Exeter incumbents seek to continue success, challengers say city lacks safety

District D, C incumbents run to continue stabilizing city finances and see existing projects completed; challengers state that Exeter is unsafe yet the city has already bolstered its police force

EXETER – After stabilizing the city’s finances following years of distress, incumbents hope to finally begin projects the city has needed, but newcomers say they are more concerned with stopping crime on the streets.

Four candidates are listed on this year’s ballot for Exeter city council’s districts C and D. Both incumbents, Steve Garver and Vernon “Frankie” Alves, are in the running again, hoping to see water infrastructure and park remodel projects come to fruition after stabilizing Exeter’s finances. Challenger candidates Vicki Riddle and Chris Clark, however, prioritize keeping Exeter’s streets safe, with Riddle seeking to hire more police officers. 

In District D, incumbent Garver is running against Riddle. Though he has not been on the council long, he was part of jumpstarting the Exeter and Tooleville water connection when Tooleville’s wells began drying up. Garver’s father was in the water infrastructure industry for years, which he said gave him knowledge on the issue. Garver also wants to continue seeing young people have more opportunities to get involved with sports by renovating and maintaining the city’s parks, such as Dobson Field.

“In the last meeting, we talked about a park master plan, specifically Dobson Field, and the athletic facilities there that give young people a place to go and exercise, play games, learn games and learn all the things that sports teaches,” Garver said. “I think in some ways, it’s a crown jewel for recreation, but also there are some things that need to be worked out.”

Garver has served on city council for one and a half years and was an educator and coach for over 30 years. He was appointed in May of 2021 after former Mayor Mary Waterman-Philpot stepped down in March. The well-known teacher and baseball coach at Exeter High School was selected in a unanimous vote by the council.

“I feel like I’m a part of a team at the city, both with the other council members, the people and the city staff,” Garver said. “There’s some [projects] that have been started… And it’d be nice to see them finished. See them through.”

Garver said he believes in supporting the people of Exeter regardless if he agrees with them or not, especially since the city council is meant to be non-partisan. Garver has spent 60 years of his life in Exeter, and even in retirement he continues to contribute to the school as an intern supervisor for teachers.

“I’m gonna work hard to be as informed as I can. They may not like my decision, or we may disagree on different parts of the decision, but I’m going to be informed,” Garver said. “I’ll talk to community members, and I’ll read all the reports that we’re given and look into other places.”

Vicki Riddle is an Exeter planning commissioner, Exeter cemetery trustee and an at-large board member of the Tulare County Association of Governments. Her main goals if elected onto city council would be to suggest things the city is already doing when it comes to crime and grant funding. 

Riddle believes that crime in Exeter has gone up after multiple homicides occurred in the city in the last few years, such as the man found slain in his car from a bullet wound in 2021 and a man found dead in the middle of the road this year. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation Crime Data Explorer, violent crimes went up from 16 reported violent crimes in 2018 to 32 reported cases as of 2021. However, that is not unique to the nation. This trend has been occurring throughout the country over the same period of time. 

Riddle states that she would like to see more police officers hired at the police department to quell the increase in crime.

“I feel like if we don’t fund our police for additional officers, we’re defunding them,” Riddle said. “I would love to see additional officers hired and I don’t know of anyone that really disagrees with that.”

However, Ennis said the city has already created multiple new positions including a sergeant, lieutenant, patrol officer and a community services officer through Measure P 1% sales tax. 

Since adding these positions, the department’s staffing needs have been met and they are now using Measure P funds and COPS grant funding to purchase needed equipment every few years such as police vehicles and radios. A new officer would cost the city roughly $100,000 a year with salary and benefits, with another $50,000 in training costs so that an officer learns how to work a shift alone, according to Ennis.

Riddle said that she wants to be an “alternative point of view to city management” when city management identifies that they are bound by state laws and mandates. 

“California has an extremely liberal legislature,” Riddle said. “In other words, constituents want one thing and city management is saying, ‘but the state of California says we have to do this.’ That’s when I want to come in and say, ‘I understand that, but let’s make this work.’”

District C

Incumbent Alves is running against Chris Clark. Alves has served on council since 2018. He helped bring the city’s reserve fund up from 1% to 70% in the last four years since he has been on city council.

“We pinched pennies as much as we could, we allocated some of the funds from the COVID relief because there’s a certain amount that the city’s able to put in for lost revenue,” Alves said. “We strove to make sure that the reserve was taken care of, and any chance that we got to add on to that reserve we took, because that’s our safety net.”

One of his greatest accomplishments was successfully advocating for a medical cannabis consultation clinic, BioLife Solutions, to open up in Exeter, so that those who are terminally ill would have a closer location to find treatment for chronic pain or other health effects. The topic first came up when Dr. David Sine spoke with first term councilmen in February of 2019. The idea to open up a BioLife clinic will be going up to the Exeter Planning Commision soon, according to Alves.

Alves said that the council can finally focus their attention on projects due to stabilizing the city’s finances. He looks forward to the various projects that have been planned out, such as building water infrastructure, future housing developments, road repairs and opening up the town to new businesses. 

Clark did not participate in an in-person or phone interview for The Sun-Gazette, but in a statement he noted that he wants to apply for as many grants as possible to fund projects. He stated that his goals for city council are to have better public safety and lower the crime rate, work on road projects, park maintenance, street sweeping and fiscal responsibility. 

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