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Santa Rosa City Council picks Robin Swinth to replace Susan Gorin

Robin Swinth listens Monday as other candidates for a Santa Rosa City Council seat address council members at the City Council's chambers.

ALVIN JORNADA / The Press Democrat
Published: Monday, January 28, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 at 7:01 a.m.

The Santa Rosa City Council on Monday night selected Robin Swinth, a member of the city's powerful Board of Public Utilities and a former Agilent Technologies engineer, to fill the remaining two years of Susan Gorin's council term.

"She did her homework," Mayor Scott Bartley said of Swinth's presentation earlier in the day to the council. "I think she'll do an excellent job."

The selection capped a controversial three-week-long application process that some criticized as rushed and secretive. The council spent nearly seven hours during a special hearing Monday afternoon and evening interviewing the 17 applicants for the post.

Council members toyed with the idea of inviting finalists back today for further interviews. But almost as soon as preliminary voting began it was clear Swinth was the favorite.

In the first round of voting, which was meant to narrow the field, she received six votes, more than any other applicant. In that same round, Caroline Banuelos received three votes, while Don Taylor, David Rosas, Curtis Byrd, Gary Saal and George Stepphensen each received two.

As the voting continued, no other candidate could muster more than two votes, and Swinth won the deciding vote unanimously.

Swinth, 45, served with Bartley on the Planning Commission and currently serves on the Board of Public Utilities, which oversees the city's water and wastewater systems and sets rates.

She is a native Santa Rosan who lives in Bennett Valley. She has two daughters, ages 8 and 9, and is active in their school, she said. She and her husband own a small business, Access Ingenuity, that helps disabled people return to work.

During her interview with the council, she emphasized the need for predictability in the planning and development process, her appreciation for sacrifices public employees have made during the recession and her work to keep water rate increases to a minimum.

Swinth stressed her 14 years of work for Agilent Technologies as an electrical engineer and manager, which she said gives her "analytic and problem-solving skills" that will be benefit the city. She also cited her four years on the Planning Commission and five years on the Board of Public Utilities as proof of her public service.

"I have a long history of working as an effective, respectful and collaborative team member," Swinth said.

As a small-business owner, she said she understands the challenges and risks that businesses face, from being able to afford health care to being able to recruit and retain qualified workers.

Councilman Gary Wysocky, who called the appointment "arguably the most important decision we will make this term," asked Swinth to discuss a series of rate increases the Board of Public Utilities approved over the past decade. Rates had steadily increased 9 percent annually.

Swinth called keeping rates affordable "extremely important" and said she worked hard on the budget to accomplish this by keeping employee costs down in the city's utilities department.

She noted that after the long string of 9 percent increases, the most recent increase was 3 percent, she said.

She also demonstrated her knowledge of complex issues facing the city, such as how the quarter-cent Measure O sales tax has a baseline for public safety services that is tied to the consumer price index.

"Unfortunately, what happened was we passed it and then the economy tanked," Swinth said. "We have a complicated issue to deal with."

While on the Planning Commission during a period of more dense development, Swinth said she worked closely with Bartley to try to amend design guidelines for small lot subdivisions.

"He was very supportive of working with me and going around and trying to figure out what was working and what wasn't working," she said.

After the meeting, Bartley said he didn't always agree with Swinth but respected her thoughtfulness.

"She has her own opinions, and she can defend her opinions," Bartley said. "I think she'll do great."

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@press democrat .com. OnTwitter@citybeater

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