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'Give me a chance': Former Santa Maria educator Will Smith makes 2nd run for mayoral seat
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Election 2020

'Give me a chance': Former Santa Maria educator Will Smith makes 2nd run for mayoral seat

From the What you need to know for Tuesday, September 8 series

Editor's note: This is one in a series of profiles on the candidates running for mayor of Santa Maria in the Nov. 3 election. 

In his second run to be Santa Maria mayor, former Santa Maria-Bonita district employee Will Smith is standing by his goals from the 2016 campaign — beautification of the city, reducing homelessness and crime, and supporting small businesses.

Smith is running against incumbent Alice Patino and challenger Alberto Ugalde in an election that includes races for the City Council District 1 and 2 seats and the positions of city treasurer and city clerk. 

In the 2016 general election, Smith earned 27% of the vote compared to Patino's 72%. 

Originally from Savannah, Georgia, Smith boasts experience in several fields. Along with being an Air Force veteran, Smith has worked as a corrections officer at the Federal Corrections Institute in Lompoc, an educator and board member in the Santa Maria-Bonita School District, and a minister in Santa Maria. 

"I have a very diverse background, and all of that has helped me in life, especially in politics, to get an understanding," Smith said. 

His motto, he said, is "try something new," which he applies to local policy, strategies and leadership. 

"If you keep saying what you can’t do, you’ll never do anything," Smith said. "Let’s try some new things. Like, 'Alright City Council, I can't do it by myself, I need your support. So are you willing to try something different?' And then we go back and evaluate it." 

One of the ways to make this happen, he said, is to bring in new leadership, whether through term limits or another system. He believes the new district election process will bring new voices to the City Council, rather than maintaining it as a place for "the good old boys." 

"You need to bring in some new energy, but at the same time I respect experience. If we have a good rotational system ... it will be a [win-win]," he said. 

Smith believes small businesses need more support from city officials in Santa Maria to keep money in the city, rather than it being given to big businesses. 

"The backbone of our city is small business," he said. "Let’s talk to the small business owners and say, 'What can we do to help you, and in turn, what will you do to help the city?'"

He also expects businesses to do their part in beautifying the city by maintaining their lawns and exteriors to meet a certain standard. 

To more successfully police the community and reduce homelessness, Smith wants to see a stronger emphasis on community policing and stricter policies that lead to greater compliance.  

He identified mental illness and substance abuse as huge issues in the homeless community, where not much can be done when someone denies help or treatment. He said he would like to see a specific unit within the Police Department to respond to mental health calls in an effort to better serve those individuals.

Smith said that while he values collaboration, he is not afraid to be divisive when it comes to the good of the community.

While serving as a teacher and board member in the Santa Maria-Bonita School District, he frequently clashed with district officials between 2000 and 2016.

After repeated suspensions during his time as a substitute and full-time teacher at El Camino and Arrellanes junior high schools for alleged misconduct including corporal punishment, poor teaching, insubordination and inappropriate use of internet sites, he resigned in a 2010 settlement with the district. 

Smith has admitted he was suspended but denied any misconduct. 

He was elected to the district school board the same year, where he was met with resistance when he pushed to have the district's buildings retrofitted to withstand earthquakes. 

"I try to remember as an elected official, I don't represent myself, but I represent the people … Sometimes your decisions are not supported by your peers, but you have to remember who you represent," Smith said. 

After some consternation and after Smith left the board, the buildings eventually were renovated.

Smith's teaching credentials were revoked by the California Commission on Teaching Credentials in 2013, a decision Smith appealed with the commission, the state appellate court and the state Supreme Court over the years with no success. 

Smith maintains discrimination was at play, but he admits there were some things he did and said that he should not have. Now, he is looking ahead and asking the public for another shot at public office. 

"I’ve overcome this. I’ve learned from it. I’ve learned if you move on, you forget it, you can’t harbor bad feelings," he said. "Give me a chance, let me try."

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Santa Maria City Reporter

Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Laura Place covers city government, policy and elections in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County. Follow her on Twitter @itslaurasplace

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