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7 questions with Alan Nakanishi

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Posted: Monday, October 25, 2010 12:00 am

Q: If the city budget worsens, where would you cut? Please be specific.

A: Anticipating an economic downturn and decreased revenues from sales and property taxes, the first action should be ceasing of unnecessary spending. Large projects should be put on hold and the city should concentrate on running a lean city operation that will best serve its citizens and support efforts for job creation, and for local retail businesses. We can support sales tax revenues for the city by encouraging people to shop locally. As the economy picks up and revenues to the city increases from improved sales and property taxes, the city can continue to build up city reserves.

Leading by example, city council salary should be reduced by a certain percentage. There would be a moratorium on city-paid travel for conferences and meetings, and hiring of consultants including those who assist in looking for filling city staff positions. The city should stop contracting work that can be performed "in-house." As employees retire or leave, there would be no new hires except for public safety.

The city should move forward economically by cutting costs without cutting pubic safety. We need to work cooperatively with our dedicated city employees in looking for ways to save and work more with less as they have, by taking a day a month of unpaid furlough. Longer use of machines, equipment, supplies and materials should be encouraged, and waste curtailed.

Further cuts would be dependent on the state of the economy, the city's revenue stream and cash flow. To take from city reserves should be the last resort.

Q: As a member of the council, how would you work effectively with other members whose perspectives conflict with your own?

A: I am not one to cause dissension or division; I am a problem-solver. I will work effectively with other members whose perspectives conflict with mine in the same manner I have always done while serving previously on the Lodi City Council and in the California State Assembly.

Throughout my career — as an employee, employer, military officer, chief of staff of a hospital, president of a large 237-physician association and head elder in my church — I have learned to listen before speaking, to disagree but not be disagreeable, to attack the issue, not the opponent. An example of how I work with others with differing views was my election to co-chair one of the California Assembly caucuses dominated by members of my opposing party. I will be able to work effectively with other members presently on the City Council and those who are currently running.

Q: Many cities are looking into outsourcing or privatizing some operations. What could be outsourced for the city of Lodi?

A: Many cities are looking at outsourcing or privatization in order to cut costs. I do not believe they will achieve the cost savings and services desired. Contracted workers do not have the loyalty to Lodi as do employees of Lodi. Many do not realize that the employees of Lodi are taking one day of furlough a week during these difficult economic times.

There will always be complaints of services provided by the city, but in a large part, Lodi tries to provide the best services possible to its citizens. I believe that having city employees under the direction and oversight of the city manager and the city council best serves the city, rather than contracting out work to the lowest bidder, who may not be around in the future. There is also less restraint, greater management and increased morale when work is done "in-house."

The city should not get into a business that can be performed by the local private sector, and current services that are provided by city employees should not be outsourced or privatized. The only work that should be outsourced is work the city is unable to do within its own organization.

Q: What is you vision in 10 years and, as a council member, how will you work to achieve it?

A: My vision for Lodi in 10 years is that we will be a model for other cities because we did not imitate, but worked in collaboration — local businesses, local nonprofits, local religious bodies, the city staff and the City Council all working for the common good of Lodi. Our streets will be safer because of our continued support and priority for public safety. We did not cut public safety to make up for budget shortfalls. Our support of Neighborhood Watch and the Boys and Girls Club, and getting citizens involved on the Eastside, will also add to our safe streets and well-being. Continued support of the Salvation Army, Lodi House and those who care for the less fortunate will be an example to other cities.

Lodi will be one of the best service organizations because of our loyal city employees who were treated with dignity, respect and concern even during the worse economic downturn since the Depression. Businesses will be thriving, with very few empty retail places, because of the support, insight and efforts made by city council members and others in the city network. They will be attracted to us because of our business-friendly attitude and safe environment.

The well-being and safety of our young people will be a priority, with park facilities and structures that will draw people from surrounding communities because of our excellent facilities and safe environments.

The financial picture of Lodi will be positive because of the fiscal stand made by past City Council members. Lodi Electric Utility will continue to be competitive with its electricity rates, and a regional water plan will be in place. All these "visions" can become "possibilities" through hard work, experience in matters of government and policy, listening to what the people need and want, making choices that are fiscally sound, standing firm when there are difficult decisions to be made, and through community involvement, strong leadership and a desire to serve others.

Q: Outline specifically how you would bring new jobs to Lodi. If part of your plan is to hire an economic development director, specify yardsticks to ensure that the position is cost-effective.

A: Hiring an economic development director at this time is not cost-effective. In this economic downturn and uncertainty, businesses are unwilling to risk enlarging their businesses or to hire more employees.

The City Council should get everyone involved in economic development from the city manager down. The business of bringing new jobs should be through each council member's involvement with our present economic development team in Lodi. We should use our networks with the Chamber, the Business Partners of San Joaquin and other entities to find businesses looking to locate.

Those who want to rebuild or remodel should not find the process slow and inefficient. Development is at a standstill in our city as well as in our county. The development impact fees should be lowered for a period of time to stimulate growth. We should also do everything we can to support our local retail businesses by encouraging shopping in Lodi.

Q: How can city payroll and pension costs be controlled?

A: There are several ways to control pension/payroll costs during this difficult economic time:

1. Continue to have a monthly furlough day, which the city employees have agreed to and are presently doing.

2. Costs can be controlled by increasing efficiency, not by cuts in the present staff. Advanced information technology rather than adding additional staffing can be utilized, public safety officers exempted.

3. The city should refrain from offering large salaries, as is customary when hiring employees in high-level positions. The full compensation, including health and pension benefits, should be considered when offering a salary.

4. Citizens desire transparency in government. On a user-friendly city site, the salary and benefits of city council members, manager, attorney and clerks, as well as other public employees, should be listed. Fiscal accountability is accessible to the people, and many difficulties might be averted. Transparency also ensures that CalPERS reports honest assumptions and expectations on pension costs.

5. If Lodi overspends, approves large debt-ridden projects, develops negative cash flow and finds the economy continuing to dip with revenues from sales and property tax declining, changes in pension plans need to be made. Retirement formulas and benefit calculations for new hires need to be adjusted. Spreading out the years of service in which a lifetime pension is calculated from one year to three will prohibit pension "spiking."

Q: The city's electric utility is now recovering from a financial crisis created by burdensome debt. How can near-meltdown in this operation be avoided in the future?

A: The city has owned the electric utility since 1909. Until the California electricity crisis (also known as the Western U.S. Energy crisis of 2000 and 2001) the Lodi utility was relatively easy to run. Under a regulated system, there were very few bankrupted electric utility companies. In 1996, deregulation came about with a signed legislative bill. Enron took advantage of the situation and became involved in economic withholding and inflated price bidding in California's spot markets.

The state government placed a cap on retail electricity charges. With market manipulation, the utilities could not charge for the higher expense being incurred by higher natural gas prices. PG&E went bankrupt, and Southern California Edison almost followed. The public utilities were not shielded from the deregulated environment. Rules were put in place so that a similar situation would not occur again.

The near-meltdown in this operation can be avoided by learning from the mistakes of the past and by running a fiscally sound organization with well-trained and knowledgeable staff. To run an electric utility under deregulation is more difficult than under a regulated system. Because the Lodi City Council is the governing board of our Lodi Electric Utility, having council members with a background in business and a knowledge of past crises is advantageous to avoid what occurred in the past and to secure the future of Lodi Electric.

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