League of Women Voters of California Education Fund
James R. "Jim" Griffith
The questions were prepared by the Leagues of Women Voters of Santa Clara County and asked of all candidates for this office.
Read the answers from all candidates (who have responded).
Questions & Answers
1. Of all the experience related to city government you would bring to the City Council, which three would be most important to your effectiveness and why do you think so?
Over my past four years, I've established myself as a councilmember who does his homework, gets the facts straight, and makes the smart and difficult calls. I've worked hard to understand the inner workings of all aspects of Sunnyvale's government, so that my decisions are well-informed and thought out, and so that I can consider all options when casting a vote.
I've made resident outreach a priority over my first four years, so that residents know what's happening, and so that I know what residents think and want. I've operated a city council blog, on which I report city news and provide both a preview and summary of City Council meetings, as well as an explanation of my votes and concerns. I've operated an annual resident study issue survey to get public feedback on proposed study issues before I vote on them. I've conducted multiple town hall meetings, the first councilmember in a decade to do so. And I'm active in the online mailing lists and a regular attendee of neighborhood association meetings, to better understand the ground-level issues that concern residents. I've worked hard to keep government transparent and residents engaged in issues that matter to them. And I've built relations and trust with Sunnyvale's community leaders, so that they come to me with issues and concerns, and they know I'll reach out to them when issues concern them. Leading well isn't simply a matter of telling people what I think - it's also a matter of understanding and caring about what residents think and value, so that I can represent our interests, and not just my own.
Sunnyvale has had issues with contentiousness on council over the past two years. However, through it all, I've remained a calm and productive voice, and my motions and proposals consistently receive majority support. I work well with my Council colleagues, with city staff, and with residents on issues of interest to them, and I was selected by my colleagues as Vice Mayor not once but twice. My accomplishments on Council, my advancement as a leader on intergovernmental committees, and my long list of endorsements from colleagues and co-workers are all a testament to my ability to avoid contention, work collaboratively, and serve Sunnyvale well.
2. The City Council is now in the process of selecting a new City Manager. What, specifically, is working well about the selection process, and what would you like to see done differently?
The previous selection process was extremely involved, with interview committees representing Council, labor, business, and residents. It resulted in one of the best City Managers Sunnyvale has ever hired, and that process was widely regarded as a huge success. We need to duplicate that process this time.
I was part of the selection process for the current City Manager, the current City Attorney, and the current Library and Community Services Director. Selecting a good City Manager is the most important task facing the next Council. With only one other Councilmember experienced in the City Manager selection process, my experience will be invaluable to Sunnyvale.
However, due to Sunnyvale's lower retirement benefits and a contentious Council, hiring a new City Manager will be a much greater challenge this time. We may need to widen our outreach beyond its traditional scope to identify a good candidate.
3. What has the City done to make its pension liabilities sustainable? Would you advocate for additional changes?
In my first term, we negotiated two-tier (lower) pensions, increased employee retirement cost responsibility, and two zero raise years. We implemented pension reform. I am the only councilmember in decades who strictly voted on labor agreements that kept flat or reduced employee benefits. And we accomplished this by working with our bargaining units and avoiding the chaos that cities such as San Jose have endured.
We still need to negotiate with the bargaining units to have them assume their remaining share of retirement costs (or equivalent savings through other means), at which point our revenue will exceed expenses for the 20 year budget projection. This is the plan that the Council developed, and we need to deliver on it. Electing councilmembers who understand and support the plan already in progress will be critical to Sunnyvale's future fiscal picture.
4. What is the most important accomplishment of the City Council in the last two years? What is its greatest failure?
It would be easy to point to the way Sunnyvale emerged from the Great Recession with services and staff intact, more money in the bank, and pension reform implemented. But I'm most proud of the plan that Sunnyvale developed for Onizuka Air Force Base.
For years, Sunnyvale muddled through the federal Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process, trying to come up with a good use for Onizuka, and the best use to be proposed was development of an auto mall, an idea which nobody actually liked.
A year into my first term, we developed a new plan to transfer the homeless and low income housing claims to a lease on the city's Armory property, and then provide land at Onizuka for a Veterans Administration Research and Development facility, an expanded Fire Station 5, and a new satellite campus for Foothill/De Anza College, the first such college in Sunnyvale. At it's conclusion, the Air Force Transition Coordinator said of Sunnyvale's efforts "This is a shining example of how multiple agencies can work together to transfer this facility, and provide the local community with the facilities it needs for a new life".
And I'm proud of the part I played in this process, working with Foothill/De Anza's Board and leadership to capture their interest and create their enthusiasm for the project.
The greatest failure is our inability to break the legal log jam between Wells Fargo and the previous Downtown developer, which is preventing the bank from selling the property to a new developer to get the job finished. However, in the past four years, even with the legal log jam, Council convinced Wells Fargo to invest $80 million in the project, when Wells Fargo could have just sat on its hands. Wells Fargo finished the two office buildings which are now occupied by Apple and Nokia, and we opened McKinley, Taaffe, Frances, and Murphy Streets through the downtown for the first time in decades and landscaped them. Clearly, no other issue frustrates residents and Council more than this one, and we did the most that we could do with the courts blocking us, but it isn't enough.
5. Who are your top five donors and what total amount have you received from each one? What conflicts of interest can you foresee from your campaign contributions, and how would you handle them?
My top donor is actually the taxpayers of Sunnyvale. Knowing the high cost of running an effective campaign, and being unwilling to ask for significant special interest donations, I set aside 1/3 of my City Council salary for the past four years to fund almost half of my re-election campaign. This allows me to run without being beholden to special interests, supported primarily by Sunnyvale's taxpayers.
Additionally, I have contributed my own money, making me the second largest donor to my campaign.
The next three largest donors are a Sunnyvale resident active in the environmental movement, a doctor with a practice in Sunnyvale and his wife, and a Sunnyvale resident and long-time supporter of mine.
I don't foresee any conflicts of interest with my donors, since an estimated 85% of my campaign will be funded by myself, ordinary Sunnyvale residents, and friends and family. The rest will be balanced between a very diverse group of Sunnyvale stakeholders.
This is current as of September 10, 2013
Responses to questions asked of each candidate are reproduced as submitted to the League. Candidates' statements are presented as submitted. Word limits for answers are 400 words for all questions. Direct references to opponents are not permitted.
Read the answers from all candidates (who have responded).
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Created from information supplied by the candidate: October 13, 2013 23:42
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