GRANT’S PASS, Ore. — After 42 years in Atascadero, former City Council Member and Mayor Pro-tem Bob Kelley is moving on. Over the past several years, Kelley and his wife, LaVonne, took several trips in their RV to Grant’s Pass, Ore., and fell in love with the area. When it came time to retire, they decided to fulfill their dream of living on the water. Their new home on the Rogue River will allow them to do just that. Upon relocating, Kelley reminisced about his time in Atascadero, reflected on his legacy in local government, and provided some advice for the city’s future.
Bob Kelley and his family came to Atascadero in 1975, having been transferred from Los Angeles by his employer at the time, the California Highway Patrol. When he first moved here, Kelley said, “you would see maybe 15 cars between Atascadero and Paso; now it’s almost bumper to bumper.”
After his time with the CHP, Kelley worked building custom homes. As a builder, he had complaints about the fee and permitting system in Atascadero. According to Kelley, “I’ve always said that if somebody wants to complain, they should have an answer for how they’re going to fix it.” As a result, he joined the Planning Commission where he served for more than seven years.
“I think we did some good,” Kelley reflected. “I think we clarified some things that came to the Planning Commission from a builder’s standpoint, and the city staff was empowered to make proper changes.”
Kelley’s service with the Planning Commission was just the beginning. In 2008 he was elected to Atascadero City Council where he had two main goals: to improve the building and planning department, and to clean up the city’s finances. On the first count, Kelley feels confident that he helped to make major improvements: “Atascadero now has about the best building department in the county,” Kelley said.
The second goal is where Kelley felt stalled by what he calls the “country club” mentality of local governance.
“I still have some concerns about the finances of the city,” he said. “We’ve been reserve spending for about 12 years and we’ve never talked about it. We need to balance the budget and, in my opinion, some things have been moved around in the books that aren’t entirely on the up-and-up, just to make things look good.”
However, Kelley feels he did what he could to encourage fiscal responsibility: he voted “no” on all fee and tax increases.
“I think that not only the Atascadero government, but all governments can do a better job of spending taxpayer’s money,” he said.
For Kelley, managing existing finances responsibly was necessary before asking the taxpayers for more funds.
It’s no secret that Kelley faced opposition on the City Council.
“I kind of stirred the pot,” he said. “I had a difficult time getting information and sometimes they wouldn’t give it to me. I asked them some very tough questions. But I guess that’s how you know you’ve done your job.”
Although Kelley’s time in Atascadero has come to an end, he had some advice for improving the city’s financial situation.
“People need to be more involved in the financial part of city government and know how the money is spent,” he said. “They need to be proactive, not reactive.” As part of this, Kelley recommends an independent commission of qualified individuals to look into city finances and discover why there has been reserve spending for the last twelve years.
In addition, Kelley encourages Atascadero residents to vote during the next City Council election.
“Unfortunately, to achieve anything, you have to have a majority on the City Council,” he said. “This next election will be a big one. People need to be informed, get involved, and vote.”
For Kelley, though, the fight for fiscal responsibility is at an end. When asked what his plans for the future are, Kelley said, “I plan to sit back on the porch, watch the river go by, do some kayaking and rafting, and enjoy the beautiful lifestyle.”