Tracy City Councilman Bob Elliott, 63, and Tracy Planning Commissioner Rhodesia Ransom, 38, are running to fill the 5th District seat of Supervisor Leroy Ornellas, who is termed out this year.
The 5th District includes Tracy and Mountain House, as well as parts of Manteca.
Ransom and Elliott were the top two vote-getters in the June 5 primary, with third-place finisher Tom Benigno bounced from the race.
In recent interviews with the Press, both the councilman and the planning commissioner repeated the ideas they have campaigned on since early in the year.
Ransom touted her hands-on experience at the community level. She said her work as part of antigang and antibullying efforts and a grand jury stint show she is prepared to deal with issues of economic development and public safety on the ground level.
Elliott repeated that his top priorities are public safety, fiscal responsibility, protecting agriculture and economic development — concerns he said were paramount to voters with whom he spoke.
“I think one of the biggest things we can do is focus on economic development,” he said.
Encouraging growth of business and industry is linked to safety and the government’s fiscal health, according to Elliott.
He said the county’s economic future relies in part upon harnessing and marketing local advantages, such as the interstate highway system and Port of Stockton. It also will rely on how flexible the county can be, Elliott said.
“We need to look at fees the developers are charged and make sure they adequately address the impact they have on the community,” he said.
He added that during his two-year tenure on Tracy’s City Council, he has voted to raise some fees and lower many others in an effort to pay for development and encourage growth.
The two candidates found common ground when it came to agriculture’s role in the local economy. Agriculture contributed $2.2 billion toward the county’s economy in 2011, making it San Joaquin County’s top industry.
Elliott and Ransom both stated that they opposed a plan by Gov. Jerry Brown to ship water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which directly supplies many nearby farms with water. They also agreed that the most productive farmland in the county should be protected from reckless development.
But Ransom said people on the campaign trail have talked with her most about jobs, especially the lack of high-paying work in San Joaquin County, which in September had a 13.4 percent unemployment rate, according to the California Employment Development Department.
“People don’t want to commute any more, (but) they can’t find local jobs,” she said.
Ransom said that there are “antiquated regulations” that can be eased to encourage business growth and that she is committed to projects such as San Joaquin Delta College’s business development center and the county’s enterprise zone, which gives companies incentives to hire workers and invest in equipment.
But one of the best ways to encourage economic growth, she said, is to improve education. Employers, she said, are looking for people with skills.
She sees programs that reach into local high schools as especially important.
“Education is a huge part of our lack of economic development,” she said.
Investing in students would also be wise when it comes to public safety, Ransom said. Getting children to think about their futures before they lose interest in education and engage in criminal behavior pays off in the long run, and something the candidate said she has worked toward in Tracy.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of intervention,” she said.
Elliott agreed that safety is critical.
“You have to have a reputation as a safe place to do business,” Elliott said.
He also said that if a planned expansion of a county jail moves forward, it would be up to supervisors to find a way to pay for its operation.
The state has pledged money for construction, but county officials, including Ornellas, the departing supervisor, have said money has not been found to pay for a larger jail’s ongoing operation.
Elliott said operating costs could be at least partially paid for by “finding efficiencies,” such as contracting for parking ticket and fine collection services and having law enforcement agencies in the county cooperate to “reduce duplication.”
Ransom, however, said a new jail would be too costly for the time being.
After a conversation with Sheriff Steve Moore, Ransom said she was convinced that cuts would have to be made to other public safety programs in the county to make running a larger jail possible.
“We have to find other ways to get our criminals off the street,” she said.
Ransom said her present opposition to a larger jail demonstrates that she will not let her decisions be swayed by campaign donors. She has received endorsements from local and state law enforcement employee groups, as well as $58,509.68 from union groups from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, according to a Press tally of campaign finance documents certified Oct. 5 by the county registrar of voters.
“Labor would love to build that jail, but what good would it do at the end of the day if you’re laying people off (to keep it running)?” Ransom said.
She added that while she appreciated the backing and support of all those who endorsed her, her vote is not for sale. Ransom also noted that her opponent received significant financial support from the real estate and development community.
“I’m no more beholden to my supporters than Mr. Elliott is beholden to the developers and businessmen backing him,” she said.
Elliott said he was proud that he built a “wide base of support” among a group that he said includes farmers, business owners, developers and other individuals, but no union groups.
“I think they would expect I would do what’s best for the county,” he said.
Included in those actions, Elliott said, is ensuring the county’s financial position remains stable. Part of adequately protecting the county’s $1.26 billion budget, he said, that means ensuring employee contracts are sustainable.
Elliott said county employees should pay the employee share of their California Public Employee Retirement System contribution, and all bargaining groups should adhere to a “two-tier” system that reduces retirement benefits for new employees.
As a city councilman, Elliott voted against new contracts with Tracy unions, saying the city left too much on the table by trading an end of furlough days and an increased number of leave days for employees forgoing cost-of-living increases and paying the employee CalPERS share.
Ransom agreed that pensions need to be reassessed.
“I think it’s a valid critique, that pension reform must be made,” she said.
However, she said that some to-date efforts to contain county employment costs “haven’t been fair and balanced” and that cuts should be equal across the board.
“I think the majority of the people are willing to do something reasonable, as long as it’s fair,” she said.
Ransom added that, in her assessment, the base pay for county employees is lower than in some neighboring counties, and San Joaquin County has made up for that so far by increasing perks, pensions and other benefits.
Both candidates agreed, however, that some sort of subsidy was appropriate to keep San Joaquin General Hospital running.
One of only 21 county hospitals left in California, the hospital took an $11.6 million subsidy from the general fund in the fiscal year that began July 1.
“I think there needs to be a long-term goal to close the gap, but the county hospital needs to be preserved,” Ransom said.
Elliott also applauded steps taken by administrators to save money and bring in more patients with insurance and said the hospital should continue to strive toward self-sufficiency.
“We need a county hospital,” he said.
• Contact Jon Mendelson at 830-4231 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
At a glance
• AGE: 63 years old
• FAMILY: Wife and three grown daughters
• EXPERIENCE: Tracy city councilman since 2010, retired U.S. Army colonel and Green Beret, manager for Westinghouse.
• AGE: 38 years old
• FAMILY: Husband and three children
• EXPERIENCE: Tracy planning commissioner since 2009, instructor of public finance and public policy at University of Phoenix, director of Sow a Seed Community Foundation