A.G. starts hunt for new councilman

Arroyo Grande should have a new City Council member May 25, and so far, three people have submitted letters signaling interest in the seat vacated by former Councilman Ed Arnold.

Planning Commissioner Tim Brown, Parks and Recreation Commissioner Shannon Kessler and Bill Honeycutt, a retired Santa Barbara County sheriff’s commander, sent letters asking council members to consider appointing them to serve the remainder of Arnold’s term, which ends in December 2012.

Arnold resigned April 27, saying he had become “a distraction” for the city.

The former council member and planning commissioner pleaded not guilty in January to five felony charges, including assault with a deadly weapon and domestic violence, for his alleged role in a Dec. 15 attack on a woman who had been living with him and his wife at their Arroyo Grande home.

He also pleaded not guilty on April 14 to two felony charges of possessing child pornography and using a minor for pornographic images.

The council has to fill the vacancy, either by appointment or by special election, within 30 days. Council members have chosen to fill it by appointment.

Those interested in the position must be at least 18 years old, live in the city and be registered to vote in Arroyo Grande. The application deadline is May 17.

A public forum is tentatively scheduled for May 19, at which applicants will answer questions from the public and the council.

Council members have already decided on three questions they will ask about, City Clerk Kelly Wetmore said: the top three issues facing the city, two or three things they’d like to preserve in the city and Arroyo Grande’s top three financial priorities.

The council hopes to make an appointment at its May 25 meeting.

The three interested in the vacancy didn’t waste much time to tell council members of their intent. Honeycutt, 70, wrote the council the day before Arnold resigned, asking for consideration for the seat if Arnold resigned or was recalled.

Honeycutt worked in law enforcement for about 35 years, including as commander of the Santa Barbara County Jail in Goleta. There he oversaw 200 sworn and civilian employees and an annual $16 million budget, he said.

He’s interested in how the city would balance growth while maintaining its small-town feel, and the city’s ability to provide services while dealing with economic issues.

“You want intelligent and smart growth,” he said Friday. “At the same time, you (don’t) want to lose the atmosphere that they’ve created here in Arroyo Grande.”

Brown, in a May 3 letter, wrote that he’s been involved with city issues starting with an update of the city’s General Plan — its blueprint for regulating growth — in 2001.

He served on the Planning Commission from 2001 to 2007 and has also served on it since January 2009.

Brown, 49, said his top issues include maintaining city service levels with less money, continuing to work on projects that will bring in more sales tax, and focusing on the city’s long-term water supply.

As a planning commissioner, Brown said he’s worked on the city’s historical preservation policies.

“We have to preserve historical buildings but also make them viable from an economic standpoint,” he said.

Shannon Kessler, who also sent the council a letter on May 3, was appointed in February to the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission.

A real estate agent, Kessler, 41, is president-elect of the PTA at Ocean View Elementary School and volunteers with Arroyo Grande in Bloom, a nonprofit organization dedicated to beautifying the city.

Top issues for Kessler include job creation, and business retention and expansion in the city.

“We do need to enable businesses to stay here,” she said. “We’re seeing too many for rent and for lease signs in the Village and in the rest of Arroyo Grande.”

Some ways to attract businesses could include financial incentives like tax breaks or lower fees, or streamlining the permitting process, she said.

“The city is already in tune with what city business owners need, but right now we’re dealing with a poor economy so we may need to go above and beyond to keep our local shops open and help them out,” Kessler said.