Time for change in Atascadero

Tom O'Malley
Tom O'Malley dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

We’ve long been impressed with Tom O’Malley’s experience on both city and regional government bodies, his work ethic and his ability to broker compromises. We endorse him, though, with reservations; we believe he showed a disturbing lack of leadership in approving a cost-sharing plan with Wal-Mart that has left the city on the hook for $6 million in road work that it cannot afford.

Under the 2012 agreement, Wal-Mart is responsible for paying 29 percent of $4.5 million — the original estimated cost of road improvements — plus up to $200,000 for any cost overruns. However, since then the estimate has jumped to nearly $12 million.

The City Council should have insisted on a clause that would have required Wal-Mart to pay a share of all costs over and above the original estimate, and we’re disappointed that, as the city’s top elected official, O’Malley did not have the foresight to better protect the city.

That said, O’Malley is far more qualified than his sole challenger, Charles Scovell, who lacks hands-on experience in local government. We are concerned, too, about Scovell’s troubled past, which includes a string of arrests, mostly in connection with minor crimes. While we appreciate his honesty — he notes that he dropped out of school and got involved in drugs, but has since turned his life around — and his interest in city government, Scovell is not ready for the city’s top elected position.

O’Malley is the better choice to lead the city forward and for that reason, The Tribune supports his re-election.

The poor handling of the Wal-Mart roadwork agreement is a signal to us that it’s time for a change in the city of Atascadero. Len Colamarino and Chuck Ward are the ones to bring it.

Incumbents Brian Sturtevant and Heather Moreno are qualified and committed council members, but we believe there’s been too much lockstep voting on the council. No one wants council members to always be at odds, but too much unanimity isn’t healthy, either.

We believe that Colamarino and Ward would bring some needed balance. Both men are smart, they have a clear vision of what the city needs, and they would help ensure all points of view are fully considered.

Both are experienced in the workings of city government ; Colamarino serves on the city Planning Commission, and Ward is a former planning commissioner. Ward also has been highly involved in veterans’ issues and was a leader in developing the Faces of Freedom Memorial at Atascadero Lake Park and the American Heritage Monument at Colony Square.

But what’s more impressive to us than lines on a résumé is this: Both Colamarino and Ward have proven themselves to be independent thinkers who aren’t afraid to be in a minority of one.

Colamarino was the only official on either the Planning Commission or City Council to vote against the Wal-Mart roadwork agreement.

“Colamarino said he is uncomfortable with the new costsharing plan that calls for the city to front costs for builders’ road work around the project area,” we reported at the time. Good for him — if only others had listened.

In 2010, Ward was the only planning commissioner to vote against approving two large movie theaters in the downtown, another wise move.

That said, Ward can at times come off as self-aggrandizing; we urge him to tone it down.

Colamarino’s 2011 DUI conviction is also a concern. However, we don’t believe a single DUI conviction should disqualify a good candidate from holding public office, though we trust that Colamarino’s first conviction will be his last.

Bottom line: While some progress has been made in Atascadero, we believe residents deserve more: more economic development, a more vibrant downtown, a more well-defined identity, and certainly, they deserve better protection of their long-term financial interests.

We believe a change on the City Council could help deliver all that.

The Tribune strongly endorses Len Colamarino and Chuck Ward for Atascadero City Council.