Candidates for County District 2 Seat Debate with Hopes to Gain Votes

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EL CENTRO – Two candidates in the running to gain Imperial County Supervisor Jack Terraza’s spot (Dist. 2) on the county board, each affirmed their support and commitment to the county Tuesday night during a debate at the IID Condit Auditorium in El Centro.

Businessman Luis Plancarte and El Centro Councilwoman Cheryl Viegas-Walker are both vying for the upcoming seat.

Plancarte began by emphasizing his community involvement and dedication to the people.

“I was raised in Calexico, and together with my wife Martha, have lived in District 2 for over 25 years where we raised our family and dedicated our life to community, to service, and being involved,” said Plancarte.  “Commitment to community was taught to me by my parents and continues today with involvement in the chambers of commerce, youth programs, my church, and other community building and service organizations.”

Plancarte serves in numerous organizations including the ICOE Career Writings Initiative, Rotary International, IV Human Resources, El Centro Personnel Appeals Board, Economic Development Corporation, and Parks and Recreations. He is also a longtime supporter of the Boys and Girls Club.

Viegas-Walker currently serves on the El Centro City Council and promised to be a full-time supervisor, focusing on serving the community with plentiful experience, as she expressed during her opening statement.

“Experience does matter,” said Viegas-Walker. “I have served on the El Centro City Council for 19 years and have had the joy of serving as its mayor for four terms. We have made our home in El Centro for 30 years and as a member of the El Centro City Council, with that team in place, we have made some remarkable contributions to this community. I have served on many regional and statewide boards and commissions. That level of engagement matters.”

Viegas-Walker currently serves on numerous boards including the Southern California Association of Governments, League of California Cities, the El Central Regional Medical Center trustee board, and Imperial County Transportation Commission.

Tuesday’s debate covered a series of questions concerning the Salton Sea, county road  maintenance, solar panels, urban growth and job creation. One specific question on personnel was: “In recent months a number of county department heads have retired or accepted positions outside of the county. What would you do, if elected, to ensure Imperial County has a succession plan in place for key positions?”

Plancarte replied, saying the county must take care of their employees by offering decent salaries and benefits and extending a hand.

“Many of the employees started in the ranks and worked their way up through the years. We need to continue to nurture that type of mentality of people looking to grow, people looking to become better. We can only do that by extending our hand. Showing them that we care, not only by the opportunities we give them, but with benefits and the salaries that they deserve. I know that Imperial County has labor agreements coming up for re-negotiations mid-next year, and that is the place where we can send a very clear message to county employees — that we are with them, that we support them, that we support their continuing education and that we will do everything we possibly can to make sure that when they retire 20-30 years from now, they retire with benefits,” said Plancarte.

Viegas-Walker said she clearly knew the opportunities succession planning brings to the workplace through her former position at Rabobank as a Human Resource Director, where she oversaw over 1,800 employees.

“I absolutely understand the opportunities that succession plans bring to the workplace,” she said. “You have the opportunity to cross train and provide opportunities for employees. When we do have department heads retire or move out to a different opportunity, the next in line is ready and available to either serve on an interim basis, or until we can identify the ideal candidate for that department. We want to become an employer of choice within Imperial County, but to do that we need to take a good hard look at our compensation packages for employees. We need to take a salary survey to make sure that we are adequately compensating our employees and that will assist us as we develop a succession plan,” said Viegas-Walker.

On Salton Sea issues, both candidates agreed the county, together with the Imperial Irrigation District, have worked hard in pressuring the State for promised funding and said there is still a long road ahead to resolve the matter.

County road conditions were also discussed.

“County road maintenance is a major concern throughout the County. With the reduction in road funding in 2017, how would you address the concerns of the citizens of Imperial County to ensure that all available funds for maintenance are spent wisely?” the question read.

“What we need right now is all hands on deck with regard to the major transportation funding plan that is pending at the state legislature,” said Viegas-Walker. “We have not had adequate funding for California roads for a number of years. We need to ensure that we have a voice in Sacramento. The transportation bill (AB 2170) would bring much-needed corridor funding to this area. What we need to do is make sure that we are prioritizing our transportation funding dollars and getting our biggest bang for the buck,” said Viegas-Walker.

Plancarte disagreed with Viegas-Walker, saying he did not think the transportation bill would have a big impact and the poor road conditions needed to be addressed locally and not through state corridors.

“Corridors are state highways and our issues are county roads,” said Plancarte. “Imperial County has over 2,500 miles of county roads and about 1,300 of those are paved. We have not done a prioritization of county roads to see in what order we are going to do these.”

Plancarte reminded everyone that consumers would pay for state maintenance with increases in fuel and diesel costs, excise tax increases, as well as increases in vehicle registrations.

“What is this going to do to our farmers who are looking to ship out hay and cattle?,” he asked. “Sacramento is not looking to give us money for our county roads, they are looking to take money for state roads, and then give us some of it back, but not all. We really need to be careful and responsible and set priorities for the roads in our communities,” said Plancarte.

In their closing statements, candidates had this to say:

“I am here because I want to be the voice of the people of Imperial County, because of my commitment to community, to progress. I am the right person to serve the residents of our community,” said Plancarte.

“You have my commitment to being a full time representative for you, accessible and involved. I have a great passion for great governance as well as diversity, that fosters inclusiveness and builds a strong and vibrant community,” said Viegas.

The Election Candidate Forums are sponsored and presented by COLAB of Imperial County, the Imperial County Farm Bureau, Imperial Valley Vegetable Growers Association, and the Brawley, El Centro and Imperial Chambers of Commerce.

Elections are scheduled for November 8.