Local government needs to be a whole lot better, says the Mayor of Orange, Calif., Carolyn V. Cavecche, who has been involved in local government for years.
“Local government is definitely the place to be, said the 48-year-old Cavecche. “We are closer to the people who elect us, and we can greatly affect their lives, either for the good or the bad. Most people won’t recognize their state assemblyman or senator. But they know their mayor or city council member. It is a great responsibility.”
Some suggestions that she has for local government to step up include the roles of new council members who come into office. She says they need to take the time to learn the job and that means spending time with department heads, the city manager and other council members to learn the technical ropes.
“But, always stay true to the principles that you bring with you into office. I believe in a small local government being accountable to the electorate. Sometimes, the best job government can do, is to just stay out of the way. We are watching a state government here in California who hasn’t learned that lesson,” she says. “They have irresponsibly spent their way into a corner with our tax dollars, and legislated California into a sink hole for businesses.”
Cavecche has served in various capacities including being appointed to the Orange Community Video Advisory Board in 1990, and being appointed to the Orange Public Library Board of Trustees 1994. She won election to the Orange City Council in a special election in June 2001 and won re-election in November 2002. Cavecche was directly elected mayor in 2006 and then ran unopposed for re-election as mayor in 2008.
“I love the City of Orange,” she says. “What keeps me going is when I know that I am making a difference … when we are making Orange a better city or when a constituent stops me in the grocery store and thanks me or even tells me how I can do my job better. That’s what local government is all about.”
Of course, being in local government takes a lot of work and Cavecche says there are so many different areas a city council member needs to know in order to make decisions, since the days can be long and filled with a variety of duties.
A typical day for her might include a series of briefings in sewers, budget, police staffing, maintaining the fire training center and the pavement management plane. Then, she might give a tour of city hall to 90 third graders and finish the day speaking to a community group.
“It never gets old,” she says.
Making A Difference
But Cavecche takes it in positively and does believe that local officials like herself can make the difference. She says that being on a city council should be about service to the community first, above everything else.
“I always remind myself that it’s not about me, it’s about the people I was elected to represent,” she says. “A council member that I served with when I was first elected taught me not to be swayed by a vocal minority, but to always remember the silent majority who are counting on me to do the right thing. If you stay true to the principle, that you were elected to be a voice for the people and stay passionate about the issues that most affect them, you will make a difference.”
While serving as Orange’s mayor since 2006, Cavecche has had a number of accomplishments, and she’s proud of what she has been able to do thus far.
“When I was first elected mayor, I came in with a list of goals that I wanted to accomplish during the first 12 months. They ranged from establishing a neighborhood enhancement program for an area in Orange that needed extra attention from a multitude of departments including public works, code enforcement and police; to writing an ordinance to curtail loitering of day laborers on private property; to establishing a joint economic development committee with our local businesses to become a more business friendly city,” she recalls.
The goals were wide-ranging and very detailed and she felt the community and city hall needed a shot in the arm.
“We accomplished so much that first year,” she says. “The community was energized and so were the employees. Looking back, it makes me feel good that I hit the ground running and we all were able to accomplish so much. As mayor, I now lay out goals every year at our State of the City. With the incredible staff we have, it is easy to continue to raise the bar every year,” she says.
Why Do They Fail?
When asked why city officials don’t always seem to keep their promises, she was quick to respond: Being a candidate for office and actually having to do the job of a city council member are two completely different worlds, she says.
“I do believe that most people who are running for the first time are sincere in what they want and plan to do. The reality of the restrictions and mandates and requirements placed on city government is shocking once you get into office,” she says. “It can also be very overwhelming, the amount of reading and work it takes to really learn about how city government operates and functions.”
She adds that there are actually two different kinds of elected officials; those who like “being” an elected official, and those who like “doing” the job.
“At the local level, thankfully, I think a vast majority fall into the latter category,” she says.
A woman who likes to take charge, she explains that over the past few months, the City of Orange has had to cope with some economic issues that coincide with what’s happening statewide.
“We are watching our revenues drop,” she shares. “Sales tax is down, property tax is down, VLF is down, and everything is down. Last year, just a few months after passing our budget we returned to the numbers and cut an additional $2 million and enacted a hiring freeze.”
In addition, for this fiscal year the city council decided to take a proactive stance and requested that all of its employee associations defer their contractually obligated raises.
“We were very gratified that all eight bargaining groups agreed to do just that for a savings of $3 million. We are also cutting, and cutting, and then cutting some more. We have a rainy day fund set aside that will help us make our budget,” she says. “I am a numbers cruncher, so I have been very involved in last year’s and this year’s budget.”
Cavecche meets with the city’s financial director and city manager on a regular basis on the budget. She believes that eventually Orange County will turn around economically and her job is to “make sure Orange is at the forefront of that recovery.”
She also reports that she has been meeting with businesses in Orange and working with the established economic development joint committee and with the chamber to make sure that the city has the procedures and policies in place for pro business growth.
“My major goal for this year was a revised budget process that started earlier, mapped out major expenditures and revenues up front and placed a huge emphasis on budgetary restraint,” she says. “I am looking at this time as an opportunity to make Orange an even better place to do business.”
Cavecche enjoys serving as the City of Orange’s Mayor and says she finds it rewarding and challenging at the same time.
“I love being mayor … but it is also a political office, and comes with all of the pros and cons of running for office,” she says. “There are times when someone comes after you, out of left field, for no motive other than a political one. That’s when you take a deep breath, and remember why you ran in the first place and don’t allow yourself to be distracted. The time commitment is also very large, you need to have a very understanding family.”