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This seat's taken 

I feel sorry for Atascadero. It's the city of rumors, scandal, and corruption. A town full of gossip and backstabbing. A big, messy mess of a mess.

In fact, Atascadero is the new Los Osos or it would be, if the new Los Osos weren't the new Los Osos. That town reinvents itself into an original headache for all of its residents as often as activist Joey Racano e-mails multi-chapter stories and sunshiny poems to everyone from his neighbors to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. If you're not on his mailing lists and you'd have a hard time convincing me that you're not let me tell you that a mass missive from the Los Osos Kid isn't an uncommon occurrence.

But neither, now, are back-door doings in Atascadero. That's do-ings, as in happenings, not doings, as in the sounds a spring makes. There's a difference.

Slick-as-snotty-nails developer Kelly Gearhart's do-ings aside, there are a lot of current goings-on that look like shady goings-on or at least like wishy-washy goings-on when you compare them to the goings-on of the past. By the look on your face, I can tell that you've either found the next e-manifesto from Joey in your inbox, or I've got some serious 'splaining to do.

Atascadero Councilman George Luna recently sent out a letter to anybody in town who could read and probably a few who couldn't, wasting a stamp or two in the process telling everyone that they must "restore integrity at City Hall" and that he doesn't support the two incumbents running for reelection in November. Doing!

I always thought that incumbents were a sort of vegetable, as in "I made a salad with lettuce, tomatoes, and incumbents" or "I started using a new fertilizer, and you should see the size of my incumbents this year!"

Take, for instance, Becky Pacas, who, as far as I can tell, isn't a vegetable, especially since vegetables don't do anything at all and Becky has been known to change her mind about campaign promises, something, say, a stalk of celery would never, ever do. She is, however, an incumbent.

"You can count on Becky Pacas to oppose raising taxes," she wrote in her 2002 campaign brochure. Then, she got elected.

Earlier this year, she voted to increase the sales tax. Doing! If there's a way you can oppose raising taxes while still voting to increase them, Becky's got it down pat. I wish she could teach me that trick. It seems like it's a transferable skill one that I could then use to rub my head and pat my stomach at the same time, or have a ventriloquist dummy talk while I'm drinking a cup of water.

Back in 2002, while she was letting you count on her for the whole tax-raising-opposition thing, she also said that she would stand against veering from Atascadero's general plan. I don't know exactly what that is, but I do know that in May of this year, Becky said that she believed she could support a general plan amendment. Not quite a veer, maybe, but amendments do represent at least a curve in the road.

But curves are good, right? They often take you past scenic fields, filled with lush, growing pumpkins and incumbents.

Speaking of which, Atascadero's also looking at re-electing Mayor Tom O'Malley, the brunt of a few recent anti-Wal-Mart taggings, despite the fact that he's planted himself firmly on the fence, right next to Becky. I hope it wasn't the wrought-iron kind with those pointy parts at the top. Doing!

A few months or so ago, the both of them refused to second an ordinance that would bar the big W from rolling into town. Now, they'll tell you if you ask them and you certainly should ask them that they don't know how they'll vote on that particular topic if they get elected to another term. Wal-Mart? Maybe, maybe not. I'll need to do a little more research on the thing. Take a look around. Kick the tires a bit. See what other folks with the city have to say.

In the meantime, some Atascadero residents are kicking up dust about a vote back in 2004, when the City Council was looking for a new City Hall within 500 feet of where Tom owned some property. To get around this dilemma, the story goes, the mayor signed his property over to his son, and then proceeded to vote yes on the move. Easy as incumbent pie. Records show that he was the swing vote, too. Doing!

That's the sort of stuff that rubs constituents the wrong way, and if there's any sort of people who don't like to be rubbed the wrong way, it's constituents. Everything can be totally legal, straight and narrow, on the up-and-up, and they'll still come whining about unethical stuff you did weeks, months, and years ago in office. That's one of the hazards of being an incumbent, especially in Atascadero. That, and tent caterpillars.

On the other hand, the problem with newcomers is that you have no idea where they're coming from. They give you little hints at their past, but they're essentially wild cards. The whole mess boils elections down to a decision between the lesser of a few evils. Which is worse: the devil you know or the devil you don't? The candidate who's broken little promises, or the candidate who may break bigger ones? Atascadero is about to find out.

Los Osos, eat your heart out.

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