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Our View: Kirby must focus on today while looking to future

Our View
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New Auburn Mayor Bill Kirby has backbone, and he’s not afraid to use it. Kirby, still recovering from major back surgery, took the oath of office Monday. Within a few minutes of holding the gavel, he already was making headlines as an active, vocal mayor interested in a progressive agenda for Auburn’s future. He shared ceremonial praises for outgoing Mayor Bridget Powers, and thanked each council member and senior staff member for helping him through his first two years in office. The experience, he said, has been educational and essential. Although just one vote on the council, Kirby said he recognizes the responsibility and rewards of being recognized as Auburn’s mayor. Vintage Kirby, he also mixed in his dry — and sometimes wry — sense of humor, getting a laugh when cracking a huge logbook for “just a few words” of his opening address as mayor. But respect and gratitude aside, Kirby made clear there are bigger issues on his agenda, specifically mentioning a regional solution for Auburn’s long-term sewage treatment needs. Kirby, who knows a thing or two about human plumbing as one of the region’s leading urologists, is a passionate supporter of wastewater regionalization, believing that mounting state and federal clean water regulations will drive the cost of upgrading Auburn’s sewage treatment plant beyond city residents’ ability to pay. A regional plant in Lincoln, with shared costs by utility users in Auburn, Placer County and other foothill communities, could “achieve the best results for our ratepayers,” he said. Kirby also opened the door for discussions with Placer County on annexing urbanized county property such as Bowman and North Auburn. “Every planning body feels that urbanized areas are better served by being in cities,” he said. “It has been almost 21 years since this subject has been visited, and it is time to look at it again.” Kirby also is interested in an aggressive marketing campaign for Auburn, and supports City Manager Bob Richardson’s call for a new wave of volunteerism — such as the city’s volunteer parking enforcement program — to help offset recessionary cuts in staffing. We applaud Kirby’s long-term perspective on critical issues such as sewage treatment and creeping urbanization — although we wonder where he will find traction for annexation when the county is being fed by a cash cow it’s not likely to give up. But he can’t lose sight of the pressing, immediate concerns facing Auburn, such as declining property-tax revenues and stalled sales-tax proceeds. In better financial shape than many cities in the region, Auburn must remain diligent and dedicated to fiscal solvency and building its reserves. We also hope Kirby and the other council members loosen the reins on Richardson and allow him to fully engage the community as he did when he landed in Auburn in 2003. In recent years, the mayor’s role has evolved into a policy leader and city spokesperson, attending all events and being the mouthpiece for city hall. That isn’t necessary. It’s nice for Auburn’s mayor to be visible, and it’s understandable for the mayor to have personal views. But Auburn is blessed to have an educated, experienced and results-oriented municipal manager who people like and respect. A skilled financial professional, some of Richardson’s strongest contributions have come when he stepped outside city hall to work with groups and residents on public projects, such as Project Auburn and Streetscape. Kirby appears to recognize this. We look forward to outreach efforts he and Richardson have planned early next year to determine residents’ priorities, and how he will involve the rest of the council in group decision-making that addresses Auburn’s current and long-term needs. In re-electing Councilmembers Powers, Kevin Hanley and Mike Holmes, Auburn voters indicated they were satisfied with the work of the current council. But that doesn’t mean the work and dialogue can’t be freshened up. With Kirby as mayor, we expect that — and more.