camp. I am a more complicated person than that. I also oppose the corrupting influence of money in politics and I believe the party system contributes significantly to that problem.
3. Tell us about your prior professional/political experience and how they can help the City of Torrance?
I went to one of the top law schools in the country (the College of William and Mary) and I currently work in Government procurement in the aerospace industry. After law school, I received a Presidential Management Fellowship – which is prestigious program designed by the federal government to train future government leaders. As part of that fellowship, I worked with the U.S. Air Force where I also graduated from Squadron Officer School. I have since received a Graduate certificate in Government Contracts from UCLA and several professional distinctions in Contracts Management. I am the only candidate running that is a certified expert in government procurement. Approving government contracts is a large percentage of the nuts and bolts of being on City Council.
In late March, the City Council approved the purchase of two ambulances for the fire department in the amount of $410K. Mind you, the purpose of these ambulances is not to transport patients. The city already hires out to Gerber for the transport ambulances. Nonetheless, the fire department recommended basically the Mercedes of ambulances with all the bells and whistles you could possibly imagine. The staff report for this purchase indicated they would be bought sole-source (i.e. without pursuing competitive bids) because no other manufacturers could meet the safety requirements. Amazingly, nobody on the current council questioned this. I did some quick research and discovered you can purchase a quality ambulance that does not compromise safety in the slightest for roughly $140K. Had the city pursued a competitive bid for this purchase they could have saved nearly $130K on this one purchase alone. The city could actually have saved about $20 to 30K just by purchasing 2013 models versus the 2015’s the Fire Department recommended. Unfortunately for the taxpayer, the fire and police departments pretty much get everything they want in Torrance. Similar decisions to this are made nearly every single council meeting. As a procurement expert, I will work with the other members of the council to put an end to these wasteful spending practices.
4. What measures, reforms, and policies would you implement on a city level to bring in more business and increase economic activity in the City of Torrance.
Check out my blog commentary on the exodus of Toyota at the site below for my thoughts on this topic
5. What concerns do you have about crime and public safety in Torrance?
Combating crime and maintaining public safety is something all the candidates agree on. We all recognize the challenges associated with AB-109 and the increase in residential burglaries. How I differ from the other candidates, however, is that I realize that we will never be able to implement the suggested solutions to this problem, such as the hiring of more police officers, unless we correct the significant spending issues the city faces. In light of this challenge, and many others like neglected roads and streets, I’m not sure that building a $4 Million dollar soccer complex on a leased piece of property whose term expires in 5 years should be at the top of our priority list. In the last few weeks alone, there has also been a lot of money wasted on such things as the unnecessary imposition of street sweeping signs and paying for putting up 300 AYSO banners on city streetlights. We need to fix our spending priorities if we really want to address public safety concerns.
6. There are growing revelations about the city's massive pension liabilities -- $400 million, an online reports confirm that at least 600 city employees out of 200 are earning at least $100,000 a year in total compensation (per 2012 data). What reforms or steps do you support to deal with these massive pension liabilities?
Public employee pensions are at the top of the list when it comes to our spending concerns. Forecasts project that we will soon be paying $100k per year per public safety employee in pension costs alone. Except for new hires in the last few years, Torrance Public Safety employees do not contribute anything to their pension costs and they receive 90% of their highest/or final year salary after 30 years of service. That means they often retire in their early 50’s. The city is also on the hook for their medical benefits even after retirement. Think of that. I went to law school and have a respectable middle-class job in the aerospace industry. Right now, even with matching funds for my 401K contributions my employer pays less than $10k a year towards my retirement funds and provides no medical benefits upon retirement. Let’s also not forget that salaries for Torrance Public Safety employees are actually quite high when compared to the private sector. I truly don’t begrudge others that make more money than I do. Life is about choices and I made mine. I’m happy with where I am. That said, is it truly worth eliminating essential city services and facing possible bankruptcy so we can pay public safety employees nearly 10 times or more the equivalent retirement package of private sector taxpayers? I don’t think it is.
What truly bothers me about the pension dilemma is that the proposed solution thus far by our leaders is to make new hires contribute more to their pensions. Passing the buck like this doesn't really solve the problem and it also makes it harder for the next generation to make ends meet. Since when did we become a society that is willing to mortgage our children’s future? My grandma lived through the great depression and for much of her life lived primarily on something very meager like $1200 a month in social security. This despite spending a full career working at JC Penney. Knowing her, she would have given much of that meager social security check up if it meant helping her kids live a better life. Unfortunately, our society has become so clouded with greed that we have lost much of that perspective taught us by the great depression generation. It just seems wrongheaded to me to take away a benefit from our kids that we as parents are not willing to give up. Our kids shouldn’t have to pay the price for our reckless and greedy spending practices. If pensions are not an issue as some candidates would claim, then don't take benefits away from the upcoming generation. If they are an issue, then we need to start talking about imposing the same reductions on "classic" employees as those that are being forced upon new hires. That's a real solution to the problem versus the empty rhetoric I am becoming accustomed to hearing.
There's an idea -- require current employees to renegotiate their benefits. This problem cannot be solved by putting the burden only on new hires. Will the next city council actually summon the courage to do what is best for the city of Torrance. Candidates like Clint who refuse to run away from the serious pension liabilities and financial waste certainly will.
7. How have residents and prospective voters responded to your campaign?
Paulson communicates a researched, healthy concern about the pension and public safety issue, unlike other candidates who have contributed their answers to this blog. Because he refused to take anyone else's money to run a campaign, I recognize that he is not directly beholden to any one interest. Fine.
Yet it takes money to make one's case, even if for a city election. Can Clint make his case to Torrance voters?
He has made his case to this voter.
On June 3rd, I will be voting for Clint Paulson for Torrance City Council.