Ask Chris Werthe the first thing he would do upon being sworn in as a city councilmember and he thinks for almost a minute before answering, “Talk to the other councilmembers.”
While it might be more common for people to attempt to place on the agenda some issue they promised to deal with upon election, Werthe’s military background does not allow that. He sees that as “a bit arrogant. We’ve got to be realistic.”
It remains to be seen how realistic his chances are to win a seat on the city council next year, but he’s giving it a go, having declared last month.
Two seats will be up in November 2020. Cameron Smyth likely will seek re-election in one. The other is wide open because Bob Kellar is retiring. Previous candidates Ken Dean, Jason Gibbs, Sean Weber and Sandra Nichols have indicated an interest in running again. With so many candidates making it hard to stand out, sources say local political parties are considering rallying behind one candidate despite city council being a non-partisan position. The top vote getters will win the election.
Werthe, who previously unsuccessfully challenged Bob Jensen for a seat on the William S. Hart Union High School District board, said he hopes to secure the local Democratic Alliance for Action and County Democratic Party endorsements.
Werthe said the endorsement process won’t begin until next year, but it’s realistic to think he’ll get the DAA endorsement since his wife, Constance, is recording secretary.
Realistic might just be an ideal word to describe this 37-year-old veteran who joined the Navy in 2000 and then spent three years in the Army from 2003-06. He left the service and noticed that the health care and educational benefits and opportunities he received in the military didn’t exist in society at large. He thinks they should.
“With education, your tuition was paid for,” Werthe said. “With health care, you didn’t think about it. I had appendicitis; they sent me to the (civilian) hospital (and) they took care of it the same say. Then I saw some bills and they said don’t worry about it.”
He grew up Republican and conservative but also noticed that the Republican Party at the end of George W. Bush’s presidency seemed to not care about society at large. He felt the GOP was saying, “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”
“Good luck with that,” Werthe said. “You get out in the real world, it’s different.”
He’s been in the real world for the last 13 years, having been discharged from the Army in 2006 (he drove a gas truck) after serving in the Navy from 2000-03 as a steam plant operator for the nuclear power plant aboard the submarine USS Santa Fe.
In some ways, the military never left him. His wife is also a veteran. His job at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, where he’s chief safety inspector, is a government job. He’s planning to join the Army reserves.
He likes discipline, and he believes the city council needs it.
Discipline “trains you when to lead and when to follow,” he said. “It gives you the benefit of avoiding the silliness that our council runs into, being petty in public; and gives you discipline in the sense of finding out what your constituents want and going after it.”
He said discipline also would allow him to be more patient when community members speak at council meetings. Werthe (pronounced “Worthy”) said he finds the current council “dismissive” of the public, especially those who speak at every meeting. Eye rolls are common, he said.
“I understand there are repeat visitors, but when you take a position like that, you should take everything seriously. You should give us all respect,” Werthe said. “Some have no idea who Alan Ferdman is, (but the council’s reaction) might make them think twice about speaking at the dais.”
Back to what he would do first. After much thought, he settled on moving toward district elections because he fears another lawsuit. The city previously was sued over violating the California Voting Rights Act, resulting in moving the election to November of even-numbered years instead of April.
Local school districts also were sued or threatened with suits; many moved to district voting as a result. City councilmembers, who could place the matter before the voters, have resisted.
“The expenses that would be incurred, I don’t think the city can take a loss like that,” Werthe said. “That’s why I’d rather not settle. I’d rather do it.”
He said he’s aware of the drawbacks: councilmembers fighting over resources for pet projects for their districts at the expense of the whole city. But he believes the plusses – better representation and accessibility to a single councilmember – outweigh the minuses.
The second issue he would tackle is reducing traffic. He backs the idea of building population centers close to transportation hubs, a plan the council seemed to sign off on when it approved the Vista Canyon development in 2011. After three years of legal action, the project broke ground in 2015.
“I applaud Vista Canyon, and I think it should keep moving in that direction,” he said.