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By Tina Fisher Cunningham
Fisher Forde Media 

So much at stake in City Council races

The Forde Files No 132


The incumbents. Kim Nixon and Ed Grimes.

The campaign for two seats on the five-seat Tehachapi City Council is a ferocious one this year as candidates Mary Ann Hester and Ken Hetge battle incumbent councilpersons Ed Grimes and Mayor Pro-tem Kim Nixon in a race in which the fundamental nature and direction of the city is in the balance. The Forde Files spoke to each of the candidates.

The Incumbents

Kim Nixon – Tehachapi resident for 30 years, age 60. Nixon has served on the Tehachapi City Council for five years and is Mayor pro tem. If she is re-elected she will be mayor. She served on the Planning Commission from 1989 to 2012, beginning 2 ½ years after moving to Tehachapi.

“I love this community,” she said. “I could see the potential growth of the city and I wanted to be part of it.”

In 2011, the council appointed her to fill a vacant seat on that body. She was elected to the council in 2012.

As a councilmember, she said, “I see it as a huge responsibility, honor and privilege to represent the citizens of Tehachapi in future planning.”

Nixon’s campaign slogan is “Continue the Momentum!” and she is proud of the city’s accomplishments during her first term and of the council’s stewardship of the people’s money. “We are financially secure as a city,” she said. “We have had balanced budgets every year that Ed and I have served. Tehachapi is one of the few cities in California to have a balanced budget. It’s hard work. We have an incredible staff that works tirelessly to make sure every penny is spent wisely. It’s taxpayer money.”

Nixon said the greatest need in the Greater Tehachapi area “is for us to work together, to partner better, to draw everyone together, so we are working on what’s best for the entire valley. Golden Hills, Cummings Valley, Stallion Springs – they may feel that the City Council works in a vacuum. The city wants to know ‘How can we help you?’ We are extending assistance.” She wants to start a group that networks with community services districts and other agencies to find common interests for youth and families.

Nixon has served on Kern County’s Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFco). She has been involved with General Aviation for 40 years and is familiar with FAA requirements regarding municipal airports. She is active in Friends of the Tehachapi Airport.

Ed Grimes – Tehachapi resident for 66 years, age 73. Grimes is a retired correctional officer. He began his tenure on the City Council by appointment in 2003 and since has served three elected terms, for a total of 14 years. Prior to the City Council, he was on the Tehachapi Valley Recreation and Park board of directors for two years and on the Tehachapi Unified School District board for 20 years, from 1981 to 2001. Known as “Mr. Warrior” for his support of the Tehachapi High School sports teams and his service as the high school football game announcer, Grimes was president of Little League for 10 years and on the board for 20. He coached youth football and coached the high school track team in 2010 to the Div. 2 Central Section state championship. Grimes is the THS distance coach.

“I’m running for City Council because I have a passion to serve this community,” he said. “This community has always been good to me…I understand the dynamics of what Tehachapi is all about.

“I’m a good decision maker…I analyze and do the best with the information I have. I am not afraid to make a decision. I learned that in the Department of Corrections. I’m not a fence rider. You have to have a passion to do what we’re doing.”

Grimes said that other cities in Kern County want to be like Tehachapi, with its high standards of administration. “We’re the template for what they want to do,” he said. He disagrees with critics who say the salaries the city administrators draw are too high. “If you want brilliant people to work for you, you have to pay them.”

Grimes is state president of ACCAPS, the Association of California Cities Allied with Public Safety (in this case, the California Correctional Institution), and he is working to defeat Prop. 57, which would increase the number of inmates eligible for parole. He is active in Veteran Collaborative Services, which assists veterans.

“I don’t dwell on the negatives. I’m an eternal optimist. Instead of a glass half full, I’m glad I have a glass.”

The Challengers

Mary Ann Hester – Tehachapi resident for 50 years, age 76. Hester moved to Tehachapi to join her sister and worked as a waitress for 32 years. “I met a lot of the public,” she said. She has volunteered in the community in numerous capacities through the years. “Volunteering is a healthy thing,” she said. “I’ve been very, very privileged. I’ve got a lot of energy…volunteering keeps you stimulated physically and mentally. You get new ideas… When you quit expanding your knowledge, forget it.” She was named Tehachapi Citizen of the Year in 2012.

Hester’s volunteer resume includes the Volunteers In Policing Services Program (VIPS) for the Tehachapi Police Department, the Tehachapi Unified School District, Tomo Kahni Historical State Park, the Open Door For Youth, the American Legion Auxiliary, the Crisis Pregnancy Center, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office and her church. She also attends community governmental meetings on a regular basis. “When I was asked to run for office I was surprised at how many people know me,” she said.

She said there should be new members on the City Council. She advocates better parking in the Centennial Plaza area. She agrees with her running partner that the city staff salaries are too high but said “There’s no way you’re going to drop them. There should have been greater consideration when they were hired. The wages should be discussed with the public.” She suggested that candidates for city department heads should have a meet and greet with the public.

Hester said she would promote efficiency and transparency in local government. The department heads, she said, should be available, perhaps at a set time like “Coffee with the Chief.” “They are public servants and the public should be able to talk to them.” She suggests developing programs and facilities for youth, working in conjunction with the Salvation Army, the Rec & Park District and with non-profits, as well as coordinating disaster relief programs area-wide.

“There’s something about kids that brings out the energy in you.”

Ken Hetge – Tehachapi resident for nine months, age 52. “We’re downsizing,” he said, explaining that he purchased a mobile home in the city and will be selling his home on Woodford-Tehachapi Road.

His place of business is at Hangar 51 at the Tehachapi Municipal Airport. Hetge built the hangar in 2003, when he left the corporate world for general aviation (small aircraft). He refurbishes small aircraft, provides maintenance and offers aircraft rentals.

“My true passion has been general aviation,” he said. “Way back in Illinois I used to go to the local airport on my bicycle. It’s the homegrown part of general aviation. Every pilot had to start in a little airplane. It’s as grass roots as it gets.”

He is calling for change in the city government. Hetge asserts that the city is too small to pay the upper level management staff as much as it does.

“We’re headed for a precipice,” he said. “The numbers are so big. Della [his wife] and I are counting nickels. The city of Tehachapi has got to start counting nickels. One [bad] thing happens and the balanced budget is gone. I am concerned we do not have enough reserve.”

A frequent public speaker at the City Council, he has numerous suggestions as to how the airport should be managed.

The challengers. Mary Ann Hester and Ken Hetge.

“It takes a lot of money to build a facility,” he said. “I am dedicated to making it work at the Tehachapi Airport. That is why I am so assertive in speaking up when airport issues come to the surface.”

Hetge has been sparring with the city about the proposed Motocross course, which is to be built on airport property. Hetge asserts that the city provided false information to secure a DMV grant to purchase a low-emission vehicle, and the matter is now in criminal court.

Tehachapi needs more jobs, he says, and the city should aggressively pursue new industry. He said that the City Council demeans those who come before it with issues or concerns.


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