Candidate Hernandez, incumbent Tovias win Council seats
By Peggy Kelly
Santa Paula City Council
Published: November 09, 2012
A newly elected City Councilman said he is looking forward to change, while a defeated incumbent said several factors worked against him - notably the dismissal of the popular police chief - following Tuesday’s election.
First time candidate Martin Hernandez was the top vote getter in the November 6 election that had four candidates vying for the two seats held by first term incumbents. Hernandez had 2,857 votes, 30.73 percent, while incumbent Jim Tovias has 2,431 votes, 26.15 percent.
Fred Robinson, the other incumbent, came in third with 2,157 votes, 23.20 percent, while Duane Ashby received 1,831 votes, 19.69 percent of the total. There were 22 write-in votes, 0.24 percent.
Hernandez, chief aide to Supervisor Kathy Long, said his strong voter support reflects the dissatisfaction of Santa Paula residents. “The numbers are sending a clear message from the voters of not knowing what is going on, not being listened to and not being involved in the process” of government, which must be reversed. “That’s what I ran the whole campaign on and that is what I want to bring” back to City Hall.
But Hernandez said he not only will focus on making the council more accountable and transparent to residents, but also boost public safety, another priority. Staffing in the fire department must be maintained while more police are hired. Hernandez said police must also be provided more training opportunities, as well as proper equipment.
Hernandez, a Ventura County and 18-year Santa Paula resident, said he was touched by all the encouragement he received during his campaign, including from his wife Holly. He joked that it’s a rare candidate who can “say how much they love, adore and appreciate their campaign treasurer and public relations manager,” in his case his wife.
Overall, Hernandez added, “This was not my win; it was our win, a win for the community. I had a great team behind me and I thank them as well... it was a win for our town and I look forward to being the voice of the community.”
Ashby ran for a seat on the council two years ago, but was narrowly defeated, and Hernandez said he hopes Ashby will continue to be involved with city business.
Robinson, admired for his strong advocacy and representation of Santa Paula, said he is proud of his council record. “I served and did the best I could,” especially when it came to the council tackling troubling budget issues.
“I was proud of what I was able to do... I was very proud of our accomplishments over the past four years. The city did have a $1.8 million deficit and we did what we had to do to fix it,” a process that required cuts and other actions.
Robinson said dealing with the budget crisis “wasn’t easy; it was very, very hard, but the city is better off” with a budget surplus. But “People were very critical of us, including the newspaper,” the Santa Paula Times, “on the handling of the MacKinnon issue.”
Police Chief Steve MacKinnon, who became the city’s top cop in 2005, was put on paid administrative leave in April amid allegations of wrongdoing. The action caused uproar in the community where MacKinnon was widely admired for his leadership of the SPPD as well as his leadership and volunteerism for various nonprofits and organizations. MacKinnon was fired in June and in the wake of his dismissal several other issues - including rising utility bills - began to dog the council.
Robinson said he and the council were accused of not being transparent: “I had nothing to do with it,” and in fact was barred by law from addressing the issue. “I do believe there was some backlash to that,” which Robinson said voters addressed with him during the campaign that centered on a change in the council to bring on a change in management.
Robinson said he has no plans to run again and is looking forward to his retirement as the CEO of The Arc of Ventura County at the end of the year. Robinson has worked at the nonprofit, which is dedicated to helping developmentally disabled people, for 22 years. He was recently recognized for his service to Arc at a national conference. Now he said he plans to spend more time with his wife, Sharon, and their grandchildren.
He said he still believes there might be conflicts with Hernandez serving the city as an employee of the county, but overall, “I wish Martin all the best, and I wish Jim and the rest all the best.... I hope for the best for the city and that is to get all this divisiveness behind us and move forward... Council is not always a fun place to be,” but Robinson said Santa Paula is and will remain “a great community... and I’ll be around, will do what I can to help Santa Paula.” And, noted Robinson, “It will be good for me to slow down a little bit.”
Tovias, an insurance agent who ran with Robinson as a slate, could not be reached for comment.
It is estimated that there are approximately 20,000 votes-mailed-in as well as provisional ballots-that remain to be counted countywide.