Selecting the next supervisor
by Joel Danoy / Tracy Press
Apr 27, 2012 | 3338 views | 13 13 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bob Elliott (center) takes a turn answering a question from the crowd as Tom Benigno and Rhodesia Ransom wait their turn to answer during the 5th District supervisor candidates forum Monday night.  Glenn Moore/Tracy Press
view slideshow (3 images)
The three candidates for the 5th District Board of Supervisors seat gathered for a forum Monday, April 23, to express publicly for the first time as a group their priorities and visions for the district if elected June 5.

About 125 people filled the Kimball High School theater to hear farmer and businessman Tom Benigno, City Councilman Bob Elliott and Planning Commissioner Rhodesia Ransom.

During the event, sponsored by the Tracy Press, candidates were allotted four minutes for opening and closing statements and 90 seconds to answer predetermined questions and submissions from the audience.

The 5th District includes Tracy, Mountain House and parts of Manteca. The nonpartisan position has a four-year term, with elected officials allowed to serve two full elected terms. The winner will replace termed-out Supervisor Leroy Ornellas.

Any candidate to garner more than 50 percent of the vote during the primary would automatically earn the seat. If no one’s total surpassed that threshold, the top two vote-getters would face off in the November general election.

Several questions during the one-hour, 45-minute program focused on key issues facing Tracy and San Joaquin County, including fiscal responsibility, public safety, agriculture and pensions for county employees.

The following is a sample of the candidates’ responses.

Fiscal responsibility

Elliott, a 62-year-old retired U.S. Army colonel, believes that balancing the county budget is a top priority and said a “robust economic program” is needed.

“If we want to continue to fund the programs that we have,” he said, “we need to have a reliable funding stream.”

“The best way to accomplish that is to encourage businesses to come here,” he added. “That will bring more jobs, more economic activity, expand the tax base and provide for the revenue we need to keep our programs growing.”

Elliott said he would employ steps similar to those being taken by the City Council to reduce costs by eliminating duplication of services, reorganizing staff, increasing departmental efficiency and looking for opportunities to contract services.

Ransom said that when drafting a budget, “you can’t spend what you don’t have.” That attitude, she said, would help her identify areas of spending for the county.

“Once we know what our priorities and desires are, and we know how much we have to work with, then we can start making decisions,” said the former member of the civil grand jury.

Ransom also believes it essential to work with banks and lenders to prevent future foreclosures of homes and farms in the county.

“We need to do more to stop the bleeding in our community,” she said.

Benigno, a 75-year-old lifelong Californian, said the county needs to generate more revenue, but said, “I don’t know where that will come from.”

“What we need to do is remember where this money is coming from,” he said. “Now, I wouldn’t want to lose my job — would you want to lose your job? So what do we do? Keep working you 16 hours at a job? I don’t know. There is an answer, because we have a problem, but we have to solve the problem by creating smart people and sending people to Stockton.”

Public safety

Ransom believes that public safety is an issue for the entire community and vowed to push for more funds to be funneled into areas that have been more recently developed.

She asserted that the face of crime had dramatically changed during the past 15 years, but funding levels remained relatively unchanged.

“Public safety is very important to making sure the community is safe, that businesses are safe, that families feel safe bringing their kids here,” she said, adding that she had experience developing programs to prevent gang violence in Tracy schools. “So, I would definitely invest in public safety — that way, we can be more attractive as a community.”

Elliott said he saw a direct link between strong public safety and a successful community and considered it his top priority if elected.

“If we’re talking about economic development, let’s get serious — a nice business is not going to come here if it’s not considered safe,” he said. “To ensure we bring that to reality, we have to ensure that adequate funding is in place for the entire spectrum of our public safety efforts and the entire spectrum of our law enforcement capability.”

Public safety begins with a balanced budget, Benigno said, and he pledged to end wasteful spending.

“The problem is that we have money going out the door, and no one knows where it’s going,” he said. “A lot of people say they don’t care where the money comes from as long as they get a check. That’s the problem. We need to understand that if we aren’t business friendly, we’re going to change the footprint, and we aren’t going to survive in our town.”


All three candidates identified water and agriculture as top issues they would keep close tabs on if elected.

However, there was a split on the topic of whether to build a peripheral canal or tunnel — which would ship water from the Sacramento River to Los Angeles and farms in Southern California, bypassing the lower parts of the Delta.

Ransom said building the canal would destroy the county’s agriculture industry and its heritage.

“The people who would benefit from this canal are not in San Joaquin County — there are no pros for us,” she said.

“I understand that some people feel that building a peripheral canal would mean jobs, but we can’t sell out our agriculture. We can’t sell out our economic base for temporary jobs.”

She said the high cost of refining the salt-rich water that would remain in the Delta with a peripheral canal in place was a price San Joaquin County residents shouldn’t have to bear.

Elliott said water was the greatest commodity in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, and a canal would only take that valuable resource away from local farmers, causing the agriculture industry to “wither and die.”

He said the “extremely high cost” of building it would offset any benefits.

“We need to have a reliable source of water at an affordable price. The peripheral canal will not get us there. We need to oppose that,” he said.

He suggested more offsite reservoirs and storage areas as an alternative to the canal.

Benigno called the topic his “meat and potatoes” and said he backed the proposal because it would provide 10,000 jobs for seven years for San Joaquin County residents. The work, he said, could support families who have lost homes to foreclosure.

“Heritage, selling out — that’s a lie. Pros and cons, that’s not fair,” he said. “It’s not about me trying to lose a race, because I believe in the peripheral canal, I’m not trying to do that. It’s about creating jobs for your kids and some of your family, because that’s what I’m supposed to do as a supervisor.”

County pensions

Ransom said cost-cutting should be "all-inclusive”

and not just aimed at public employees.

“When we talk about making sacrifices, we need to make sacrifices from the top to the bottom, bottom to the top,” she said.

Ransom said cuts to public employees would target departments such as the county sheriff’s.

“The last thing I want is someone who is supposed to be protecting me worrying about how they are going to pay their bills for their family,” Ransom said. “We need to think before we make changes to people’s futures and livelihoods.”

Elliot would push to refine the system to a two-tier setup that honors pensions of present employees but allows room to adjust the pensions of future hires. This system, he said, is already in place in many cities in California.

“I believe any adjustments in the current system should be made with consultations to all parties involves,” he said. “But that has to be balanced with the fiscal realities, and come up with a program that will be sustainable.”

Benigno said lawmakers need to stop placing restrictions on business and believes that “we need to watch our economy by watching our budget.”

Pension plans for public employees will fall

victim to lawmakers looking to make cuts, Benigno said, if taxes continue to increase.

“Those people that have good pension plans, I wish you luck,” he said. “Those that don’t have good pension plans, I wish more luck.”
Comments-icon Post a Comment
May 02, 2012
I prefer Elliott and Ransom's answers to Tom Benigno's.

His answers are too vague and without real substance to support his argument, therefore it made him appear clueless in how to address and find solution to the problem.

Good luck, voters. Vote for the one who is willing to listen and give answer... without resorting to the response of .... saying... BYE!!


May 01, 2012
Councilman Bob Elliott was the only candidate who consistently demonstrated deeper and broader knowledge of the county's issues, and who I believe is the most competent of the candidates running for this seat.
May 01, 2012
April 28, 2012
I am surprised that Mr Benigno has forgotten, or choose to forget his offensive and plainly ignorant remarks he made several years ago when he pathetically ran for mayor of Tracy, and now he wants THIS position?

To refresh memories of old, back in 2007, our "dear candidate Benigno" wrote a derogatory comment about our military men and women. He made comments indicating that our fine military members joined primarily to get education benefits, not so much to defend our country. People need to research what he has said. I'll gladly dig up some of trash he has said in the past.

He would not be a good choice for county supervisor. Sorry to see Mr Ornellas go.
April 29, 2012

That is not true. That statement was made by then assembly candidate Greg Agharzian in the Modesto Bee in 2003. His statement was that our reservist's had fantasies about wearing uniforms or also known as Captain Crunch Military. I responded to his poor remarks in support of our reservist's who were about to go to war. And by the way I ran for mayor in 2004.
April 29, 2012
No Mr Benigno, not talking about that guy, talking about you. YOU wrote some negative stuff about our military folks and I personally called you on it on the comments here on Tracy Press and I even challeneged you to a debate on it, and you refused. And you ran for Mayor more than once. I'll never support you or your ambition for elected or appointed office. I do miss you cheesy TV show or whatever you called it; gave me good cause to cancel TV subscription service.

To drag another person into your quaqmire is typical of your style to not accept responsibility for what you say. That is why you would not be a good County Supervisor. Let the voters choose between Mr Elliott and Ms Ransom. No room for third wheel in this party.
April 28, 2012
Yesterday I went out to one of those canals you guys are talking about and took a look for myself.

WOW!!! As you can imagine. I was SHOCKED to discover there was NOBODY out there working on those canals.

Anyone can see that canals do NOT create jobs. I am told that one of the canals go to a town where they cannot even use the water.

That seems to be a waste of our time.

April 27, 2012
"Benigno called the topic his “meat and potatoes” and said he backed the proposal because it would provide 10,000 jobs for seven years for San Joaquin County residents. The work, he said, could support families who have lost homes to foreclosure."

Well, he just lost my vote, probably along with every farmer in the area. I'm all for providing jobs, but you're robbing Peter to pay Paul. What about the agricultural jobs lost? Not to mention that farmland would be torn up by the government, with no regard to the landowner, to create this thing. Not good.
April 28, 2012
Agriculture jobs? All the farmers pay illegals under the table to do work. I have no pity for them.
April 30, 2012
Sure thing ChrisRoberts. Clearly you know what you're talking about. Clearly.
April 27, 2012
Mr Elliott is more consistent, clearly. As a current Tracy City Council member, he has seen first hand the impact on the city of falling revenues and rising costs of public employees, and worked on solutions.

Negotiating compromise on some of these issues, working with all parties involved, has already occurred in Tracy, and that is what Robert Elliott has said he will do at the county level.
April 27, 2012
Anyone in attendance at this forum would conclude that Robert Elliott is the only of the three candidates who is living in realityville.

Mr Benigno is just all over the place with some of his comments, and Ms Ransom attempted to carefully skirt the issue of the county budget and how it is going to affect public employees, their pensions, etc.

Couple the comments "crime has dramatically changed during the past 15 years, but funding levels remained relatively unchanged"

with another comment, “The last thing I want is someone who is supposed to be protecting me worrying about how they are going to pay their bills for their family,” Ransom said. “We need to think before we make changes to people’s futures and livelihoods.”

and contrast that to two other comments, "I would definitely invest (spend more) in public safety" and cost-cutting should be "all-inclusive”, these comments show a vast inconsistency.

Are we going to cut costs, spend more, protect public safety at the expense of every other program, or protect the salaries and pensions of Sherriff's employees at all costs?

Which is it?
April 27, 2012

I'm sorry you didn't get, thanks for being there anyway.

We encourage readers to share online comments in this forum, but please keep them respectful and constructive. This is not a space for personal attacks, libelous statements, profanity or racist slurs. Comments that stray from the topic of the story or are found to contain abusive language are subject to removal at the Press’ discretion, and the writer responsible will be subject to being blocked from making further comments and have their past comments deleted. Readers may report inappropriate comments by e-mailing the editor at