The Times Observer recently spoke with the two candidates for City of Warren mayor in the Nov. 5 electiion.
Seeking the office are Republican Maurice Cashman, who currently serves on city council as vice president, and Democrat Dan Ristau, current Main Street president.
What realistic changes or improvements would you like to see in the city in the next four years?
Ristau: The one thing I would like to see is (a) more responsive and respectful council who respects everyone who comes before council. I don't care what means people have or what they are there for. They need to be listened to respectfully. They can be quite wrong about something but it is the role of council and the mayor to listen. (Regarding improvements) the one thing I'd like to do is work closely with the city administration in getting us through what I look at to be financial tough times coming our way. If we don't begin to do something about the stagnation... and start turning around Warren, we're in for some very tough years. We got to get together."
Cashman: "One of the things I want to do is to hold some town hall meetings with the residents of Warren as well as also have a separate meeting with the merchants and business people of Warren (to) ask for their input as to what they would like to see. I would like to ask WCCBI (Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry) as to what the city can do to partner with them to bring economic development to city, and probably the county, too. The other thing I would like to do, (there is a) statewide organization of mayors, to get more involved with that organization (and) start getting some of their feedback. I want to get more involvement from the citizens and the business people and (see) what other communities have accomplished. We're not unusual in our struggles with the budget."
One of the most controversial items the next mayor will have to address is police and fire services and DPW. With the labor contracts up in 2015, what type of service is sustainable? What do you think those services will look like at the end of your term, if elected?
Cashman: "That's yet to be determined. There have been no discussions to date. We would like to make some changes within the contract. We know that we would like to make some changes. What changes they are have yet to be decided. (We) have to do that in concert with the unions."
Ristau: "We have to do something about the stagnation in Warren here. If we don't, tougher times are coming in Warren. For the last eight years it's been politics or government for special interest and in that time our once bountiful surplus has been spent down to nearly nothing. We didn't get anywhere."
There has been much discussion about what can be done with the wealth of parks the city possesses. There has been discussion about trying to sell some and develop others. As mayor, what are your views on these issues and can a solution be found that acknowledges the importance of public green space while also addressing financial constraints?
Ristau: "Selling parks is not a plan to move forward. We're not looking at the future. Selling parks is like we're going to give up here and continue the decline and I'm not willing to let that happen. I would only consider that as a last ditch effort. It is short-sighted (and) does not consider the future whatsoever. (Parks are) a wonderful (aspect) of the community. I understand maintenance is a concern (but I) talked to the new city administration about adopting parks (to) find ways for (the) community to help with maintenance. If we express a need, the public is willing to help us. Our greatest asset is our people. 'We the people' and I absolutely believe in that. When a need is stated, we are there over and over and over. By taking the assets we have in this community and learning how to refine them (we can) make our community more attractive as a place to visit and recreate. In that recipe, we have a formula for success here."
Cashman: "In my view we have too many parks and there are a few parks that are essentially not utilized. I have been a proponent of saying we need to shed ourselves and put those parks back on the public rolls. It's not a lot of money but there are several parks in my view that should be sold to a private interest. There are other parks, when you talk about Betts, Beaty, (Soldiers and Sailors, Lacy), Crescent, those are important parks to this city because there are activities there. They are well utilized (and) those should absolutely be maintained (and) continue to expand the... activities within those parks. I'm a proponent of keeping parks but I think we just have a few too many... it's not a big money maker but it's something that in my view from time to time you should have a property review."
When it comes to programming and services, are there items that can still be cut in the budget? Has there been anything cut that you would like to see brought back?
Cashman: "I have been a participant, one of three participating in budget review and (Former City Manager) Jim Nelles over the years that he was city manager, each year was making cuts. In my view in looking at it this year in depth, we're in pretty much of a bare bones (situation). Any future cuts are going to take services away that are essential for government to provide to the city. We're still looking at a potential tax increase. We've made a lot of cuts. The union contracts also prevent you from doing a number of things (such as downsizing). If you downsize the DPW (Department of Public Works) department, you're going to cut services. My view is we're tight. There are towns smaller than ours that have gotten rid of their police department, for instance. I struggle with that per se. (Referencing the recent warehouse fire) If we didn't have a paid fire department, there probably more than likely would have been three to four houses on fire. With the housing so tight in Warren, (I'm) not sure it's a wise idea to get rid of a paid fire department.
Ristau: "As far as I understand in speaking with some of the city administration folks, we're pretty much at the bare bones now. (I'm) not sure where we can make more cuts at now. (The) level of fire and police services is getting down to the minimum on those. As far as administration of the city itself, (council has) made a lot of cuts in department heads. I just don't see where any more cuts can come. (I'm) going to be more proactive to look for ways to raise revenue. It is interesting that through the cuts that city administration has been able to survive and I give them credit for that. I happen to think we have a remarkable team over there."
Why should people vote for you?
Ristau: "Because I believe, Warren, we need change. We need new thinking and we need change. Not voting for me relegates us to four more years of the same. I dearly respect Mr. Cashman. He is a wonderful man.... he is a man that I can disagree with and walk away still respectful; but when it comes to new ideas, I'm not seeing them. We need some new thinking and that is one thing I'm good at getting people together in a room and (saying) 'let's talk.' I don't see any of that happening in Warren. (It) could be as simple as having a luncheon with the half dozen largest employers and saying 'what can be done about this?' I just don't see any of these conversations happening. I don't have to be mayor to do all I do." He said he would be hopeful that Main Street could be turned over to new leadership if he is elected.
Cashman: "The reason I think they should vote for me is because of my experience, my desire. I want to be mayor. I believe that my background and experience and desires and energy level would make me a good mayor, one who is going to be reaching out, one who wants to listen and (has) an ability to work with people both inside and outside the city government. We need to have a stronger relationship with the county commissioners as well the WCCBI."