Column: City council slice and dice |

Column: City council slice and dice

by Claire Fortier, Tribune opinion page editor

The decidedly low-key city council race got a spark at the Soroptimist International of South Lake Tahoe candidates forum Wednesday from a surprising source.

In his opening remarks, Stephen Reinhard – the camera-shy newcomer to the city council arena – dispensed with platitudes and got right down to his vision. His point-by-point presentation gave listeners plenty to ponder – a marked difference between Reinhard and his opponents.

While his idea of promoting sports as a draw to the South Shore is certainly not new, but Reinhard brings a renewed passion to the cause.

Reinhard’s ideas are diverse. He wants to expand the role of Clean Tahoe to take on snow removal as part of its duties, particularly for the elderly or infirmed. He also proposes running natural-gas trolleys, finding a permanent home for the BMX track and creating more special events.

Unfortunately, Reinhard’s vision lacks some of the earth-bound realities facing the city, not the least of which is the city’s overextended financial picture.

That strengthens incumbents Tom Davis and Judy Brown’s stay-the-course stance. The South Shore has been through some rocky times recently, and is in for more – especially with a city budget dangerously off-kilter.

Both Davis and Brown understand the city and its issues intimately, and therefore are better positioned to help the city catch up with itself. Both are proponents of redevelopment – the vision now transforming the South Shore into a world-class resort. Both weathered the leadership vacuum in the city when former City Manager Kerry Miller left last fall and both were instrumental in hiring new City Manager David Childs – a candid, sensible breath of fresh air around town.

The other three candidates, all of whom ran the council race two years ago, offered some good ideas. Jerry Oldenkamp would like to see South Lake Tahoe attract more business. Mike Phillips wants to put city core services on the front burner, where they should be after years of neglect. And Gunnar Henrioulle wants a weather-proof Highway 50.

But Reinhard was the only one who presented an agenda, and thus offered a new direction for the city.

Pivotal to his plan, as well as this year’s council election, is the airport.

Reinhard would build a sports and entertainment center there. The ambitious plan would include ball fields, batting cages, theaters, a skate park. It’s an interesting and ambitious idea, but one that’s probably not feasible now, if ever. But it does open up the airport debate.

Henrioulle – the most visionary, but not realistic, of all the candidates – envisions the airport as a transportation hub, providing a critical link to a regionwide system of plane, trains and automobiles. He’s a man with a global view, but not necessarily a Tahoe vision.

Oldenkamp would do away with the budget-draining airport, but didn’t delve into what he would do with the land.

The other three candidates want to hang in with a city-subsidized airport until commercial service succeeds or exhausts its potential.

The ugly reality of the city budget, which is seeing much more light of day, pushed some candidates to take a stand on police and firefighter salaries. Brown pointed out that police and fire protection take a major chunk out of the city budget and the city must find more creative ways, like multiyear contracts, of managing that general fund outlay. Davis wants to maintain staffing levels, but didn’t really speak specifically to the issue of employee salaries. Oldenkamp unabashedly wants more money for fire and police.

But Reinhard and Phillips were straightforward in their beliefs that the city needs to hold the line on salaries, making them competitive for the immediate area but not necessarily for the state.

The candidates will have their final face-off at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 26 in City Council Chambers. Let’s hope city council candidates can address substantive issues at this forum, which was not possible in the time-limited Soroptimist event.

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