Uploaded: Friday, October 2, 2009, 11:46 AM
|Chris Gaither's campaign for City Council comes with a slogan, "Fired up and ready to serve."
Those who meet Gaither know he means it.
A retired property manager and financial analyst, Gaither is among the most enthusiastic of the 14 candidates. He proudly calls himself a community volunteer and sees his entry into the crowded council race as the logical next step to show Palo Alto his gratitude and appreciation.
Gaither currently serves on the Board of Directors of La Comida, a local nonprofit that serves hot meals to seniors. He previously ran his own travel business and founded a company that provides in-home support to quadriplegic men.
Most recently, he has spent eight years as property manager at Sheridan Apartments, a position that he said taught him to deal with budgets, audits, regulators and concerned residents.
But while Gaither says he is comfortable with budget numbers, one of his highest priorities relies just as heavily on words and emotions. If elected, Gaither hopes to improve the relations between the community and the Palo Alto Police Department, which has been roiled by accusations of racial profiling in recent years.
As the lone African-American candidate in the crowded race, Gaither rejects the recent barrage of allegations from a handful of residents that the department practices racial profiling. He told the Weekly he is tired of hearing police critics who aren't black act as if they represent the black community.
Gaither said in all his years in Palo Alto, he's been pulled over three times. In each case, it was because he violated a traffic law. In all three cases, he said he was treated respectfully and let go without a ticket.
"In my view, I don't see where the issue of profiling is a drastic problem," Gaither told the Weekly. "No one wants to get stopped by the police."
He acknowledges that there is some mistrust between the police department and the community at large and says the trust needs to be built back up through better communication from both sides.
"I think it's a gap that needs to be bridged," Gaither said. "It's not only an onus on the police, it's also an onus to community."
Gaither, who lives on Grant Avenue, in the California Avenue business district, also said he was shocked by the inadequate communications in the city's Public Works Department before the recent removal of 63 holly oaks from three blocks of California Avenue.
As a property manager at Sheridan, Gaither said he's had to acquire permits and alert residents before implementing far smaller tree-removal projects. He recalled a time when three of the 47 birches near the property were diseased and had to be removed.
Gaither said residents knew about the project before it was implemented, even though some weren't thrilled about it. One woman in particular was angry when she saw a nearby birch cut down.
"She didn't talk to me for months when I took down the big tree," Gaither recalled.
But overall, he is satisfied with the city's response to residents' concerns and to its current effort to cut spending. He opposes the proposed business-license tax, saying it would discourage businesses from moving into Palo Alto. But he supports the city's effort to restructure workers' contracts to address a projected $10 million budget gap.
Gaither also suggested, in response to an answer on a Palo Alto Neighborhoods questionnaire, that city officials can respond to attrition in City Hall by bringing in volunteers with expertise.
"The city could save money as positions open up by creating a volunteer opportunity and invite residents whose skills match with the position to assist on a part-time basis to help the city provide any services lost to attrition."
Gaither said he believes residents should have an opportunity to participate in civic life and give back to the community from which they've been reaping benefits for years. He said he is trying to do just that with his council campaign.
"The opportunities to get out and contribute to society are limitless," Gaither wrote in the PAN questionnaire. "Research shows that those who stay engaged in community relations, and those that help others in turn lead healthier lives both mentally and physically.
"We need to all be examples to others as to the win-win benefits of civic engagement."
— Gennady Sheyner
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