Menifee residents Scott Mann and Neil Winter squared off Tuesday evening Oct. 11 at Mt. San Jacinto College at the Menifee Mayoral Candidates Forum to present their plans if they become the city’s mayor at large for the next two years.
Mann, the incumbent, and Winter, a prominent Menifee businessman, faced almost two hours of intense questioning from panelists. MSJC political science students and citizens asked about why they wanted to be the city’s mayor, what they want to see in the growing young community and how they believe they can achieve those results.
Mann has served as the city’s mayor at large for the past four years having been re-elected to the two-year term office in 2014. Mann is currently involved in private enterprise working to bring an International Documentary Film Festival to the city.
Winter, a retired teacher and software executive, has been active with the Menifee Chamber of Commerce and remains in local business affairs today. He has been a resident of the city since 2005 and in 2015 made his first bid for Menifee City Council in 2015 coming in second in a field of four.
Both candidates in the resident- and student-filled MSJC business school classroom answered almost 20 challenging questions posed by panelists Professor Mike Donaldson, MSJC Political Science teacher; Adam Evetov, Wellsaid Communications, Menifee Chamber of Commerce; and Denis Nurmela, Yes Place from Menifee Buzz. Acting as the moderator for the forum was Bill Zimmerman, MSJC faculty member and local historian.
The panelists took questions from Menifee residents on the internet, written questions from the audience and their own inquiries. Later, students from the MSJC Political Science classes and unsolicited members of the audience had their own questions.
The first question asked was about their relationship with the Riverside Sheriff Department that contracts for the city’s policing. Both Mann and Winters said they had a close relationship with the officers and agreed the city needs more police officers.
“I think we have an excellent relationship with out police department,” said Winters. “They’re there whenever we need them. They are pretty responsive when they have a call.” He said he stood on a lot of street corners in his campaign and has seen a lot of police cruisers go by but, “they are thin…we need more of them.”
“The key point here,” said Mann, “we need more boots on the ground.” He spoke about earlier successes in getting enough police officers in the community but when the recession hit in 2011 the governor took the rug out of our feet referring to more than $4 million taken away from the city’s motor vehicle licensing fees resulting in the loss of deputies on the street. He said he would like to see the city get motor officers and a gang task force.
The next question asked was how, as mayor, would they get more youth involved in the city and be more active.
Mann said the city has already taken steps to get youth involved by forming a youth advisory committee and given them a place to meet that has been very effective and received an award and grants.
“We need to duplicate it.”
Winters said he would have time to be in the meetings and be involved with them. He said he saw the skate park at Audie Murphy Park is a “great park” to the community although it has been under fire by local parents. He suggested the park be leased to a private manager, make sure security was there and that the youth wear helmets and give them identification badges so they could use it free.
The candidates were asked their views on a civil court that is believed to be coming into the town center area that is now under construction.
Mann said the court has been approved by county but was not overly concerned with it since it would be a family court not a criminal court. However, he said he did not want to see the ancillary services surrounding the court like it is in Hemet.
Winters said he had heard there might be housing for criminals in the area near the court and
“we need to be cautious.” Mann pointed out that the city specific plan does not allow for criminal housing.
A question was posed about the city employing volunteer and reserve officers to enhance the city’s public safety program.
Mann said yes, the city could use volunteer and reserve officers. But “I’ll tell you what I would like to see in the city of Menifee…I want our own police department. I want our own fire department.” He spoke about other cities that have public safety officers trained in all phases of public safety and very effective.
Winters said he liked Mann’s idea but “It takes away from giving us our balance we are looking for and that is getting more of our own police…” He said the city should use its leverage with the sheriff’s department to get more police.
A question then turned toward the problem of homelessness in the community and if the candidates supported fulltime shelters in the area
Winters said, “Yes and no…only because there are different kinds of homeless in the community.” He explained there were five different types ranging from those who want to be left alone to the dangerous drug addicts. “Yes, I believe we need to have homes. We need facilities,” said Winters. But, they need to be the “right kind of person,” in the homes.
Mann said the last survey showed there were 16 homeless in the city and a new survey will soon be made. He noted Menifee recently joined the Southwest County Coalition for Homelessness that are looking at a regional approach to provide the needs of the homeless. “I think we have to have enough compassion and caring for those in need and help them get the tools they need to become economically viable – if they want it.” He said we need a homeless shelter in the county but he would have to think about one in the city.
Toward the end to the forum Zimmerman said they were going to “throw a curve” at the candidates and give them an opportunity to ask each other questions themselves.
Winter went first asking Mann what connection he had with the planned International Documentary Festival coming to Menifee in December.
Mann responded that the festival was a coalition of the college and Santa Rosa Academy and he was working to bring it to the city as a private individual and not as a part of his city business, although it would have benefits to the city and surrounding communities. “It is a private business enterprise. It is something I am doing on the side.”
Mann asked Winters what kind of government structure he thought the city had. “To make money,” Winters retorted. But, Mann said he wanted to know about the function of the city not about money.
Winters said the mayor received a stipend ($9,200) but wasn’t much indicating he was not interested in the stipend it brought but what the elected mayor could do for the city. He then turned to the audience to ask what kind of mayor they wanted.
“…Do want a mayor who will be totally immersed in your city or do you want somebody that is great… and I mean Scott has done a great job… we’ve got a great staff at this city and they are the ones who carry the heavy load. They make the big money… so what I am suggesting is that when you are picking somebody for mayor, he has great experience, he has done a great job. But it is time for some new ideas and it time to change the culture cast and it’s time for you when you get an elected official in that that elected official is here for you. Not just sometime, but for the full time.”
Mayor said there is a difference between Winters and himself and explained that the city is basically run by the city manager and council makes only the policy. He said the only full time mayor in the county is the Riverside mayor who holds a paid position.
Mann challenged Winter to name any of the boards the city mayor serves on. Winters said he did not know. Mann said the Menifee City councilmembers serve on regional committees and need to represent the city’s views in those committees. “You have to think about who you’re going to vote for. You have think about who can represent the city. Who can be the best chief cheerleader for the city on all these regional roles,” Mann asked in conclusion.
In closing the candidates had the opportunity to say why residents should vote for them in the Nov. 8 election.
Winter said, “There is a great deal of difference between Scott and myself. He is a seasoned politician who knows a lot. I am a seasoned businessman and I know a lot. I want to bring a difference. I want to be a full time mayor… My goal for you is I want to be more of a representative for you than anything that you have seen in the past.”
Mann said he has been in the Valley for 27 years and has seen Menifee grow and he and his wife raised three children in the city and have been involved in youth sports and many activities.
“We have seen Menifee mature, change and grow…You do not want to change mayors when you are in a robust economic cycle,” Mann said.
“I ask you to cast your vote for a proven dedicated lifelong service to this community and just to look around you and see what we have done,” he urged.