Can an Independent Win a Seat on the Fullerton City Council?

Ron Thomas lending support to Rowe during the public comments of a Fullerton City Council meeting (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times / August 2, 2011 )

For those times we stumble over to the Friends for Fullerton’s Future blog or read posts by their bloggers on Orange Juice, there’s this need by bloggers and commenters there to insist the recall isn’t about partisan politics in the least.  We have no problem with conservative Republicans seeking to oust conservative Republicans from office.  And the DPOC has posted a list of candidates up for election should the recall pass.

Matt Rowe

Matt Rowe, Fullerton Council Recall Candidate

One candidate has reached out to us to have his voice heard, so we’re offering this Q&A to help voters get to know Matt Rowe. Photo above is courtesy of the LATimes and shows Ron Thomas lending support to Rowe during the public comments of a Fullerton City Council meeting.  While we’ll note that Ron Thomas supports the recall, he has made statements suggesting the effort to do so was hijacked from the original outrage over the Kelly Thomas beating death.  Even the Register editorial writers don’t believe the reasons that FFFF promotes are sufficient for a recall.  And all one needs to note is that the vast majority of funding for the recall comes from one man — Tony Bushala.  There really isn’t enough grass roots support for this effort thought I’d love to see a progressive council majority here.

Why are you running for city council?

I am running for city council because I don’t trust the current majority to do what’s right for Fullerton. I think that the members facing recall have demonstrated incompetence and a lack of compassion in several areas, and this is most evident with respect to how they have handled police misconduct. I became concerned with city politics after the council’s lack of response to the death of Kelly Thomas. Mr. Thomas was killed about 200 meters from my residence, and I was surprised to learn that a majority of the council did not seem to care or think that there was a problem, despite a slew of recent police misconduct incidents. There are two retired police officers on the council, and they have enabled the police department to consume 50 % of the city budget, while the city’s other needs go unmet. Their cronyism rewards bad behavior at the expense of public safety, civil liberties, and fiscal responsibility.     What are your qualifications to be a city council member? I am qualified to be a city council member because I have the skills, education, and personal qualities needed for the job. I have a professional background in public service and private enterprise. I was born and raised in Fullerton, and I care about my community. I have a diverse set of life experiences, including several years living overseas and serving in the Army, a year starting an import and distribution business here in Fullerton, and some time working as an operations planner for a venture-backed startup.  I earned a degree in engineering, while majoring in foreign languages, at West Point. I currently work as a senior engineer and project manager in aerospace. In this role, I work with dozens of local manufacturers on improving their operations, so that they are more lean and productive. I plan to use these abilities, while soliciting the views of all citizens, to form a more organized, but collaborative, approach to addressing the city’s challenges.

You’re running as an independent; does that hurt you or help you and why?

In some ways it hurts, and in other ways it helps. Being an Independent puts me at a disadvantage because I do not receive funding and endorsements from the Republican and Democratic parties like their candidates receive. In fact, both parties forbid their officials from endorsing anyone outside of the party. Additionally, a certain segment of the electorate votes along party lines. They may know almost nothing about the candidate for whom they vote, except for the (D) or (R) next to the candidate’s name; I think that is a shame, and part of the reason why we have such difficulty implementing reform. Both parties have a vested interest in maintaining power through the status quo, not in fixing problems.   Being an Independent helps me because I am not beholden to party platforms. I can look at each issue uniquely, with its own challenges and circumstances, and I can work on solving problems based on what makes sense, instead of being locked into an ideological box on every issue.   I think many voters are tired of weak politicians. It takes a certain amount of courage and confidence to run without party backing. I have to raise my own money and get my name out without the help of an entrenched organization. In that way, I am free to speak my mind and do what I believe is right, since I do not owe any favors to special interests, corporations, or labor unions who influence  both major parties.     While the Kelly Thomas beating death prompted the recall, one could argue the cops involved were charged and while the wheels of justice moved slowly, they did move in the right direction, so why should a voter vote for the recall?  Let’s be clear: without the public protests and outrage at city council meetings over the killing of Kelly Thomas, none of these cops would have been prosecuted, and the Fullerton Police Department would still be under the failed leadership of the former chief, Michael Sellers. The public would also be blind to the cronyism and malfeasance of the council members facing recall.   Voters should vote for the recall for several reasons: 1) Break the cronyism between the retired cops on city council and the department where they used to work. McKinley and Bankhead have shown no willingness to hold police officers responsible for misconduct when it occurs. They have also shown no willingness to reign in spending for the police department that consumes half the city budget. 2) All three council members facing recall have a history of spending public funds on pet projects for developers with whom they are friends. Fullerton businesses and residents should not be on the hook for development projects, where taxpayers assume the financial risk, but the upside goes to friends of the city council. 3) It’s time that we put competent public servants in place on the council to oversee the city’s infrastructure needs, the city budget, public safety concerns, traffic, zoning, and parks and recreation.

What do you offer that other candidates do not?

Even though I am 30-years-old, I would match my work record and education against any of the current city council candidates. I have spent most of my professional life in public service, but I also know what it’s like to start a business, work for somebody else’s start-up company, and also work for one of America’s most admired Fortune 100 companies. I have real world leadership experience, leading dozens of soldiers in combat, under very challenging circumstances; but, I also have planning and project management experience that will enable me to be effective at collaborating with the city manager and other council members in order to get things done for Fullerton. As a young man, who grew up on Southgate Avenue, played in Fullerton Pop Warner, and West Fullerton Little League, I would be greatly honored to serve my home town in a way that makes my family, friends, and neighbors proud.

What is your position on government help for the homeless, mentally ill and their families?  

I think the formation of a homeless commission, made up of a diverse group of citizens, is a welcome step in addressing how the city should deal with the issue. It is not an easy problem, and determining what the city can and should do, versus what it can’t or should not do, requires a comprehensive review of the services currently available to our city’s homeless. In many ways there are services available from state programs and private organizations that some homeless may not know about, or may not be able to  pursue on their own. One thing that I think we can do as a city, is catalogue the homeless people that regularly stay in Fullerton; list any medical or mental conditions they may have; list any protected status such as handicapped status, disabled veteran, etc.; gather the names of any friends or relatives; and make this file available to state and private organizations that are trained and resourced to help.

Do you believe police in Fullerton need major housecleaning via reform?

Absolutely. I think that Captain Hughes, the current chief, has already taken several steps in this direction. He has outlined a number of initiatives related to new training, policies, and procedures that are aimed at preventing abuse and holding people accountable. This is definitely a step in the right direction. I hope that he continues these efforts and updates the public on the progress of each initiative as time goes on.     While many residents may support the recall, should they support candidates backed by Tony Bushala? Residents should support the candidates that they feel are best qualified to serve on the council, and more importantly, the ones that will put the city’s needs above the interests of themselves, their friends, and supporters. Whom voters elect is up to them.

If Bushala’s slate wins, does this mean Fullerton is now governed by a blog of anon commenters with no transparency or accountability?

I haven’t received any contributions or support from Tony Bushala, but this seems like a loaded question. I know Tony Bushala, and I have spoken with him several times about what’s going on with the recall. Tony has his preferred candidates like anyone else, but I have also heard him praise people like Jane Rands (a Green Party candidate), and even Mayor Quirk-Silva (a Democrat) on occasion. I’m not going to speak for Tony, but I do get the sense from the conversations that I have had with him, that he respects people who hold different political views. Yet, that doesn’t prevent him from putting his energy and money into the people and causes that he supports. Tony does his thing. People don’t have to vote for his candidates, and I have no idea whether he supports my candidacy or not. Regardless, I am very proud of the fact that I am an Independent, and I vote my conscience. I believe in doing what’s right for Fullerton; whether I have support from conservatives or progressives is immaterial. I’m more concerned with the result for the city.

Supervisor Shawn Nelson, a former council member, has endorsed some of Bushala’s slate of candidates but declines to comment on the recall.  Should Fullerton residents and voters hold the Supervisor more accountable to take a position?

This is a perfect example of why political parties are part of the problem and not the solution. Shawn Nelson is in a leadership position within the OC Republican Party. The party forbids him from endorsing candidates that aren’t Republicans, just like it probably forbids him from actively opposing Republicans that are currently in office, such as the three recallees – Bankhead, Jones, and McKinley.  This is no different that the Democratic Party that endorsed Doug Chaffee without ever talking to me as an Independent. My campaign manager has the emails – party rules prevent them from endorsing candidates outside of their party. They truly put the party first, ahead of what might be best for the public. It’s sad, and it’s shameful.   One other thing about political parties – I can’t stand when I am listed as “Decline to State” or “No Party Preference.” That’s total garbage. I don’t decline to state; I state very clearly that I am independent. I have made a conscious decision to NOT be affiliated with a political party. “No Party Preference” sounds ambivalent, when it should be phrased to show that I reject any political party. That’s what independent means.     If you don’t win the June election, some of the council seats are up for election in November.  Will you run then if you don’t win in June? It would only serve to undermine my chances for success in June if I start speculating about what I might do in November. I am not doing this for fun; I’m doing it because I know that I care more and can do a better job than Pat McKinley, Barry Levinson, or Doug Chaffee.

  4 comments for “Can an Independent Win a Seat on the Fullerton City Council?

  1. May 9, 2012 at 11:47 am

    The likelihood that there will be massive turnover on the Fullerton Council this year. Presuming that the recall wins, it could be four (or even five, if Whitaker isn’t re-elected) new people on Council. To me, that’s a reason to support someone ready to step in and lead, like Doug Chaffee in the “McKinley” seat for which Matt is running.

    That said, I’ve been impressed in all of my interactions with Matt Rowe. I think that he’s sharp and a straight shooter — and that it won’t be long before he will play a significant role in Fullerton government. I hope that Chaffee wins that seat, as I think he will (because I think that the FFFF people will support Levinson over Rowe), but if Rowe somehow pulls it off I’d expect him to be a solid, thoughtful, and honest Council member.

  2. May 9, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    I’m with Rowe, and Rands. Do you think you could get anything near these sort of thoughtful and thorough responses from Chaffee, Greg? I still haven’t been able to get in touch with him. HE STILL HASN’T ANSWERED YOUR BANKRUPTCY QUESTION, EVEN.

    We should want strong and brave Democrats who will do us proud. Or else good progressive independents instead. I don’t believe Chaffee has even come out in favor of the recall itself yet!

  3. May 10, 2012 at 12:25 am

    I served with Matt in Baghdad during OIF 06-08. He is one of the most intelligent and honest men that I have ever had the pleasure of serving with, and this interview is a testament to that. I wish him all the best in his endevours and I know that he will serve the city of Fullerton well.

  4. Steve Coleman
    May 10, 2012 at 9:06 pm

    Bump Sean’s comments. I went to West Point with Matt, knew him well, and I truly believe that electing Matt to the city council will be one of the best decisions that Fullerton has ever made. This is a man who thinks, who weighs decisions based on what’s right, and someone who knows what it means to be accountable. I’m glad to see Matt standing up for his community. Best of luck to him, and to Fullerton to do the right thing and elect him to the council.

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