Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hanstad Won't Seek Re-election

Two-termer declines to seek third, no incumbents running

By Daryl Kelley
Rae Hanstad, a calm and thoughtful voice on the Ojai City Council, has decided not to run for a third term, creating a second open council seat on the fall election ballot.
Previously, veteran Council-woman Sue Horgan had said she would not run again.
Two council seats, and the positions of city clerk and city treasurer are on the Nov. 4 ballot. The filing deadline for candidates is Aug. 8.
“For me, it’s a practical matter. I stepped out of private life eight years ago and now I need to concentrate on my career,” said Hanstad, 56, coordinator of Ventura County’s new anti-methamphetamine task force. “Plus, I think the city is in good shape, so it’s time for me to step aside.
“And I look forward to having a private life again: I would like to go to the Farmers’ Market without someone lobbing a tomato at me,” she said with a laugh. “My sons personally blame me for the lack of a skate park.”
That understated sense of humor and openness has helped Hanstad not only survive the sometimes brutal debates that swirl around Ojai city government, but thrive within them.
“I have been a centrist,” she said. “So I haven’t really made a lot of enemies. But every time you make a tough decision you make an enemy somewhere.”
Her colleagues said Hanstad has been able to walk a diplomatic line amid heated discussion.
“Rae is a very clear, straight communicator, and I think she has the respect of most everybody in town,” said city manager Jere Kersnar, whom Hanstad helped hire in 2005 as the city began to pull out of financial crisis. “She has a very good analytical mind and many times has been able to to assist the rest of the council, and myself, in getting to the heart of a matter.”
One example was Hanstad’s leadership role in securing passage of a city law in 2006 that fines parents or teen-agers who allow under-age drinking at parties $1,000, he said: “She understood the need for a social host ordinance in the community and that it could be translated so the city could do something about it.”
Horgan, appointed to the council a year before Hanstad was first elected in 2000, said working with Hanstad has been “one of the greatest joys I’ve had here.”
“She’s very calm and always works to an informed decision,” Horgan said. “She studies what’s before us, is a good listener and is fiscally astute. She provided strong leadership during the city’s turmoil.”
Indeed, it was that turmoil — seeing city budget reserves fall from $4 million to nothing over three years — that prompted Hanstad to stay on the council for a second term. And she was mayor during the year the crisis came to a head and the council began to repair the damage.
“Part of the reason I ran again was to take care of the things that happened on my watch,” she said. “And I think one of my accomplishments, the council’s accomplishments, was the structural reorganization of the city so those things won’t happen again.”
The problem, she said, was not only that the city’s tax revenue fell precipitously during a years-long Ojai Valley Inn renovation, but that the city did not take adequate steps to slow spending soon enough.
“The council did make some financial decisions based on inaccurate information by staff,” she said.
That led the council to hire budget analyst and not rehire city manager Dan Singer when his contract expired.
“Yes, the problem was the inn and the cost of repair from the (2005) storms,” she said. “But I think more than that it was poor management from the staff.”
Direct tax revenue from the Ojai Valley Inn accounts for well over $2 million, out of a total city budget of about $8 million.
”Almost everything that could go wrong did when I was mayor ... except locusts,” Hanstad joked in an e-mail. “The council spent that year working very hard to ensure there would not be a repeat, beginning with hiring new staff and establishing sound fiscal policies.”
The fix has worked, and the city is now replenishing its reserves, tucking away about $750,000 a year. That means the council’s goal of a $4-million emergency fund should be accomplished by mid-2009, officials said.
“She had very tough year,” Kersnar said. “I didn’t come until the end of that, but by all accounts, Rae did a masterful job of helping the council and the community get where it needed to go.”
With the city’s surplus growing, a pleasant task for Hanstad and Horgan during their final six months in office is to begin to plan for what to do with the extra revenue once the $4-million reserve has been reached, Kersnar said.
Still on the council’s plate this year are several related long-term planning issues: how to provide new affordable housing to meet a state mandate, what improvements to undertake downtown, how to improve Libbey and the city’s other parks, whether a rebuilt skate park will be at its present location near the school district office. That decision is up to school officials. But the city, which is contributing $100,000 to the $350,000 project, is deep into the discussion.
Hanstad, who was recruited to run for council to preserve and protect Ojai from development pressures, said that goal remains the same, and she’ll support council candidates this fall who also believe that is important.
“Ojai has changed a lot in the last eight years,” she said. “In 2000, the concerns of residents were more loudly heard.”
And one of the greatest challenges for new council members “will be balancing the needs of residents vs. the need of tourists,” she said. “It’s important to remember that Ojai is primarily a residential city.”
One reason why she has announced she won’t run so early, Hanstad said, was to spark “an early and energetic” campaign for city council.
She said she’d heard that county Fire Chief Bob Roper is considering a run, as well as attorney Len Klaif and perhaps community activist Dennis Leary. And she said she’d welcome a run by recently retired Ventura County chief executive Johnny Johnston.
“He’d be a godsend,” she said. “I do want to talk with Johnny about this. People at the county genuinely liked and respected him.”
As for Hanstad, she said she’s looking forward to a less hectic life. She currently serves on two other public boards in addition to the City Council and is working virtually full-time in her coordinator’s role with the countywide methamphetamine task force.
The mother of three young adult sons and an adult daughter, she said she’d like to focus more on her family, and on her challenging new job.
“Now I won’t be so conflicted,” said Hanstad, who moved to Ojai from New York City 27 years ago to have and raise a family. For many years she concentrated on being a mom. Then at the urging of community acitivists, including former Mayor Nina Shelley, she ran successfully for office.
“I stepped out of my private life,” she said. “And now I’m stepping back in. I’m proud of what the council has accomplished.”


Anonymous said...

Rae will be missed. She has been an asset to the city. I hope her replacement is up to the task.

Anonymous said...

Throughout her council terms, Rae
has been available and approachable
and genuinely interested in citizens and their thoughts.We cannot know if her votes always
relected that loyalty,but I would be inclined to think she is as always appearing to be.PL