Tim Gray wants to be the "finance guy" on the Palo Alto City Council.
Gray has spent his professional life advising hospitals and other businesses on financial matters. An accountant by training, he has spent seven years with the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in the 1990s, building the hospital's financial operations.
More recently, he's been advising children's hospitals in Phoenix and Los Angeles.
Gray, 49, owns a downtown business, Treasury Advocates, which assists businesses with tax recovery, mergers and acquisitions.
Gray says he realizes his background isn't glamorous, but he quickly adds that he's not seeking fame or status.
"I view serving on a Council as a job -- it's really pro-bono work," Gray said. "I'm not in it for the glamour."
Gray said if elected he will focus on building up the city's financial reserves and addressing its huge infrastructure backlog. He said he opposes "crash-and-burn budget cutting" but advocates fiscal restraint.
Financial discipline, he wrote in his official candidate statement, would be a top priority. He then adds, in a typically accountant manner, "Our expenditures, as measured by inflation-adjusted cost per resident, are on a non-sustainable growth curve."
Gray believes his background as a financial consultant and business owner has prepared him well for the difficult decisions the council needs to make as it grapples with a $10 million budget deficit. In a Palo Alto Neighborhoods (PAN) questionnaire, Gray wrote that the council needs to set budget priorities and issue clear instructions to staff about what services (if any) to trim.
"I am sorry to know that our lack of financial discipline in previous years, when funds were more available, is going to come back to haunt us and cause some pain in the future," Gray wrote.
He said his background in working with others on tough financial problems would serve him on the council.
"This is a discipline I have exercised throughout my career -- not coming in with any preconceived notions of what needs to be done, but with some eyes and lots of creativity," Gray said. "I'm a problem solver."
Gray, who was born in Idaho but now lives in Palo Alto's Charleston Gardens neighborhood, ran unsuccessfully for the council in 2007. In recent months, he's been attending City Council meetings and studying the myriad issues on the agenda.
Chief among these is the high-speed rail. Gray attended a recent technical workshop on the proposed rail system, which at present would run along the Caltrain tracks. His position on the high-speed rail is consistent with the current council's: It's a good concept as long as elevated tracks don't split Palo Alto in two.
For Gray, the issue literally hits close to home: He lives next to the Caltrain corridor.
"It would be unconscionable to have an elevated track divide our town," Gray wrote in the PAN questionnaire. "We have held very strict zoning standards for ourselves since the beginning of time, and then (to) have that all tossed away with one project would be beyond injurious."
Gray calls himself an "independent voice," and he demonstrated in recent weeks that he doesn't shy from controversy. On Sept. 14 -- exactly a week before the City Council confirmed Dennis Burns as the city's permanent police chief -- Gray joined police critic Aram James and another council candidate, Mark Weiss, in calling for the city to take more time before choosing a chief.
Gray publicly urged City Manager James Keene and the council to extend the deadline of the search, which was then in its 10th month. If city officials stuck to the Sept. 21 confirmation deadline they would "completely abandon transparency," Gray argued.
The requests went unheeded and the council unanimously confirmed Burns on Sept. 21.
Gray wrote in the PAN questionnaire that his "independence will offer a financial voice really needed in the city." To prove his independence, he announced that he is not accepting any contributions or endorsements.
"I truly want to be independent," he said at a recent Chamber of Commerce forum.
But he also promises to collaborate with the rest of the council and invite citizen participation in policymaking. Gray has lived in Palo Alto 20 years and said he will work to preserve the city's environment and quality of life.
"There are five seats open, and you have five votes," Gray wrote in the PAN questionnaire. "I am the finance guy that will work well (with) any other four candidates you choose.
"I know how to cooperate, and I know how to get things done."