2020 Blythe City Council candidates participate in forum (Part III): Topics include Measure K, COVID-19, social dialogue in America, candidates' final comments

Candidates for the upcoming Blythe City Council November 2020 Election, pictured left to right in alphabetical order per last name: Samuel Burton; Jennifer Morgan Cyr; incumbent Eric Egan; incumbent Dale Reynolds; and Jonathan Smith.

On Oct. 2, four of the five locals in the running for two Blythe City Council seats participated in the Times’ and Palo Verde College’s (PVC) ASG (Associated Student Government) live candidate forum.

The four participating candidates were Samuel Burton, incumbent Eric Egan, incumbent Dale Reynolds, and Jonathan Smith.

Unfortunately, candidate Jennifer Morgan Cyr was unable to attend due to COVID symptoms. Cyr noted working with her doctor, and her employer working with public health, to determine when she could resume normal activities.

To view the livestream in-full, visit the Times’ official social media page and click on the videos archive at: facebook.com/blythenews

The following answers were transcribed from the Oct. 2 forum’s question-and-answer session responses, of which the candidates had an allotted minute and a half per.

Due to space constraints, the Times has published the candidates’ answers from the approximately hour-and-a-half long broadcast over a series of three issues.

The first part, published the week of Oct. 7 (also available online at pvvt.com), covered the previous topics – including candidates’ opening statements; top three priorities; Blythe’s fiscal future; and jobs/economic development.

The second part, published on Oct. 14, included candidates’ answers to questions on the topics of roadway infrastructure; the homeless; blighted areas and abatement; and cannabis.

This is the third installment; note, an extra bonus report on the candidates’ answers to two questions provided by PVC’s ASG will be published in the last week of October.

MEASURE K FUNDS

One of the new revenue streams the city will have is funding stemming from the newly passed and implemented Measure K sales tax – which went into effect Oct. 1.

In May, the community approved the 1% local-based sales tax increase with a 70-plus approval percentage – the funds of which will be spent at the discretion of the council during the city’s annual budgetary process.

Q Candidates, what will you want and commit Measure K funds spent toward in Blythe come 2021 and why?

Burton: I think I would want Measure K funds to – we need to look at a type of revenue emergency plan. Because, as we’re in this COVID crisis, we have unexpected things that happen.

I know we should spend all of it; but we need to put some aside for a just-in-case scenario. We actually need to prepare ourselves for, if this thing even gets worse.

I know we have roads and all of these things to do – but we need to prepare ourselves for an unexpected situation. If we have any type of surplus, we need to pinch off of it and save it for a more rainy day type situation. Because, if we have no delay of gratification and we spend everything that we have – and if things get worse – it puts us deeper in a hole.

And I know people want to see immediate results but, if we have a little bit of leeway, we need to have a different type of reserve for emergency situations. Because we’re talking about homeless – what happens if people are in a position where they need emergency funds, where do they go? Or emergency help, where do they go?

Egan: The first thing I would do, we already did; the staff and employees of the city of Blythe have been going without raises and putting up with us saying no for – since I’ve been there, the past six years. And getting bonuses instead of a raise, in case the city’s situation got worse, we wouldn’t have to continue to go in the hole. Any raise, up until recently, would have been going more into debt. And they put up with us. So, we’ve already given them some raises; that’s one of the main things I want.

The streets, obviously, we want to look more into the streets.

And then jobs and residents. What I want to do with that is – right off the bat, since this is new revenue – take 25% or more and set it aside specifically for economic development.

Things we can use to entice businesses to get here.

One of the things is hire a recruiter to go out and find out what businesses want, and match that up with what we have. That’s the main thing I want to do – set aside money before we even get used to having it in the general fund, and set it aside for tomorrow. We tried that with a grant writer; but, as it worked out, every grant they brought us required matching funds. And, again, to match the funds we’d have to go into debt – there wasn’t a match.

With the new revenue from Measure K, we might be able to now pursue some of those grants that we weren’t able to before because we will be able to have matching funds without going into debt.

Reynolds: Both my colleagues here touched on things that we have earmarked for Measure K. Putting money into reserves – it’s the first time the city is going to be able to put funding into reserves to have that rainy day fund.

We have the funding for abatement that’s been put in – it’s in the budget; we have those things going on.

Filling positions – public safety. We just recently put a new radio system in the police department. Now we’re working to put a new radio system in for the fire department, as well as updating their equipment and giving them a little more equipment to work with.

And then, of course, we look back at infrastructure and roadways. As Vice Mayor Egan touched on – grants. We’ll now have funding to do some of the matches to get more funding. So, all these things are in the plans for the new Measure K tax funds – and we will be very stringent and very stingy with the money just to get what we need put in place.

Smith: So, everyone brought up good points here. I do want to say one thing – just because we have extra money coming in to the city doesn’t mean that we need to just go out and spend it as quickly as possible. We need to have an efficient budget; so we need to do the things we’ve been doing – continue to strengthen the balance sheet of the city.

We need to efficiently pick out the projects that the city wants to pursue that’s going to drive the city into the future.

Just spending money doesn’t fix problems, in and of itself.

Efficiently picking out projects to tackle and pursue 100% – that’s what gets things done. So, we need to make sure that that money – some of it is set aside, obviously, for the rainy day; some of it is set aside for the roadwork; and some of it is set aside to pursue those projects and make sure we have the right staffing that we’re going to require to get all the projects on the road and done – done well, and done efficiently.

COVID-19

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has impacted private and public sectors the world over. Locally, Riverside University Health System – Public Health’s data numbers show Blythe to have a confirmed total cumulative (case count) of 373 positives, with 359 recovered, and four deaths as of Oct. 1. That is not including prison or jail numbers.

Q Candidates, what are your thoughts on the impact COVID-19 has had locally in the Palo Verde Valley and what do you feel policy-makers’ approach should be moving forward?

Egan: I don’t think I need to tell you what the effects have been on the town – it’s been devastating. One of the things that’s frustrating is Riverside County’s consistently has worse statistics than us, but we have to do with the same level that they’re at.

At one of the meetings we had with the county, I coined a little phrase – Blythe has been socially distancing for over a hundred years. About a hundred and sixteen or seventeen years.

That’s not good business wise, but finally it works to our advantage. Our numbers are way better than Riverside. That’s why I started the petition on change.org – you can see it on Blythe Neighborhood Watch – and Joey DeConinck got with our representative to get a letter to Gov. (Gavin) Newsom to allow a variance for the city of Blythe. So, our status – we’re at red now, countywide. We could go even better than that and open up even more if you looked at what our stats are – aside from Riverside County. That’s what I would like to see.

The businesses that we have, I don’t even know how they’ve made it; I appreciate them being here. People want to get back to work; businesses want to open. And, my top three things: I want to go out to eat, go to non-essential businesses, and get back to touching my face.

Reynolds: COVID-19 – well, to start off. When COVID-19 hit, I did Facebook lives and tried to keep the public informed on what was going on as much as possible.

Since then, the goal line keeps changing with the governor. But, all of us need to keep in mind that we – the community and the citizens of Blythe – have taken care of one another from day one.

Our numbers are low; as it has been said, we are geographically isolated. I’ve attended many meetings; I’ve gone to Zoom meetings, and it’s always the same. I always emphasize the same thing: Blythe is Blythe, and we should be left to do what we need to do.

The letter that (California 28th District State) Senator (Melissa) Melendez sent to the governor. We’ve also reached out to (California 56th District Assemblymember) Eduardo Garcia; we’ve reached out to (Riverside County Board Chair and 4th District) Supervisor (V. Manuel) Perez – trying to get the same support. We will continue to fight. I do not think that we are going to be classified because of our population; we should be classified in the yellow (tier), and we should have been there at all times.

Smith: Yea, COVID-19 – Wow. I’m just waiting 20 years down the line to read what the history books have to say about it. It’s been devastating for the community.

House stores and restaurants have been able to stay in business; I’ve got to bow to them because they’ve done an outstanding job.

If we get classified separate from the county – because the county numbers are (a) completely different planet from where Blythe is. We would be able to open more businesses and start resuming a more normal life. And I think that would be hugely beneficial to Blythe, as a community.

Burton: With the crisis of COVID-19 going on – one of the things I think that we can do is, one, emphasis more of an acknowledgement to the essential workers.

There’s a lot of people that, since COVID-19 started – they haven’t missed a beat. They’ve still been going to work. There’s things that we can do to acknowledge those people; to encourage them. Because it’s a wear and tear. And it’s taken us out of our norm.

And I commend all of the people that have kept going during COVID-19. But like they said, we have to submit to what Riverside County is doing. We have somebody we have to answer to too. But we can acknowledge those people that are continuing to push and to do. Find a way, a certificate of appreciation or something from the city, saying, “Hey, thank you. And keep up the good work.” Sometimes, a thank you goes a long way in the midst of when people think they’re being disregarded.

But we don’t even know what this next wave (is) going to be like. And it’s getting close to the flu season; and we’re coming back around for the second.

So, just – basically, everybody just keeping their fingers crossed. Just acknowledge them, do what we can, and stay safe.

ONGOING SOCIAL DIALOGUE IN AMERICA

Since the May 25 death of George Perry Floyd while in the custody of now-former Minneapolis Police Department officers, the country has seen the conversation on systematic racism, American society, and law enforcement come to the forefront – which included a demonstration in Blythe, held this past June 6.

Q Candidates, what are your thoughts on the ongoing dialogue and social issues the country is currently facing?

Reynolds: Wow. Growing up in Blythe – I’m not used to this stuff. I mean, I don’t know what has gone on in this country that everybody has all of a sudden turned against what we all take for granted as living together as one; to being one country; not divided.

You know, the looting – the riots. The things that are going on – why is that necessary?

You know, yes – we had our own peaceful protest. And it was excellent. Candidate Burton even said – all eyes should have been on Blythe that day. And showed them how to do things, and do things right.

We have all lived here, and we have all been together, as one – watching this going on, shaking and scratching our heads. It’s unfortunate that people go to the extremes they do to destroy a country that was founded on greatness.

I just – I’m beside myself at times on some of the stuff that I see.

I just say, Blythe has always taken care of each other; Blythe will continue to do so.

Smith: Blythe is really insulated, I think, from a lot of what goes on. And, when you grow up here, I think we do take for granted how things are; how the community is here.

That’s the greatest thing about Blythe, I couldn’t find it anywhere, when I moved out of town – where it’s just, like, everywhere you go people are taking care of each other.

It’s literally the greatest thing about Blythe, in my opinion. I think we did a great job that day with the peaceful march. I wish more people could have seen that because I think we’ve done great as a community – and we will continue to do that.

Burton: To add to the sentiments, I think that we as Blythe have a special opportunity to bring a spotlight to what making America great can be. And I think we need to be proud and step up to the forefront.

But we also need to understand that people are still hurting. And it trickles – even to people in Blythe because it’s hard to look at those things that have happened and say, for people to think, “Well, we hope it doesn’t happen here.”

So, by continuing to be the representatives of Blythe; by continuing to treat everybody as citizens; by continuing to treat everybody not by color, but by just people in general – I think America can look at us and say, “You know what, this is what we should be like.”

Because, like all of us have said, growing up here – I can’t speak for what happens in Minnesota. But, growing up here, it makes me proud to be a part of this community. To say – not in a condescending way – but I’m honored to say I can’t relate to how they’re going, how it happens. But I understand the pain of it.

So, I’m not negating what happened; but I’m grateful to be a part of this community.

Egan: One of the main parts of your question involves social dialogue, correct? Now therein lies the problem – there is no dialogue. People are talking past each other, not at each other. Or there’s one group that’s getting silenced, and then the other group is still talking and then they think they’ve won.

All they’ve done is make the other problem go under the covers and get worse instead of bringing it up and hearing two sides.

We’re seeing the result of growing up with the advice of – when you go to dinner parties, or parties in general, don’t talk about religion or politics. Instead of, OK – if you go and religion or politics comes up, here’s how you talk about it; here’s how you can have some dialogue, back and forth. You’re probably not going to solve anything except understand the other persons position better. And I don’t think that’s coming back any time soon, unfortunately.

But I think our little community is doing rather well.

CLOSING STATEMENTS

Smith: I don’t think there’s any doubt in my mind that any of the five of us running care about Blythe. And that’s why we’re doing it; obviously, we’re not in it for pay or fame and fortune.

We’re all here because we all genuinely care. And I just want to make sure that Blythe is a place that we’re all proud of. I’m doing everything in my power now, and I will continue to do everything in my power – whether part of that includes being on city council and helping leading the city towards the goals that we’ve set.

We’re going to make the town beautiful, and I just hope to be along for the ride here as one of the city councilmembers working for the city.

Burton: Again, I’d like to say thank you for this opportunity. And thank all of you for being a part of the community too.

My slogan is: together we can.

It’s not anything that I can do by myself, but together we can make Blythe a better Blythe. To bring back a pride of Blythe; to make it a better Blythe for the future.

Blythe has invested in me, raised me; I’m a product of Blythe.

And now, I believe I’ve been seasoned enough from being on different boards – I’ve served on the college board, school board, hospital board, volunteered for – all of those things Blythe has given. And I love it. And so now it’s my turn to give back.

So, given the opportunity, I’m willing to go in there and give back – and as everybody else said – and fight for Blythe. Fight with Blythe and for Blythe, and make it a better Blythe. Thank you.

Reynolds: If I’m re-elected to council – and even if I’m not – as I said when I started this whole thing, many years ago, it’s about my community. And I’ll be here, whether I’m a councilperson or not, to help build this community.

To help support this community. Do what I can to continue on working for my community.

One of the things that was said early on – it’s our home, it’s our town, it’s our responsibility. And I take that to heart; it’s my responsibility to continue to build on this community. There’s things that, as a councilmember, that we’ve done for the improvement of the community.

In closing, basically – they say home is where the heart is. My heart is in Blythe; this is my home, and I will continue as long as I still have a breath in my body to fight for Blythe. Whether I’m re-elected or not, it’s about my community; it’s always been about my community; and my stance will never change. Thank you.

Egan: Whether I’m elected or not, I’m going to continue to work to better Blythe. Before I was on city council, I had the Village Indoor Marketplace. Actually, that overlapped a little bit – in 2011, I started the Village Indoor Marketplace.

The main purpose of that was to start businesses small, test your idea, and if it works – go out and take on a lease. Before that happened, our home was paid for. Took out a $100,000 mortgage on that to get that started, to get some businesses going. We made money, more profit every year, we had more vendors every year – but we didn’t keep up with electricity and rent.

At the end of the five years – which I said I’d give it five years and we did – they wanted to raise the rent to $9,000 a month and during the summer we were hitting $4,900 a month on electricity; and I couldn’t pass that on.

I’ve also been a director of the Blythe Chamber of Commerce and trying to get businesses going there. So, before I even got on city council – years before – I’ve been working to make the town better. And I would like to continue doing that as one of your city councilmembers; and if I’m not, I’m still going to continue. That’s all I have.

(Note: For general information and inquiries regarding voting, ballot drop-off locations, and more – visit the Riverside County Registrar’s Office online at: voteinfo.net)

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