Stay on the sunny side with Hall
In the municipal elections on November 8, voters in Saint Helena will have the choice between two different styles and approaches to governance. Who will be the best choice to meet the challenges we have never faced before: water safety, fire safety, infrastructure, municipal services, staff morale, housing, fixed incomes and inflation? How do we recognize differing opinions, protect our city’s heritage and character, and move forward sustainably?
Paul Dohring’s endorsement by former mayors seems to support more inertia. Eric Hall (no relation to Hall Wine) has been endorsed by many dynamic and respected Napa Valley leaders who believe he would be the best for St. Helena in the face of these challenges.
However, rumors abound. A recent editorial (“No, the sky is not falling on us”, August 25) claimed that simply accounting for the cost of delayed city projects was “a campaign of fear” and a scaremongering tactic to bring about “development in large scale”. The only scare campaign here is an attempt to protect the status quo by smearing a public servant who tries to share facts with the community. Eric prioritizes sustainability, smart growth, and values the city’s heritage and character. Regardless of whether sources of money can be found as claimed, it will take an entrepreneurial spirit to gather and direct those millions of dollars and complex projects.
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Eric has also been candid about remaining neutral on the waste management service run by his wife, who is recognized as one of Napa Valley’s most vocal environmental advocates, openly addressing landfill issues including she inherited.
I’ve also heard anti-newcomer bias in this generally open-minded city that supports diversity and new ideas. After all, our new principal was from Argentina and Berkeley; our new highly qualified city manager came through an outside search. Eric’s family heritage is in California agriculture and he became an expert in business management. These new leaders are pragmatic, collaborative and share a vision of a bright future.
The recent League of Women Voters forum further illustrated the contrasting styles. For example, when asked what to do with the City’s underutilized properties, Eric applied his property management expertise with specific insights. Paul’s response was to do another SHAPE-like study. On how to communicate budget and planning with citizens, Eric proposed town halls, fixing the City’s website for better transparency and adding more planning efforts to Council’s agenda. Paul’s response was to form a communications committee.
Paul’s approach has been to seek out a community orientation and to respond to interest groups coming forward. He cites his ability to bring people together to find concrete solutions to problems, including climate change. But what about the immediate challenges? Do we agree on what to do about the city’s lack of funds to hire enough city staff, fix the roads and storm sewers, maintain our parks, pay the water company, fix the sidewalks?
For eight-plus years back, Paul served on boards and committees where leadership is collective and accountability is somewhat dispersed. He has sponsored numerous studies and highly paid consultants. Personally, I served on the SHAPE committee where diverse and open-minded citizens presented specific proposals for city properties, including a community center. When we handed Paul and the other board members our insightful report, our efforts kind of faded away along with other studies, as if they weren’t meant to be taken seriously.
I don’t see Eric Hall repeating the old-fashioned governance style of hiring consultants to tell us what time it is with our own watch. He is a business management educator, commercial property manager and professional consultant for America’s top corporations. He tracked down absentee homeowners sitting on vacant Main Street storefronts to get them moving, and reached out to all sorts of people around town to listen. This is important in a small town with many different groups and unique special interests that don’t all fit.
Some want housing while others do not want new housing near them. Some want to fix the streets, but not if it means new hotels that generate revenue to fix those streets. How do you want to resolve competing interests in the community? This is where having shared priorities and a long-term plan with community collaboration can solve problems without checking where the wind is blowing and being responsive all the time.
So if you’re happy with the situation, vote for Paul Dohring. If you think St. Helena can do better, balancing those priorities and meeting its challenges, vote for Eric Hall, who can bring back that old phrase “Sunny St. Helena.”
Dohring provided the following response: “I appreciate the invitation to respond to this letter (author’s name withheld). I would respectfully direct your readers to my other response this week to a similar letter, as this letter is mostly answered there.
“I want to clarify a few statements. First, I have never advocated ‘another SHAPE-like study’ to determine the best use of city-owned properties. I have stated that it is up to the community to decide on how best to use its city-owned properties, not a single member of council Over the next few months, council will be holding a strategic planning session to create a long-term financial plan for our city’s financial needs. This would be the best time to receive community feedback regarding the use of city-owned properties.Secondly, I have never advocated the formation of a “communications committee”.I have stated that the budget process of the city is an important educational tool to inform the community of the vision, mission and goals of the city. I suggested that the council could benefit from the training of a s budget sub-committee to work more closely with city staff as the budget is developed This would give staff a better understanding of our community’s priorities and put Council in a more proactive position, rather than leaving Council simply react to a budget document without significant input as it is developed.
“I also want to remind your readers that in 2012, before my time, a local sales tax initiative was rejected by voters, largely because of inadequate voter education. The clear lesson is that community education is essential for a much-needed additional audience.We know, for example, that the 2016 sales tax increase and the recent GO Bond measure would have failed without strong education campaigns. and assessment for which I have claimed, including SHAPE, has been instrumental in community education It is ironic that the current outcry over our civic infrastructure is to some extent the product of the educational work which I am largely responsible.
(The views expressed here are my own individually and are not intended to represent the official positions of the City of St. Helena or the City Council of St. Helena.)”