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Barbara Denny, Consensus-Builder? In Coronado, There's a Divide

The mayoral candidate maintains she has led the council on important policy issues. Her colleagues beg to differ.

In her polarizing bid for mayor, Councilwoman Barbara Denny points to consensus building, both in her campaign literature and at candidate forums, as one of the skills she’ll bring to the job if elected. 

Her supporters laud her for standing up to other council members and casting votes to protect her vision for the community's village character.

Her detractors, however, have seized upon the consensus-building claim, most particularly those on whom she might have had the most influence – her council colleagues since she joined the panel in 2009. 

Denny is often on the losing side of votes that come before the council, and in many of those cases she is the lone holdout.  

Councilman Al Ovrom grants her the most leeway on the question. While he said he has “not observed any consistent effort that would earn her a reputation as a consensus builder,” he adds that he sees areas where Denny has made a difference, including public safety and traffic options.

He noted her participation in the 2010 anti-tunnel initiative, which sought to halt the project during its nascent phase when designs and options were being studied. Given the overwhelming community opposition to the tunnel proposal, Orvom reasoned it could be described as “consensus building of the voters."

Councilman Michael Woiwode and Councilwoman Carrie Downey, however, deny that she has had any impact on their votes.

Woiwode, who is running for a second council term, said Denny has not attempted to work with him on policy.

“She has never influenced my vote,“ he said. “She’s never even talked to me about an issue.”

Downey, who will leave the council in December, said it was a coincidence when she and Denny cast the same votes. 

“There were a few issues where we were in agreement, but it was never anything she did or said that brought me to share the same position,” Downey said, adding “we never discussed an issue in private.”

Mayor Casey Tanaka, whom Denny is challenging for the city's top job, said rather than building consensus, his opponent takes credit for council decisions when she happens to be on the winning side.

Patch has e-mailed Denny three times since Oct. 19 regarding her colleagues' stances, and to ask her to describe how she builds consensus to create policy, but she did not respond.

In campaign appearances Denny points to issues – opposing the sale of alcohol at Starbucks and the creation of historic districts – as areas in which she took the lead on shaping city stances. 

Denny also contends her consensus-building would extend beyond City Hall, easing tensions, for instance, between residents and the business community. She suggested a scenario in which residents would be pleased with fewer cars on the road, alleviating congestion, which could in turn draw more foot traffic for business owners.

“I'd like to build more community consensus and to (show) that our interests, residential and tourism, are not as far apart as we would like to believe,” she told a crowd gathered for the Oct. 18 Coronado Community Association of Neighbors forum.

A supporter, Jan Clark, in one of several paid letters from Denny backers that have appeared in the Coronado Eagle & Journal, credits her with proving “she has the diplomatic skills to build council consensus.” 

Others on the council, however, deny that Denny influenced their vote on either the Starbucks or historic district issues. A Denny opposition group, led by eight residents, bought ad space in the Eagle & Journal to counter several Denny claims, including one that she led the way on saving “six Orange Avenue bus stops.” 

The council voted unanimously two years ago to leave the stops as is, after consideration of a Metropolitan Transit System recommendation about their proximity to each other. MTS was not advocating eliminating them.

The city confirmed the account offered by the Denny opponents in the ad.

On the Starbucks issue, Woiwode, at an Oct. 11 candidate forum hosted by Coronado's Democratic Club, noted that he sent a letter to the corporation on the city's behalf urging company officials to retract the state application for a liquor license. 

. Whether Starbucks could serve alcohol at its Coronado location was never in the council's hands.

A vote by Woiwode, Denny and Ovrom to oppose the coffee giant's pursuit of a liquor license was simply advisory. The decision to grant the license is governed by the state.

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Vicky October 29, 2012 at 06:50 AM
I suppose I misspoke. I don't want to elect someone who creates problems out of nothing so that they can become the one person who resists. I don't want to elect a person who feels they are constantly right rather than someone who can see the other side. I've lived in Coronado my entire life and I think the biggest problem in this town is those who believe because they are from here there are entitled to everything. I'd rather have a mayor who understands more people rather than less.
Publius October 29, 2012 at 03:09 PM
I don't think you have the whole picture of how the council operates. There are five votes on Council. Most items are not controversial and go on the "consent agenda" and get passed unanimously. Other items need more discussion and separate votes. Most of the time Ms Denny votes with other councillors. Ms Denny has one vote. Sometimes she has an idea that the other councillors agree with, such as becoming NWS Tsunami ready/Storm ready. If she thinks the council is going to pass a bad idea for the city, she can only give her position and/or try to get the council to wait to solicit public and expert opinion.
Publius October 29, 2012 at 03:11 PM
Ms Tierney and Mr Tanaka's supporters want you to believe that she is ineffective or divisive - that's the big lie. She was effective in getting public support for such issues as the Tunnel, the bus stops, Starbucks etc.. A politician’s job is not to be popular with all the other politicians, not to join in "group think", not to cave to special interests and not to always have 5-0 votes. If you want unanimous votes, there are countries that specialize in that, but we have a democracy here in the USA. The councillors job is listen, listen and listen, and then stand up for the community and do the right thing. Ms Denny does that. Thats how she generates her platforms and positions. Mr Tanaka doesn't recognize a bad idea, and keeps pushing when people don't want it - thats why he was behind the tunnel, removing bus stops, not stoping the Starbucks ABC permit, and until very recently, against historic districts. His own literature proposes almost no ideas beyond finding a vision. His performance at the CAN! forum was quite revealing, he refused to give an opinion on some statements and changed some of his answers after the forum was over... Ms Denny can only do what they majority wants, the problem with the other councillors is they don't like finding themselves on the minority side sometimes. Barbara is professional, pleasant and easy to talk to, so she is the councillor many Coronadans go to with issues. Barbara is going to be a great mayor for Coronado.
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