Four Mission Viejo City Council candidates shared good-humored barbs—and the occasional laugh—Wednesday night at the Norman P. Murray Community Center during a free forum designed to inform voters.
Mayor Frank Ury and challengers Desi Kiss, Ed Sachs and Wendy Bucknum sounded off about the city's most pressing issues, like city budgets, supporting small businesses and the long-awaited dog park. Patch editor Pete Schelden posed the questions, many of which came from Patch readers.
Sachs and Kiss positioned themselves as watchdogs for the citizens' dollars, criticizing incumbents like Ury for their money management.
"I know how to run a business," Sachs said in his opening statement. "I know how to manage a budget...so I've got a real good handle on how the city can better manage budgets."
Ury, Mission Viejo's mayor, talked up the city's safety and finance record.
"Well before it was in vogue, we reformed our pension system," he said.
Kiss disputed Ury's characterization of Mission Viejo as the "safest city in California," accusing the city of using outdated data to determine its ranking.
Bucknum, who has campaigned in cooperation with the mayor, extolled the city's business climate.
"I'm running because I love Mission Viejo," she added. "I don't think there's any other way to put this."
Sachs, who left the forum before its conclusion for another engagement, accused the city of shady financial practices in response to a question about how to best use its $1.8-million surplus.
He compared splitting up money into different areas of the budget to avoid a state money grab to a business keeping two books. It is something a "crooked business" does, he said.
He also cautioned against excessive outsourcing of city jobs, noting the layoffs that often attend such a move.
Bucknum rebutted his attack on the city's budgetary practices: "If you think Sacramento can do a better job with our money than our city, I'd like you to raise your hand."
Bucknum advocated putting aside some of the surplus to shore up Mission Viejo's slopes as well as increase grants from the council to nonprofits.
She also suggested using some to acquire, or gain permanent access to, 40 acres of land owned by a golf company to beautify and connect to an existing trail system.
Kiss suggested the possibility of using a portion of the surplus to help fight a recent rash of vandalism and graffiti at local schools.
Homeowners and local businesses should benefit from the extra cash, Ury said.
He pointed to his "Improve, Don't Move" program, which gave homeowners a break on their home improvement permit fees.
All the candidates agreed that forming a Mission Viejo-only school district could be problematic.
Both school districts that serve Mission Viejo—Capistrano Unified and Saddleback Valley Unified—should generally remain outside of the purview of the council, they agreed.
Kiss brought up the city's plan to build a dog park, saying that he believes its $850,000 price tag will end up totaling more than $2 million. The city needs a dog park, but at a lower cost, he said.
But Ury said opponents of the plan "embellish" the cost to portray themselves as defenders of taxpayers' money.
Bucknum said the park will benefit others in addition to dog owners, noting that the addition of new parking will benefit nearby baseball fields.
An audience member asked candidates what they would do to cut back the brush growing on slopes like hers around the city.
"I'll guarantee you will hear back from us before the end of the week because we're up for re-election," said Ury, earning a laugh from the audience and the candidates alike.
Another asked how each would work with other officials and regional agencies.
Each said their background would make it an easy task. Bucknum listed endorsements she has garnered from other city officials, while Ury mentioned his participation in the South Orange County Association of Mayors.
As an engineer, Kiss said he has worked with a variety of agencies, including Caltrans.
Each of the four present candidates began with an opening statement, responded to a series of questions from Schelden, then two questions from audience members. Some of the questions asked by the moderator were sent in before the event by Patch readers.
Incumbent Cathy Schlicht declined to attend. Challenger Richard Coleman did not respond to an invite to the forum.