Candidates tackle issues - East Valley Tribune: Ahwatukee Foothills

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Posted: Sunday, October 9, 2011 9:00 am | Updated: 4:58 pm, Thu Nov 15, 2012.

Ahwatukee Foothills residents have an important decision to make when it comes to electing the next mayor of the city of Phoenix. To make that decision easier - or more informed - the Ahwatukee Foothills News decided to form an editorial board to ask the two candidates nine questions that are important to area residents.

As a result, the Ahwatukee Foothills News editorial board will endorse its candidate on the Opinion page of the Oct. 12 issue.

Follows is a summary of the responses from candidates Wes Gullett and Greg Stanton:

1. The vacancy of the police chief is one of the first big issues that the new mayor will have to act on upon taking office. What kind of police chief do you think it will take to change the public's perception of the Phoenix Police Department?

Gullett said he hopes the decision is made as soon as possible, and that it needs to be done with a national search and a sense of urgency.

"We have to have somebody who has a wide breadth of experience," Gullett said. "Our police department needs leadership. The police chief needs to be somebody that can work in minority communities and have sensitivity to that."

Stanton agreed with Gullett that this is an issue that needs immediate attention.

"The process of picking the next police chief is arguably as important as picking the next mayor of Phoenix," Stanton said. "We need to make sure as many diverse communities within our city as possible are participating in that process."

Stanton recounted his work in fighting for more officers in Ahwatukee when he was on City Council.

"I had to make the case, and successfully did, that an area like Ahwatukee, even though it's a relatively low crime area, deserves to have more services," Stanton said. "We need to understand the needs of each community. We need to understand that making staffing decisions and doing it right, is a huge part of that decision... This is an important community decision. The next police chief obviously has to be a strong leader and a strong communicator with other officers and the public."

2. In your opinion what are the city's biggest challenges from a budget standpoint?

Stanton said the city must change the way it does things.

"In the short run we need to make sure the city is doing all it can to support local people and local business," said Stanton, mentioning his plan to cut red tape. "In the long run we need to make sure we build a more diverse, sustainable economy. We need to be smarter about economic development. The heart and soul of Ahwatukee out here is small business and education. We need to help that as much as possible."

Stanton also mentioned the budget and the food tax.

"Of the two candidates in this race I've got experience at City Hall," Stanton said. "We balanced that budget every single year and we did it the old-fashioned way. We made some tough cuts. The city has the highest credit rating of any big city in the country. The fact that changes have to be made does not mean the city has been mismanaged.

"On the issue of the food tax, I disagree with the way it was put into place. It wasn't done in a transparent way. My opinion is, just like it was done when I was on the council, when there was a revenue increase we put it on the ballot. We had a real community discussion over it. I think the food tax should be repealed, but I think we should do it in a way that folks know exactly what's going to happen. Once we can make that commitment we should repeal it in advance on that sunset period. I think that's the most responsible position to take."

Gullett said he believes the budget can be, and should be, trimmed.

"I think we need to repeal the food tax," Gullett said. "I think that's a big budget issue. I think we need to look at how we can reduce. My government reform plan that I put out months ago had multiple ways to cut the budget. We need to give performance-based pay. Instead of giving 98 percent longevity and 90 percent increases, we need to cut that back to 30 percent so we are awarding people who are actually going above and beyond.

"We need to cut 5 percent out of the budget. There are ways to find efficiencies. We have money in the budget to do it right now, but the problem is we're spending too much on employees. The benefits package that employees have is too good in this economy. We can save money by renegotiating those contracts."

3. Tell us about your ideas for pension reform and how you would put those plans into action.

Both candidates have put forth plans for pension reform that include cutting double-dipping and pension spiking. In both plans employees will be required to give more to their pension and new employees will have to retire at a higher age. Stanton attacked Gullett's idea of moving to a 401k-style plan.

"My plan is patterned after what the conservative state Legislature did, which requires employees to significantly increase their portion of the pension to increase the long-term sustainability of the pension," Stanton said. "Experts have looked at my plan, just like at the state Legislature, and said it would save taxpayers money. Mr. Gullett, his plan would significantly increase the amount that taxpayers would have to pay into the system. Voters want reduction in cost now. Just like the Legislature, when they were looking at this, they probably philosophically wanted to go to a 401k-type system. When you actually do the analysis, under the existing contracts, you simply can't make that transition without a significant increase to taxpayers. My plan is a more pragmatic plan that will be more sustainable in the future and save taxpayers money now while we're in this ongoing crisis."

Gullett defended his plan, saying it would save money now and it would save even more later on.

"We need to take the savings that we get from changing the pension plan and begin that transition, which will save enormous amounts of money in the future," Gullett said. "My plan takes care of our children's future and Greg's plan buries its head in the ground. A defined benefit plan is going to bankrupt America. The smart plan is to protect our children's future. The reason why it costs more money is because we're no longer subsidizing the future, but we do have the savings that's accrued and we can build up the fund. The fund should be running itself but, instead, we're subsidizing it - the taxpayers are - because the fund isn't working. We need to have the intestinal fortitude to make these changes just like private companies in America."

Both candidates plan to bring these changes about during bargaining, which will happen at the beginning of the year. Once their plan is successfully bargained for it will most likely have to go to voters.

4. What would you do to increase transparency in government? Would you have supported SB 1322, which would have required private bidding on costly city projects?

The candidates have similar views on transparency. Both would like to see City Council meetings moved to nights so more residents could attend. They also want meetings on TV and online, as well as documents online.

As for the procurement code, Gullett says he would have signed SB 1322.

"If I had been the governor I would have signed that bill," Gullett said. "I don't like handcuffing cities with restrictions anymore than anyone else, but I think that you sometimes have to push and you have to make sure people are doing things they need to be doing. The procurement code itself, we don't have that. We need to have a model procurement code. That code needs to be transparent and honest so everyone who goes into the process knows how the system works. Right now, you can make it any way you want it. We need to look around America and find the best procurement codes that exist and take the best practices and use them to develop a code for Phoenix."

Stanton said he supports Gov. Jan Brewer's decision.

"I think having the state Legislature manage the city and city business as a general rule is not a good thing," Stanton said. "I don't believe the city is a fundamentally mismanaged place. It's not a perfect place, I think most people agree with that. We should always be looking for strategic opportunities to do more... We should always be looking at best practices. The city is looking at best practices now. As they go through that we need to make sure the city doesn't have a one-size-fits all procurement process. We sometimes purchase carpet-cleaning services, that should be a much different contract than some of the other multi-million-dollar contracts. Having a one-size-fits-all approach would actually be counterproductive. It doesn't make sense for a city our size"

Stanton also mentioned his pledge to keep lobbyists off of boards and commissions so that taxpayers can have complete confidence in the decision making at the city.

Gullett said lobbyists in the city are not really an issue and what the city should be focusing on is more transparency in the procurement process, and in the budget. He recommends zero-based budgeting.

Both candidates have more details on their website.

5. What green initiatives would you like to explore?

Stanton mentioned his experience as chair of the Sustainability Committee within the city while on council. During his time on City Council he said he also fought for solar on the roof of the Pecos Community Center, something he hopes to make happen with more buildings in the city. Stanton also mentioned better public transportation, green building codes and density along the light rail.

"I want a sustainability expert right on the mayor's staff so that with every decision within the city we're thinking about sustainability," Stanton said. "I have a track record of doing this. It's not just talk, it's action. I wasn't green when green became popular. I was on it early because I knew how important it was."

Gullett also hopes for more solar in Phoenix's future.

"I think we need to be running the light rail on renewable energy," Gullett said. "I think that would be a symbol that we are a sustainable city. I think we need to be a leader in these things. We need to be using the park-and-ride facilities to generate power as well. We need to use our bonds in the future to make sure we're doing those kinds of things. Renewable energy is a goal and it's something the mayor needs to be talking about and working on. We need to have people who are not saying never, but are saying we can do this."

6. Where do each of you stand on the extension of the Loop 202 freeway? Do you think it should go on tribal land?

Gullett began by mentioning his experience working for Sen. John McCain while he was chair of the Indian Affairs Committee.

"I've visited all of the Indian tribes in Arizona," Gullett said. "I understand how to work with Indian leaders and Native American communities. What it takes is leader-to-leader relationships. It takes the mayor to sit down with the governor and start the negotiations and it's a long, difficult process. You have to have the patience and the focus to do that. The progress will come in time. You have to understand and respect how their culture operates. My commitment is to get it done."

Stanton agrees that the freeway should be built on tribal land as the only viable solution. He said it's something he fought very hard for and he believes it's headed in the right direction.

"There's no issue that I've personally spent more time on when I represented this area than ensuring the right decision was made on the Loop 202," Stanton said. "I stood up to incredible pressure... My job was to make the case to the people of Ahwatukee Foothills of tribal sovereignty, this is not just a decision that can be made. It takes time and diplomacy... I also had to make the case to the East Valley leaders that if we did it the way they wanted, it would undoubtedly end up in litigation that would last forever from environmental groups. I also spent a lot of time with the people in the Gila River Indian Community to let them know we're married to each other. Ahwatukee Foothills is not going anywhere, they're not going anywhere, we need to make these decisions together. Ultimately, I did believe they'd make the same decision that the Salt River Pima group did. It makes sense for everyone in the long term. I think the city is headed in the right direction."

7. What are your ideas to help Ahwatukee small business owners in this economy?

"The first thing, and probably most important thing, is I'm going to have a local procurement advantage," Stanton said. "If you're a local business and you're trying to get business with the city, they should have the appropriate advantage. We also need to be an advocate for the community. I was voted for overwhelmingly in this area three times. They know me. They know I'm going to fight for appropriate police and fire services. They know I will protect their quality of life like I did with protecting the 620.

"When I represented this area I was not in favor of big-box retail on Chandler Boulevard, near the freeway. It was not zoned for that. It's critically important as you make land-use decisions that you have strong leadership that understands the impact, if you were to approve that, on small business. I have a strong record of standing up to special interests and saying no when no is the right answer to protect locally owned small business."

Gullett said he has a plan and the resources to cut red tape for small business owners.

"We have a plan that Councilman DiCiccio and I, along with three other councilmen, to bring forth same day permitting and to do self-certification through the whole process of construction," Gullett said. "That will allow them to work on their timetable and not the city's timetable. That's something we'll do on day one."

8. Many Ahwatukee residents have expressed concerns over route cuts to the ALEX neighborhood circulator bus. Do you have any ideas to help improve local transportation?

"One of the things we can do that will add revenue to the local transportation system is to have a better regional approach," Gullett said. "We have to look for efficiencies everywhere we can. If we can find those efficiencies then we can use the money that we're saving to increase service.

"We have to use data to drive this so we're putting our transit where it's working, and where it can serve the most people in the best way. Local circulators don't necessarily work everywhere. We can't take a one-size-fits-all approach. We have to make sure we're using the transit system in unique ways and looking at the data so we can be sure we're using it where it works. And it works here."

Stanton said he has a history of supporting ALEX, which he plans to continue.

"Who would have thought that being a teenager and riding the bus would be a cool thing," Stanton said. "It was an innovative idea. It was a huge success and it was, therefore, a model for other transportation in other neighborhoods across the city. It worked best in Ahwatukee because of the unique geography that is here. I fought for ALEX because anybody who had a stereotype about public transportation riders got blown up. It's a really special thing. It deserves a leader who will continue to fight for it because they understand that."

9. Can each of you give us a specific example from the past where you were instrumental in bringing communities/people together?

"I've worked on a lot of different projects over the years," Gullett said. "One that I'm very proud of is my work with TGen (Translational Genomics Research Institute) and bringing people together. We did strategic work to help develop TGen. TGen's model is that everything is done through partnership.

"The other thing I worked on was First Thing's First. When Nadine and Eddie Basha started the first proposal they came to us and asked us to help craft First Things First. We did that. We created a program, we went out and sold it to the public. The public voted for an increase in cigarette taxes to pay for early childhood education and then we worked through that process to bring people together."

Stanton said, "This community knows how hard I fought for the preservation of the 620. We had to bring together members of this community. You had to bring together that State Land Department, who very much wanted homes dotting the entire area. Sometimes it got tense. I was willing to fight to protect that land. We did a three-day mediation to come up with a win-win and we did.

"The other thing I did while at the Attorney General's Office was the attorney general asked me to take the lead on the litigation regarding Luke Air Force Base. The county was allowing residential building permits, putting the future of Luke at risk. We needed to come together to get a resolution. We were able to come together. I brought together Terry Goddard, Jan Brewer, while they were working against each other on a political campaign, and the county, to do the right thing for our future. It was shortly thereafter that Luke became one the leading entities for the F35."

In closing remarks the candidates reminded voters of why they're running for mayor of Phoenix.

"I'm running because we have to get Phoenix back to work," Gullett said. "I'm proud to have Councilman DiCiccio's endorsement. I'm also proud to have Sen. McComish's support, who has represented Ahwatukee for a long time and is a leader, that I will work with and count on as mayor of Phoenix.

"We've got to challenge that status quo. Greg is the status quo. The world changed in 2008. We are on a new beach of a new land. I've been out there in it making sure my company succeeds. Phoenix has been going the same direction it went before. We've got to fundamentally challenge the status quo. We can't just take, ‘This is the way we've always done it' as the answer."

"The people of Ahwatukee Foothills already know a lot about me," Stanton said. "They know my leadership. They know I fought for them. They know that the case had to be made that Ahwatukee Foothills deserves its fair share of city resources and projects. They know how hard I fought against a lot of powerful interests to say that that freeway on Pecos Road shouldn't be a done deal just because it's been on the planning books for 20-plus years. As a result, I think this thing is headed very much in the right direction. They know how hard I fought for preserving the 620.

"Every commitment I made to the people of this community I think has happened and is headed in the right direction. They know my leadership and that's exactly what I bring to the table as mayor of this city. I'm running on my record. My priorities and my leadership are going to remain the same."

For more information on the candidates and details of their plans for the future of Phoenix, visit their websites at gregstantonformayor.com and wesgullett.com. Visit ahwatukee.com for a video portion of the Ahwatukee Foothills News editorial board forum.

Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com

 

 

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