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Jane Bartke reflects on council term

It wasn’t difficult for Jane Bartke to decide to leave the City Council after serving two terms. In the history of El Cerrito, there has only been one person, Leo Armstrong in the 1960s, who served more than two terms, according to Bartke. A lot of El Cerrito residents are proud its leaders have honored this practice without the need for a legal limit. If she had decided to run, says Bartke good-naturedly, “even my husband wouldn’t support me.”

Bartke will step down from the council following the November election of two new council members. Also leaving the council after two terms is Norman La Force. At about the same time she leaves the council, Bartke is formally retiring after 30 years as a teacher. She will continue to work at Adams Middle through the school year, however, in a job share arrangement with two other teachers.

Bartke has enjoyed her time on the council but is confident she will find plenty to do. She jokes that it will take her two years just to get caught up on cleaning her house. She has plenty of interests -- such as tap dance, water colors and travel -- to pursue. “I’m not worried about not finding anything to do,” she says. “You won’t find me not doing anything.”

Bartke’s political career began like so many other careers in local politics. She wanted somebody to do something about an issue, and discovered the somebody would have to be her. At the time, Bartke was on the Parks and Recreation Commission. The council had asked the commission to draw up an ordinance to set up a process for reviewing plans to cut down trees. A resident opposed to the ordinance led a drive that eventually caused the council to drop the proposal. When that person decided to run for council, Bartke felt someone should run against him.

When she tried to talk acquaintances into running they told her, “If you care so much, Jane, why don’t you run?”

She did.

Bartke is pleased with the evolution of the city during her time on the council. “I’ve enjoyed my eight years. I’ve enjoyed being on the council,” she says. “I don’t regret any decisions I’ve made. I’ve tried to do the best job I can.”

One area seeing change as Bartke leaves the council is the Plaza, a project that has been a topic of concern throughout her eight-year stint and prior to that as well. “I’m very please with what’s happening with the Plaza.” While the plans for the revitalized Plaza, scheduled for completion in November 2000, don’t include the large department store many had hoped for, Bartke says she does expect it to be an active commercial center. See Rebuilding the Plaza

There was a time, says Bartke, a 36-year resident, when the city wasn’t doing a good job of changing with the times. Now, she feels, the city has a grasp on how to adapt. “I think we are starting to see the city get revitalized.”

There was a period when cities felt they had to go for whatever commercial development they could get, perhaps as a response to the taxes lost to Proposition 13, she says. “You don’t have to grab everything. You can be selective.”

Other progress made during her time may not be as obvious to the public. An important area, she says, is improved financial stability for the city. In June 1992, she says, the city had a balance of $5,000. Now, the city aims for a reserve of about 10 percent. The reserve contains funds not budgeted for a particular use but set aside in case of unexpected costs.

In addition to a healthy reserve, the city also now has a policy that if it receives funds that aren’t expected to continue from year to year, it doesn’t budget those monies for expenditures, such as permanent staff positions, that continue from year to year. “One-time monies are used for one-time expenditures,” she says.

As part of the effort to put the city on more solid financial ground, many positions had to be cut and departments reorganized.

Another change that may not be readily apparent is the replacement of about half the storm drains in the city as the result of a bond measure in the early 1990s. As a result, Bartke says, residents see less flooding of streets and homes.

Bartke is also proud that the city's government is accessible for public input, with a large number of boards and commissions, and additional meetings held on special issues as well.

Her role as an elected El Cerrito official has afforded her the opportunity to be involved beyond the city’s borders as well. “I really enjoy being involved on a regional and state basis,” she says. “If you just sit there in your little city and say, ‘We wish they would do that,’ you’re not going to change anything.”

Her involvement has included service on regional transit boards and committees of the Association of Bay Area Governments and League of California Cities. While the city comments on larger issues, she says, her remarks carry more weight when she can take a position on behalf of a regional group.

“When you are working regionally you have a voice.”

Bartke estimates that doing a good job as a council member takes 30 hours a week. Serving as mayor carries additional responsibilities, including serving on regional bodies and meeting with department heads regularly. Bartke estimates it takes about 50 hours per week if you are doing a good job as mayor. The mayor is chosen by the council from among its members to serve for one year.

Bartke served two one-year terms as mayor.

Council members, including the mayor, receive $440 a month.

“You do not run for council for the glory. You do not run for council because it’s an easy job. You actually put you family life on hiatus.” But, Bartke says, it can be a rewarding experience if you enjoy working with people and problem solving.

Run dates: 1999-08-01 - 1999-11-02

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