Sally Reynolds of Paso Robles says she isn’t the political type. The retired inventory control manager just wants to enjoy time with family in the city she loves.
But after learning more about how her city’s government operates, Reynolds wants to take action. And she’s telling everyone she can.
“The people are speaking. They’re speaking, and they want change. And it’s so refreshing,” said Reynolds, co-chair of the new Change Paso Robles Now group.
Paso Robles has been hit in recent years with a host of problems that haven’t resonated well with some taxpayers. “The city is not listening to the people, and I truly believe that,” Reynolds said, noting that among their main concerns is the city’s leadership.
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That’s why Reynolds and group co-chair Karen Daniels, an insurance agency owner, decided to represent their fellow citizens in their search for answers.
Among the group’s many sticking points: years of budget cuts resulting in city streets in disrepair and a smaller police force, as well as a controversial payout to former police Chief Lisa Solomon last month and a San Luis Obispo County civil grand jury report criticizing $1.6 million in unpaid vacation time.
“People (who speak to us) feel the city is self-serving and operating in a bubble and not keeping their fingers on the pulse of the city at all,” Reynolds said.
Change Paso is working on its strategic plan, but leaders say the general idea is to gather questions from the public and seek answers at City Council meetings or through public records. Then, they plan to post the information on the group’s website and arrange public discussions.
“We believe that knowledge is power,” Daniels said. “It’s about looking at these things and really getting the public’s eye about what is going on — what have we become complacent to and what needs to change.”
Asking the council to approve an outside audit of all city departments, including the city’s finances and policies, is also among their goals.
For Reynolds, the final straw came in recent weeks, when Solomon wasn’t placed on administrative leave amid accusations she sexually harassed a former officer and a lawsuit alleging illegal ticket quotas came to light.
“It’s been building. And people felt, ‘I’m just one person. What can I do?’ And now, we’re that avenue.”
Reynolds claims the group has followers and contacts in the hundreds, but she said she wasn’t certain of specific numbers. Some followers want to remain anonymous because they have businesses in town or want to stay out of the spotlight, she added.
Working for change in the months before the city’s November election is key, Daniels said, noting that Change Paso won’t be financing political campaigns but might recommend local candidates.
Three seats on the City Council will be up for grabs this election, including the mayor’s, making it possible for a new majority to form on the five-member board.
“It’s a very good time for the will of the people to be heard,” Daniels said.
Members of the City Council said Monday that they like to see members of the public participate in government as long as they are informed on how cities function even if that means some disapproval comes their way.
“That’s what democracy is all about,” Councilman Fred Strong said. “I would never want to take away from their freedom of speech and right to criticize.”
Change Paso Robles Now isn’t the first group to speak out against Paso Robles’ city government.
Concerned Citizens for Paso Robles, led by resident John Borst, argued for years that the city’s water rate increases for the Nacimiento Water Project should have gone before voters.
The group ultimately sued the city on the matter, but a judge ruled against its argument. Concerned Citizens’ efforts in the same lawsuit did, however, lead the city to change its public noticing on water rates, making the documents more detailed.
Borst’s group also has a second lawsuit pending since March 2009 that alleges the city violated state law when it raised water and sewer rates in 2002 and 2004. A management hearing on the case is planned for 9 a.m. June 4 in Paso Robles.
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