At least three Valley developers have committed to paying thousands of dollars to help relocate an incoming Mesa official who will hold significant influence over deals that could affect them.
William Jabjiniak, who on Oct. 1 will become the city’s first permanent economic development director in two years, brokered a deal that pays him $142,000 a year. But that’s not all he’s getting.
As part of the deal, private businesses organizations have agreed to contribute money to pay an undisclosed amount for “relocation costs” for Jabjiniak to move here from his home in Richmond, Va.
Roc Arnett, president of the East Valley Partnership who led the fund-raising efforts on behalf of the city, said he’s secured more than $25,000 during the past two weeks from six local business groups.
As the city’s economic development chief, Jabjiniak’s office will head the city’s business recruitment efforts, help new businesses move to Mesa by guiding them through bureaucratic red-tape and steer companies toward available land to develop.
Developer DMB Associates has pledged to give $20,000 to the East Valley Partnership for Jabjiniak’s relocation costs.
“I have checked with our lawyers and there doesn’t appear to be a conflict of interest or anything illegal about this,” Arnett said. “This is totally above board and appropriate.”
Mesa has struggled to lure an economic development director to the city since Richard Mulligan left for Chandler in 2005. The city had two interim directors that stepped up to run the department in the absence of a permanent director.
Jabjiniak initially turned down an offer from Mesa earlier this summer because he was worried about selling a house he owns in Richmond, Va.
Arnett said Mesa City Manager Chris Brady asked him if the partnership could raise money for relocation costs because the city couldn’t afford it.
Brady said the original idea to raise private funds came from the Greater Phoenix Economic Council — commonly known as GPEC.
In recent years, Mesa has struggled to pay for some basic city services on a $1 billion budget.
Mesa doesn’t have a property tax and relies on sales tax revenue, which can fluctuate rapidly from year to year depending on consumers’ spending habits. The lack of a more stable income source has become a difficult obstacle to overcome for this growing city of 450,000 people.
Those involved in the deal said the additional money contributed by private interests was essential in this case to attract a top-flight manager.
“I wish people were begging to come to Mesa, but that’s not how it is,” Brady said.
Specific details of the deal were not disclosed, and were not part of his public agreement with the city. Jabjiniak said he didn’t know the details of the deal or which companies had donated money to help him out.
Jabjiniak beat out two other candidates for the position after a four-month national search.
“I don’t know how they raised the funds. I don’t know who contributed,” Jabjiniak said during a phone interview from his home in Virginia.
In addition to DMB, the Mesa Chamber of Commerce promised to give the East Valley Partnership $5,000 to help the cause.
Charlie Deaton said he understood that the money was going to “protect equity” Jabjiniak had in his home. Jabjiniak bought his home in Oct. 2005 for $495,000, according to Virginia property records. Right now, the house is not listed for sale.
Arnett would not disclose the total amount of money raised, nor would he reveal the other four business organizations that donated. He did say, however, half of the donors were developers.
John Brady, president and general manager of DMB, said his company agreed to give East Valley Partnership $20,000 because “that’s what Roc (Arnett) asked us for.”
DMB is a prominent home developer in the Valley that is looking to establish a firm foothold in Mesa.
The company is planning a massive mixed-use development on 3,200 acres it purchased at the former GM Proving Grounds in east Mesa.
However, city and state officials said the use of private dollars to subsidize expenses for a public official is rare. In fact, no one contacted by the Tribune this week could think of a single example.
“I think this is one of those things that’s innovative and unusual, but not improper,” said Ken Stroebeck, president of the Arizona League of Cities and Towns.
Mesa City Councilman Rex Griswold said he sees no conflict in private business groups raising money to land Jabjiniak. He said the city couldn’t directly offer the same relocation deal.
“It would be all over the front page if we bought someone’s house from them,” he said.