take a judgeship.
When the term ended in November of 2006, Connelley threw his hat into the ring along with Rios for their two seats on the council. When no one ran in opposition, the council canceled the election and Connelley and Rios were both appointed for four-year terms.
Although relatively new to political office, Connelley has for a long time been a leader in Oakley. He's been involved with the Oakley Chamber of Commerce for 15 years, including as president; he's chaired the Oakley Almond Festival for eight years and has held every office in the Oakley Delta Lions Club.
He also co-led the Save Our Shores Committee, which stopped the East Bay Regional Park District from purchasing Big Break Marina but failed to stop the CALFED purchase of 1,200 shoreline acres along Cypress Road. In the latter effort, he butted heads with the City Council members he now sits beside.
Connelley moved to Oakley in 1984, and with his wife Jane runs his own insurance business out of his home. Under Oakley's rotating mayoral system, it's now Connelley's turn to serve as mayor for the coming year.
In the first of a two-part interview, he discusses his pre-council activism, why he decided to join the council, the highlights of his tenure so far and his plans for the upcoming year.
Oakley Press: Why did you decide to apply for the vacancy on the council when Jeff Huffaker left?
Bruce Connelley: Sometimes if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. I felt that I could have more of a positive effect on Oakley being a council member. The opportunity arose. I debated it for a long time. For some time I had a number of people encouraging me to run for council. It actually wasn't until the last day of submitting your resume, so to speak, for the spot that I submitted it.
Being self employed and plugged in with other things in the community, the question was: did I have the time? I rearranged my schedule and this year have rearranged my schedule coming in as mayor. I stepped down from the board of the chamber and have minimal involvement there.
I felt that I could be an asset to the city. I'm the only business person in the city (on the council). I didn't feel that we were always taking a very healthy approach to the local small businesses and felt I could have a positive effect more so on the council more so than not.
Press: Your election campaign in 2006 was aborted when there was no opposition.
Connelley: I did encourage other people to go for it. I talked to a lot of people and a lot of people wanted change. There's different ways of getting it done, but if you have a one-fifth vote (on the council), sometimes you can get more done. I was really surprised that no one filed the papers to run. So we could spend $40,000 or $50,000 for an election with a foregone conclusion or save the taxpayers' money and just reappoint it again.
Press: Why do you think no one ran in opposition?
Connelley: I really don't know. I really was looking forward to getting elected, because I wanted to be elected by the people and not by four council members. Actually, I wasn't even elected by four council members. I would feel much better knowing that the people of Oakley went out of their way to vote and say, "Yeah, we want Bruce as one of our council members."
It was kind of a letdown. Some people say, "Well, it's probably because you were running that other people didn't run." I said, "I have been outspoken before, but I don't think I'm intimidating." But it's hard to say. We'll never know.
Press: What are some of the highlights of your nearly three years on the council?
Connelley: There's a few things. The real key thing is how well the city staff, the department heads, the council, the Planning Commission have worked together in accomplishing things. I think that's the thing I'm most proud of.
We've got a very small staff; we've accomplished great things. It's all attributable to our staff and our management. Our city manager has been awesome - Bryan Montgomery has brought us a long ways.
Project-wise, the (Cypress area) annexation we were challenged by quite a bit there, and we got it done. Just meeting the challenges and the way staff has handled things I'm really proud of.
Getting City Hall done. Here it is, eight years later (after becoming a city) and Councilwoman Anderson stated that since the beginning, the council has had like 16 different meeting locations. Many people when we incorporated said we wouldn't last two or three years.
The other indirect achievement down there in the new City Hall is it's the beginning of the new downtown. It's kind of the cornerstone of the rebuilding of downtown and the revitalization of downtown.
I think it will also offer encouragement to other commercial business owners to work with the city in ways that we can enhance and beautify downtown and make it what we all envision it to be. So that's kind of the beginning of the rebuilding of downtown.
Press: How is being mayor different from being a council member?
Connelley: As far as authority, you're no more than any council member with a title. On the other hand, you're the spokesperson, the focal point, the figurehead for the city. Since I've been on the council I tried to get to as many functions that pertain to the city as possible, but as mayor you really should be at all of them.
(Outgoing Mayor) Kevin (Romick) has done an awesome job. I've seen him run from one event to another all on one day. I'm really impressed with his eagerness to be out there in the public and representing the city.
Press: One function of the mayor is to set the agenda for the council and the city. Do you have plans or a vision for the coming year?
Connelley: Definitely. Even before being on the council, my concern's always been economic development. I think we have plenty of houses. I thought we had plenty of houses when I moved here 20 years ago and there were only 3,000 people then. They say you can't stop progress. It's just one of those things you live with. But I think we really need an emphasis on economic growth and economic development.
The facts are that 90 percent of our retail tax dollars goes out of town to our neighbors. We love our neighbors, don't get me wrong. We get along fine with Brentwood and Antioch. But we are a little short of places to purchase whatever you need here in Oakley.
We have got the draft EIR out on ROC - River Oaks Crossing - I call it the ROC. I hope to see that actually have some buildings there this year. That's our major project for the immediate future and should be. With a few big boxes and the motel and restaurants, that should come close to doubling our annual sales tax revenue to the city.
That's a big chunk of change. We can do a lot with that. Our staff works feverishly, and sometimes they accomplish things I wouldn't have thought they could have but they do. Why don't we have a larger staff? Well, you have to pay people money. And that's why economic development is so important.
I would like to see us continue developing; in fact, they are going to be working on the EIR for the Dupont properties. That should provide jobs for people in Oakley. The ROC will provide jobs, but that will be mostly retail. The Dupont property may offer higher levels of employment. That's still a long-term project, but I hope to see significant progress in that area.
Next week, Connelley discusses the possibility of Wal-Mart locating in Oakley and his other plans for the city in the upcoming year and beyond.