Mayor Paul Courtney: Rising Above Controversy
By Dianne Anderson
What started out as a situation reminiscent of President Obama’s backlash over Dijon mustard on his hamburger has ended up in Barstow Mayor Paul Courtney’s favor.
After all, under his direction, the city sees new growth, coming out over and above many cities that suffered economic crises during COVID-19.
New businesses, 31 businesses in all, have come on board and in the works since he took office.
But Courtney has also come under great criticism in recent times after he sent out a flyer listing the city’s accomplishments. He was accused of tooting his own horn and using the city logo, but he said the flyer was simply the same kind of flyer that has gone out several times in the past.
Eventually, after multiple meetings, an identical flyer was allowed to go out to the community without the city logo.
Courtney said part of the city’s success has been sticking to his original platform that got him elected to begin with. The city is on track for his goals with economic development, public safety and local employment.
“We have actually increased revenue as freeways and highways in Las Vegas reopened. Our community is dependent on sales tax. With commuters traveling through [accessing] hotels, gas stations and fast foods, we’re doing very well as far as revenue generation,” he said.
Since he came into office, the city also successfully started a Marriott hotel project, a 182-bed facility, the largest hotel in the Barstow region. That construction has over 100 temporary jobs contributing to the local economy, and that project has sparked a high level of interest.
There are over 200 new jobs with more to come. Good jobs prospects include Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers, two new beauty salons, three Urban Wear locations. Also in the works this year, a new Dutch Bros Coffee, a new KFC Chicken, Freddy’s Frozen Custard, to name a few.
With a lot of planning, the cannabis ordinance passed in March of last year. They have issued two licenses with each retail location for 25 employees each, not including jobs on the manufacturing and distribution side. He said they are predicting about 500 new jobs over the next 24-month span with the new retailers, Marriott and cannabis retailer distributors.
As important, there was a lot of attention to detail on the cannabis business before passing the ordinance, specifically due diligence to make sure it didn’t negatively impact communities of color.
“We didn’t want to get caught behind the curb like other communities. We aren’t dealing with those issues. We don’t set ourselves up for unlicensed distributions within our jurisdiction,” he said.
Crime is soaring everywhere, but in Barstow, he said it’s down by over 14% from the prior year. Several vacancies were filled in the police department, including crime impact team officers.
Before he came on board, he said Barstow didn’t have a parking enforcement officer or division. Abandoned vehicles were all over the place, but he said parking enforcement is not designed for income generation.
“The enforcement side is reminders and warnings, adding little to the coffers. It’s designed for information and education to [to address the] abandoned cars, it just goes on and on,” he said.
Today, in the worst megadrought of 1,200 years, water is getting more expensive, and everyone is concerned about out-of-control gas and energy costs.
“Of course, like all other communities I see it directly impacting our community,” he said. “One thing I’m thankful for is Tesla Motors. As we speak they are building the largest electric fuel center, 100 charging stations.”
Courtney helped bring the Tesla 100 charging station project to fruition. He said the Tesla team travels the highways and byways, and recognized the city has over one million cars per month drive through the transportation hub and the crossroads of highways 15, 40, and 58. That project broke ground on January 5 with a grand opening slated this summer.
He is also grateful for the stimulus and ARPA funding that helped several projects, such as unfreezing wages for city employees during the hard times when the pandemic first hit. The city also upgraded its systems to touchless protectors against COVID spread.
More projects are upcoming, and the infrastructure money will go a long way.
“We have a bridge several decades old, and the infrastructure funds released under Joe Biden’s Administration is definitely assisting the city of Barstow in getting major infrastructure repaired starting with our bridge, and a top priority for other infrastructure issues,” he said.
Courtney is an entrepreneur, serving in numerous posts over the years, including Associate Professor of Business, Management, Sociology and Administration of Justice at Barstow Community College. He has served the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Inmate Welfare Committee, and served as a Sheriff’s Council member to San Bernardino County Sheriffs Rod Hoops and John McMahon.
Yet, among all of the accomplishments, still lurking in the recent past is the flyer controversy around the city logo.
He didn’t think it would be a big deal since many similar flyers have gone out over the years, particularly since all the great projects around town reflect both himself along with city council majority vote.
“There’s no smoking gun of any type, just issues with me attending [outside city] meetings and training. I travel if I’m invited to San Bernardino or Sacramento, there’s an issue with my travel,” said Courtney, who happens to be the city’s first Black Mayor.
At the last city council meeting, an ordinance was announced that would knock him out of his elected seat, if passed. The issue planned for the ballot wants to go back to a rotating mayor, taking Barstow from a four district to a five district city.
“The voters will never go with that, but there is a faction that has a problem with my Dijon mustard to make sure that I’m not being successful as a dark-skinned mayor,” he said.
Courtney took victory in a 2-1 overwhelming majority vote from the former two-term Barstow Mayor Julie Hackbarth-McIntyre, the niece of the founder of Del Taco.
“It was a major upset for them, but a major victory for those that seek equity and inclusion and success for the city of Barstow,” he said.
Inclusion is also reflected in another top post in the city. Courtney said he supported bringing on City Manager Willie Hopkins, Jr., who also happens to be African American.
For some reason, he said the choice wasn’t received well by some people. Mr. Hopkins has a major background in the private sector, managing large capital projects, and local government.
“I was one of three that supported him when he interviewed. I got accused of that, I’m the first-ever African American elected mayor, and yes Willie is the first-ever Black city manager in the city that was incorporated in 1946. It’s very interesting navigating through these times in the city of Barstow,” he said.
Less controversial is their new Community Promo funding stream, pulled from existing funding through the city of Barstow General Fund, which came available with the passage of the cannabis ordinance. Cannabis operators are funding the community with a minimum of $125,000 annual revenue stream.
“It’s being generated by the new cannabis industry. To receive funds, CBO’s simply submit their application to the city manager, Willie Hopkins, and the decision is made,” he said.
To see more of Mayor Courtney’s platform, see https://betterbarstow.com/platform/