The signs are up and the competition is hot for seats on the Clovis City Council.
The field for the March 2 election is the largest in 14 years. Mail ballots have already been sent to all registered voters. They can be returned with the postage already paid.
Five candidates are competing for a pair of council seats in an at-large election.
The two incumbents are running. Lynne Ashbeck is seeking her sixth term; Vong Mouanoutoua is running for his second term.
They are joined by three challengers — former school administrator Noha Elbaz, businessman Herman Nagra and businesswoman Diane Pearce.
It will also be the final Clovis election to take place in an odd-numbered year. This term will be slightly less than four years, with the next scheduled election for these seats in November 2024.
Who is Running?
Family: Husband Jeff Hensley; five adult children, seven grandchildren
Occupation: City councilwoman (since 2001); senior vice president with Valley Children’s Healthcare
Top Endorsements: Sheriff Margaret Mims; District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp; all four of her Clovis council colleagues; Central Labor Council; unions representing police and fire
Family: wife Jane; five children, with one in college
Occupation: City councilman (since 2017); hospital executive
Top Endorsements: All five Fresno County Supervisors; all four Clovis council colleagues; Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer; unions representing police and fire
Family: husband James Renwick; two boys, 7 and 11
Occupation: formerly an executive with San Joaquin Valley College
Top Endorsement: Fresno Bee; Central Labor Council; various Democratic groups
Occupation: Small business owner, including an AM/PM store in Fresno
Party: no party preference
Top Endorsements: American and Petroleum Convenience Store Association
Family: Husband, Jeremy Pearce; one son
Occupation: runs King Productions, an entertainment company featuring her husband, Jeremy, performing as Elvis Presley; president of Fresno County Republican Women
Top Endorsements: several local businesses
GV Wire Forum on Feb. 10
GV Wire℠ will hold a live online forum where the candidates will respond to questions on housing, public safety and various other local issues.
The forum will be streamed on GV Wire’s Facebook page on Wednesday, Feb. 10 starting at 6 p.m.
Have a question you want asked? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
GV Wire℠ asked the candidates a series of questions in separate Zoom interviews. Here are some of their answers.
What is your top issue?
Ashbeck: The COVID-19 recovery, whatever that looks like, our economy will never be the same. I think we need to kind of accept that. But we have a chance to to build a different kind of economy.
Elbaz: Helping our small businesses. This, again, ties into COVID, but helping support a businesses make it through this time. So whether that’s looking for ways that we can secure grant funding, ways to help restaurants and other small businesses make it through this time is incredibly important.
Mouanoutoua: I want to ensure that we maintain safety as the priority. Whether it is to first responders or to police, because I really feel like without safety, you can’t have any of the other things you want.
Nagra: We will get the DARE program back. We need to bring that program back because there’s a big toll that happens on a family when somebody is abusing drugs not only on the rest of the system, but on the individual, on your potential.
Pearce: The number one issue I’m running on is to be that business perspective and that voice for our small businesses on the city council, like I said before, of our five member council, no one is self-employed. No one missed a paycheck during the pandemic from their regular job. And so I think it’s a unique perspective and a valuable voice to bring to the discussion.
What does the ‘Clovis Way of Life’ mean to you?
Elbaz: The Clovis Way of Life has meant that I have been welcome to the community and that has been wonderful. Unfortunately, I do believe that when we hear that phrase, it is said with the connotation that implies that the Clovis Way of Life is a non-diverse sort of white, old school, kind of way of life, and I think Clovis is diversifying … We have to ensure that our values are holistic and supportive of everyone within our community, because that’s how we become even stronger.
Mouanoutoua: The Clovis Way of Life means the people have a vested interest and care for their community … That runs through our staff — from the guy who changes the lights to fix the streets — they are proud to be able to drive our vehicles, to serve our residents. And the residents are proud to be able to say we live here and we value that.
Nagra: To me, it means a neighborly life where your neighbors can pop into your neighbors for a cup of sugar … A Clovis Way of Life is that sharing of not only our space, but also of our lives, which includes time and the charm of the smallness, of our farmers markets, of our community, that is seen as relatively safe.
Pearce: It’s community…. the Clovis Way of Life is the juxtaposition or the side-by-side existence of Old Town Clovis and Pollasky (Avenue) and the newer developments that they call SoFi or south of First. You have the heritage and the long standing traditions of the shops in Old Town, and it’s right next door to the newer, vibrant experiences in SoFi district. And I think that’s the beautiful picture of what Clovis in the Clovis Way of Life really is.
Ashbeck: It’s just a place where people can belong. They can describe our history, they can see our history, and they can see the future. And that’s what it means to me.
Does the city need to intervene for restaurants that offer indoor dining, technically against state rules?
Mouanoutoua: We have to be very fair in our assessment in that are they putting in protocols? Are they even safer than Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, the big box stores? And I would argue that they are.
Nagra: People going to the restaurants, they know if they are an at risk population, they’re taking that risk in their own hands … How are people supposed to eat when it’s freezing cold outside?
Pearce: Our residents in Clovis feel comfortable with (health and safety) protocols in place. They kind of assess their own risk level and then their own risk tolerance and have been supportive of those businesses that are frankly just trying to feed their families, keep their employees paid and service their customers in a safe and responsible manner. And so I think that’s been an appropriate response.
Ashbeck: I think if people want to frequent those restaurants, they need to be able to do that. I may not want to do that as a consumer, but the economy is a supply demand equation always so they can remain open.
Elbaz: I think we have to follow the rules. If we have state mandates that say that restaurants should only be offering their services outdoors, then we need to do everything we can as a city council to help support our businesses and give them the ability to do so.
Should Clovis allow retail marijuana?
Nagra: There’s marijuana use in our parks. It can get worse. After that, there’ll be needles. When when the stench of marijuana is present, our house prices will come down as well because nobody wants to raise a family where there’s a stench of marijuana. So I don’t support marijuana shops opening up in our city.
Pearce: If the citizens of Clovis aren’t in support of those items (Prop 64), then I think our representation should reflect that at the city level. And so I would pursue the policies that are open to the municipalities to continue to fulfill the wishes of the voters, which is not in favor of expanding recreational marijuana situations in the city of Clovis.
Ashbeck: We’re not interested in that at this point.
Elbaz: We’re surrounded by a lot of places where people can go and purchase marijuana and then bring it right back into town. Yet we’re not benefiting from any of the tax dollars on the revenue coming into our state … Yes. Provided that they’re zoned appropriately and and run in a legally responsible manner.
Mouanoutoua: I will support it when the voters (in Clovis) … the majority of the voters move to go that way.
Should the city change from an at-large election format to district elections?
Nagra: Yes, it should, and it should be district based elections because then big business will have less influence because it’ll be more locally based.
Ashbeck: I am not a fan of district elections. When you look around and look at communities where they have had district elections, you end up with five or seven disconnected elected officials whose interests are too narrow.
Elbaz: Yes, it absolutely should. One hundred percent. I very much believe that we need to change our current system of voting from being at large to being district so that we can increase the amount of engagement and participation within our political process.
Mouanoutoua: The at-large system works very well and has worked well for us ever since its inception. And so it’s already worked well to maintain the diversity. And it’s shown.
Mouanoutoua has raised the most funds of the five candidates. Through the period through Jan. 16, he raised $76,050, with $124,984 cash on hand. Since then, he’s picked up another $15,000 in large ($1,000 or more) contributions through Feb. 4.
Ashbeck raised $38,000 through Jan. 16, with $89,370 cash on hand. She’s raised another $4,000 in large contributions.
Pearce raised $21,290 through Jan. 16, with $15,318 cash on hand. She’s raised another $8,000 in large contributions.
Elbaz picked up $5,958 in fundraising through Jan. 16, with $4,208 cash on hand. She’s raised another $3,000 in large contributions.
Nagra filed fundraising paperwork vowing not to raise more than $2,000.
Granville Homes contributed $5,000 each to Mouanoutoua and Ashbeck. The company’s CEO, Darius Assemi, is also publisher of GV Wire℠.
While the campaign so far has been mainly cordial, Nagra was arrested on Jan. 28, accused of stealing his opponents’ signs. Nagra said he was justified because those signs were placed improperly.
An interesting fact — three of the five candidates were born abroad on three separate continents.
Nagra was born in England, and has dual British and American citizenship.
Mouanoutoua was born in Laos and came to America as a refugee when he was five.
Elbaz was born in Alexandria, Egypt, and lived around the world. She became a naturalized citizen in 2010.