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Resident questions Bjerke’s loyalties

By Lisa Vorderbrueggen
Monday, August 27th, 2007 at 2:11 pm in Contra Costa politics.

Former Antioch Finance Director John Tasker sent out an email today criticizing the dual role of Guy Bjerke as Antioch’s paid economic development director and as a volunteer member of the Concord Planning Commission.

The issue surfaced today primarily because Bjerke is also one of 19 people who have applied for an opening on the Concord City Council created by the death of Michael Chavez on Aug. 4.

Tasker, in the email addressed to Antioch City Manager Jim Jakel and widely copied, questioned where Bjerke’s loyalties will lay if economic development plans conflict between the two cities.

It’s unclear why Tasker, who retired recently, has sent this email or if he is supporting another applicant for the city’s opening.

And Tasker also doesn’t say that it is common for elected officials to work in adjacent government agencies.

Off the top of my head, I can think of a half dozen and there are undoubtedly more.

Concord Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister works as a planner for the city of Clayton. Martinez Councilwoman Lara DeLaney works for Contra Costa County. Antioch Mayor Don Freitas directs Contra Costa County’s clean water consortium. Antioch Councilman Brian Kalinowski works for the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Department. Martinez Councilwoman Janet Kennedy works for the city of Antioch.

Here’s the letter:

Jim Jakel
City Manager
City of Antioch

As the former Finance Director for the City of Antioch, I am worried about Antioch’s sales tax revenue and current developments regarding the closure of the Concord Naval Weapons Station. Recent political events force us to draw focus on a situation that has greatly disturbed me for a long time and is now so acute that it can no longer be ignored.

I have several concerns that I hope you will address.

Current conflicts of interest regarding Antioch’s Economic Development Director also serving as Chairman of the Concord Planning Commission.

This conflict of interest becomes even more acute if Guy Bjerke succeeds in his appointment application to fill the vacancy on the Concord City Council that resulted from the untimely death of Michael Chavez. All this is especially important because of the closure of the Concord Naval Weapons Station and planning for commercial, retail, and residential development and its affects on East County traffic and sales tax revenue.

Concord has been very aggressive and successful in planning for and recruiting important sales-tax generating automobiles dealerships and big-box stores. Municipal planning commissioners and economic development directors play a key roll in planning for their communities’ future and recruiting employers. Currently Concord is planning for major commercial and residential growth along Highway 4 between the Highway 4/242 junction and the Willow Pass grade. The strategic value of this area and how it is planned and developed is of critical interest to the communities to the east that Highway 4 serves namely Antioch, Pittsburg, Oakley, and Brentwood.

I believe that Mr. Bjerke receives $110,000 a year in salary, plus a generous benefits package in compensation for his service to the City of Antioch. It was said at the time of Mr. Bjerke’s hiring that he acquired his greatest assets as a result of his experience as the Executive Director of the Building Industry Association of Northern California.

As the Executive Director of the Building Industry Association, he was paid to lobby City policy and planning. As a member of the Concord Planning Commission, he recommends City policy. As a member of the City Council, he would implement policy. Where does his loyalty lay? If the Cities of Concord and Antioch were to compete for automobile dealerships or regional transportation money, which community’s interest is he obligated to defend?

Sincerely,
John Tasker


UPDATE:

Here’s an email I received on the subject today:

The two biggest issues in Antioch are crime and traffic!

The conflict of interest that Guy Bjerke is not that he is Chairman of the Concord Planning Commission while he works for the City of Antioch. Nobody would care if Bjerke was a janitor! It is that he is the City’s Economic Development Director.

The commuters of Antioch, Pittsburg, Brentwood, Oakley, Bethel Island and other East County communities have been battling for years to get Highway 4 widened. Cities are always competing to attract the big retail-sales-tax-generators, such as automobile dealerships, Costco, and Wal/Mart – that’s where sales tax revenue comes from to pay for more police.

The big bottle-neck for East County is Highway 4 in the Concord Naval Weapons Station area. What happens if Concord decides to build an Auto Mall right at the Willow Pass or Port Chicago freeway exits on Highway 4? What happens to Antioch’s sales tax revenue. What happens to Antioch’s commuters if Concord decides to build “13,000 new homes” in north Concord at the old Naval Weapons Station site?

The City of Antioch is running a budget deficit this year.

Guy Bjerke is also the most recent Executive Director of the Northern California Chapter of the Building Industry Association.

Antioch must have an Economic Development Director whose interests are not divided and fighting every step of the way for the people of Antioch. Having the Chairman of the Concord Planning Commission as its Economic Development Director is like hiring the proverbial mouse to guard the cheese or the fox to guard the chickens or Michael Vics to train your dog.

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  • Gregory Hile

    He is not the only candidate for the council position with potential conflicts. Ursula Luna works for the city of Pittsburg.

    What is most important here is that in a regular election, the voters have that information and can make their own informed decision. In this situation, where the city council will be substituting their judgment on behalf of the voters and appointing a successor, even the appearance of impropriety should be avoided.

    Fortunately, the city council should not feel the need to consider either Bjerke or Luna. From the standpoint of best representing the intent of the voters, the two most legitimate replacements for Councilman Chavez are his widow and the runner-up in last year’s election. And the good news is that both are candidates to succeed him.