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Debate gets heated among Auburn City Council candidates

Economy, sewer issues boil over
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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It didn’t take long for a public debate among three candidates for two seats on the Auburn City Council to escalate into accusations of lies and personal attacks on Friday at the Chamber of Commerce’s “Eggs and Issues” forum. Gary Moffat continued his campaign of challenging the status quo on the Council as he looks to unseat either of the incumbents he’s running against, and some of his accusations sparked heated retorts from Dr. Bill Kirby while Keith Nesbitt relied on what he called an “indirect” approach of denying Moffat’s claims. Chamber CEO Bruce Cosgrove and president Richard Hall moderated by delivering questions submitted by the 40 or so attending the event at the Holiday Inn. But Kirby’s response to Moffat’s opening statement set a tone that would continue throughout the discussion. “Everything my opponent has said is either a lie or a distortion,” Kirby said. Moffat said he has “never been called a liar so wrongly in my life,” and after the hour-long debate ended, he vowed to bring a new level of intensity to his campaigning for the Nov. 6 election. “I just bet Kirby $100 that I would beat both of them,” he said. “Because he called me a liar. I said ‘You’ve really caused a problem for yourself now, because you’ve really invigorated me to work every minute until this five weeks is over, because I’m going to kick your ass.’ “He said, ‘You want to bet?’ I said, ‘Let’s go for it.’” Moffat, in his opening marks, said the Council has dragged out the move to a regional sewer over 10 years and that, “We need an end game now.” “We need the leadership it takes to find a solution rather than continuing to condemn ourselves to letting the problem solve itself,” said Moffat, owner of Carpe Vino in Old Town. Kirby, who has been elected chairman of the Placer Nevada County Wastewater Authority for four consecutive years, said, “The idea that the sewer has been sitting for 10 years is another bald-faced lie.” “When the county rebuffed us (10 years ago), Auburn went ahead and fixed our plan,” he said. “We are in compliance and we have money in reserve to do the things we need to do in the future. But if the details work out for our residents, protect our rate payers, we want to go regional.” Nesbitt later said the idea the Council has just “kicked the can down the road” on the sewer issue is rhetoric used by someone unfamiliar with the situation. Regarding the economy, Moffat said the recent efforts Nesbitt cited in his opening remarks came too little, too late. Nesbitt specifically had pointed to a plan currently in negotiations that would shuttle visitors to adventure destinations in the area and drop them off back in Auburn at the end of the day. “They shop, eat and sleep,” Nesbitt said. “Conservative estimates say we might bring 500,000 to 700,000 new visitors a year through this program.” Moffat later said that estimate is “horse s---.” Kirby gave the example of the upcoming Oct. 12 “Soaring High on Auburn Industry 2012” event at the Auburn Municipal Airport as a culmination of a two-year effort by the city to draw more business to the airport and its industrial park. “It is going to bring a tremendous number of people into this community,” Kirby said. “Auburn, while not out of the woods yet, is doing a very, very good job. We were proactive. We cut back on employees some time ago realizing that this downturn was approaching, and our employees have done a phenomenal job with limited staff and limited resources.” The fact it took two years to plan the Oct. 12 event is “ridiculous,” Moffat said. “I’ll just point out that it took two years to put a four-hour program together, sir,” he said. “In a small business like I run, if you don’t get it done now, it’s gone.” Moffat said part of his plan would include hiring a full-time economic development professional. The fireworks continued into a discussion about the time each candidate spends involved in community organizations. Responding to a question about whether he is spread too thin between his urology practice and various volunteer efforts, Kirby said he only works 20 hours a week in the office and is on call the rest of the time because he’s disabled due to a back surgery he had in 2009. Moffat questioned the legitimacy of Kirby’s disability. “Dr. Kirby, if you’re disabled, I wonder how you can play golf in Oregon and post pictures on the Internet,” Moffat said. “I hope you’re not collecting insurance for it.” Kirby called that a “veiled comment about my committing insurance fraud,” and he said it was “over the top” and “inappropriate” and that he resented Moffat for making it. Kirby said he has two foot-long rods and 10 screws in his back from a surgery he had to address nerve damage that was causing him to lose muscle in his leg. He said he was readmitted a month later for “massive” complications. “I basically was out of work for almost six months and came back part time and very slowly,” Kirby said. Now he said he takes medication for chronic back pain, and when he plays golf he takes prescribed pain-killers and ibuprofen. “I’m reviewed by my insurance company and physicians every month,” Kirby said. While the drama unfolds between Kirby and Moffat, Nesbitt said he doesn’t believe he’s fading into the background, but that he is “trying to remain positive in my campaign and point out inaccuracies maybe slightfully more tactfully.” During the debate, a question was asked about how important it is for a Council to work together despite their individual differences of opinions. Kirby said respect is paramount. Moffat and Nesbitt both said doing that is “essential.” “It’s important because rogue councilmen, people that start a cancer in the council, pretty soon no one is working together,” Nesbitt said. “We saw that in the past. We have a great council that has worked together for eight years and the progress, the position our city is in is reflective of that.” Jocelyn Maddux, aide to Placer County Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery, said the debate’s tone turned “nastier than it had to be,” but she remains optimistic about the Council’s future. “I think that no matter who ends up in those seats they will get the job done. They will figure out how to work together,” Maddux said. “It’s a small town and nobody up there is new to it, so they’ll figure it out.” Jon Schultz and be reached at jons@goldcountrymedia.com.