After a number of scheduled performances — including by the Territorial Brass Band and state historian Marshall Trimble — Mesa’s recently re-elected mayor and city council members were designated to be sworn in Tuesday night at Mesa Arts Centers’ Virginia G. Piper Theater during a celebration hosted by local radio newsman Ned Foster.
During the 2012 election season, while the competition was heating up in mayoral and council races in nearby Chandler and Gilbert, Mesa’s four candidates up for re-election ran unopposed, guaranteeing each a clear run back to city hall.
While the mayor, Scott Smith, and council members Dave Richins in District 1, Alex Finter in District 2 and Dennis Kavanaugh in District 3 each enter their last term in office, Smith told the Tribune that the prospect of a “lame duck” period in office isn’t likely. He said the council, which also includes Christopher Glover in of District 4, Dina Higgins of District 5 and Scott Somers of District 6, plans to attack the issues with the same no-holds-barred enthusiasm with which it has helped see Mesa through its portion of the recent international financial crisis.
“Whatever we’re doing seems to have struck a chord and to keep doing what we’re doing but do it better,” Smith said. “I think that’s the mandate.”
Richins said that one negative side effect to not having an opponent during the election is that there can be less communication with residents and voters because an opponent allows the issues to come out with opposing viewpoints.
“When you don’t have a campaign, you can’t air issues and you can’t lay out a strategies for the next term, and you have to kind of talk about them after the fact,” Richins said.
Smith said the numerically overwhelming support the council received during the election actually instills a “greater responsibility.”
“There’s the potential that you mistake satisfaction with complacency and the worst thing we can do is to think that somehow we can just sort of skate,” Smith said. “I look at this as an affirmation that we’ve done good work but also as a challenge to do even better.”
The three council members, sworn in Tuesday, agreed with the mayor on the point, and that the way forward for the council is to increase economic development in the region is to capitalize on projects already underway.
These include developing commerce and infrastructure in the areas around Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, continuing to help the five new colleges coming to the city grow and emphasizing the light rail extension.
Finter told the Tribune that jobs are a key part of securing Mesa’s future. The council has the goal of creating at least 100,000 well-paying jobs at Gateway, alone, he said.
“In reality, that is a pretty achievable goal for the City of Mesa and so we’ve been investing heavily in infrastructure out there — intersections, water lines, sewer lines, the expansion of sewer facilities,” Finser said. “And so it’s going to be primed and ready to go when this economy takes off again.”
Another initiative, Kavanaugh said, will be to find ways to use abandoned retail space that has plagued the city and surrounding communities since the beginning of the financial collapse.
Kavanaugh points to the Fiesta district as a gaping example. He said some of the the businesses and their revenues aren’t coming back in the same forms as before, with online retail booming.
“Even if the economy gets better, the nature and character of retail is changing,” Kavanaugh said.
Kavanaugh also said that the city needs to work on restoring revenues from the lost vendors who the empty spaces either previously housed or were expected to house. And it needs to develop ways to secure revenues from online retailers to soften the blow, he added.
Richins also wants to tackle more localized issues — “quality of life issues,” he said. The issues that enhance or correct neighborhoods and the happiness of residents, he said, can be somewhat left behind in a financial crisis that has required so much effort and attention.
And the mayor and council are cautious about the next couple of years and how the rate of the greater economic recovery will continue to affect the city.
“We’re still not totally out of the woods financially.” Smith said. “I don’t have a whole lot of confidence that the next to years are going to be boom years. We still need to keep in mind that this economy is not completely healed which means that we could have a reversal and we need to continue to things better and more efficiently.”
One of the low points that each mentioned about their past terms was the layoffs that occurred during the recession, when the city reduced its staff by about 400 employees.
“I remember Christmas Eve a couple of years ago, right in the middle of what they call ‘RIF’ (reduction in force), or the laying off process. It was so busy there was so much pressure going on,” Finter recalled, continuing that he found a few moments to do some Christmas shopping during the process.
“I met a family there and they were actually taking back their presents because she (the mother of the family) was a city employee and she just got laid off and it was a heartbreaking experience,” Finter said.
Finter said it reminds him to think in a lean and efficient manner so it doesn’t happen again. He said as long as the council continues finding ways to “put wins on the board,” in the development sense, it shouldn’t be something the city experiences again.
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