Monday, June 30, 2008

This pension scam must be fixed

Here are more details on the pension scam purported by Maricopa Community College District Chancellor Rufus Glasper and several high paid lobbyists. It says that state retirement officials are looking into if the lobbyists should be kicked out of the system, which is what I believe needs to happen.

One of the things that really bothers me about this whole set up is that they didn't report the problems a year ago when they were discovered. He says that he wanted to "avoid the appearance of doing anything wrong." Well, his silence only shows that he knew that he was doing something wrong.

This point is only made worse by their indignant comments. The flippant remark by Jerry Walker saying that the legislature can call it "anything they want until they pass a law that makes this illegal" just shows that they recognize its impropriety. Apparently, common sense does not rule at the Community College district. Next, they'll need a law to prevent themselves from hitting members of the audience at a meeting because there isn't a specific rule against it.

The other scary part of this whole proposition is the notion that these lobbyists "also receive legal protection against lawsuits arising out of their work for the private organizations." Who knows what kind of legal trouble their lobbying work can get them into? Now, the district is on the hook for paying for it?

Not much to say?

Scott Smith Watch has broken nearly a month of silence to come out against... the new Mesa logo. I've made my thoughts on the logo known, but I don't think its really something you can ring up against Smith. I guess there isn't much else for them to criticize about the Mayor right now.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Kevin Gibbons a No Show at District 18 debate

Got this tip from a reader:

"I went to the LD 18 candidate forum last night to hear the Senate and Leg candidates speak. I left rather unsatisfied though after Gibbonswas a no show. I guess theyre going to send him the questions and passalong any answers they get from him. few of the 50 + people therewere vocal in saying they wouldn't vote for him regardless since he didnt have the courtesy to show up."

So Kevin Gibbons, the guy who is challenging Russell Pearce for State Senate didn't bother to show up to the debate last night. This sounds like a pretty big deal. After all, he is trying to represent the District in the legislature and to do that, he has to become the Republican nominee. You'd think he would take an opportunity to talk to Republicans.

I didn't know until a little bit ago that Gibbons is actually Jeff Flake's brother-in-law which I guess makes him qualified to hold office. This smacks of payback from when Pearce considered running against Flake. You would think if he was serious about this, he would attend meetings and debates.

Bond package goes to the voters in November

There will be two bonds on the November ballot (here is the Tribune Story). The paired down version of the public safety bond and the transportation bond complete with a secondary property tax will make its way to the very bottom of a crowded ballot headlined by the McCain/Obama race, Corporation Commissioners, Congressional and Legislative races along with several initiatives.

Congratulations to Mayor Smith and the council for taking the lead and bringing forth a bond package that is much more realistic in this tough economic climate. Clearly, they are putting their new reputation on the line putting a tax in front of an electorate which has been very much anti-tax in the past. However, I do think they have a few factors going for them:

1. This is a secondary tax with a finite time period. Its for very specific projects and has a time when it will go away. The list of projects will definately help voters get over the hump of paying more taxes. The last time around, may people considered the primary property tax a blank check.

2. The new council has their fingerprints all over this bond. There is still an air of hope around this new council and that may translate into more people trusting their decisions. If they say that these are critical, more people are going to stand up and take notice.

3. There is just as much that can be said about what they cut as what they left in. As the police union folks pointed out, everything in the public safety budget is critical, yet the council did not cave and pile everything back in. They stuck to their guns, went with the smaller package showing that they may better understand the will of the voters.

4. Finally, they left the issue of taxing existing bonds for another day. This is going to be a whole different fight, even if it is only 3 cents per $100,000. The rhetoric that surrounds that type of decision could spell big trouble for the bond package. They would do well to try to find alternate fund sources or at least avoid this discussion until after November.

More on the Mesa sweeps

There is tons of coverage of the sweeps yesterday all over the radio, tv, and in the paper. The war of words between Gascon and Arpaio has really heated up, ending up with Arpaio claiming that he will no longer give warnings on his future sweeps. This is not the type of communication and cooperation that Mesa needs. This isn't the old west where people can settle their differences with a shootout in the street. The overreactions on both sides need to stop and someone needs to step in and make sure cooler heads prevail.

Also, the sweeps are going to continue today, so expect this story to bubble all weekend. There is one bit of irony here and that is Arpaio actually had the gusto to complain about all the hype that are surrounding his sweeps and how its preventing them from doing their job.

Mesa Briefs

Walmart won't help reduce shoplifting. Thefts are up 89% in Mesa since 2007 and Walmart isn't taking any of the police recommendations. I understand that they are a huge corporation that has a lot of rules and requirements of their own, but when a city appears to be bending backwards to help, don't you think that you should engage at least a little bit.

A giant Costco is opening in East Mesa. The largest Costco in the state is opening at Sossaman and the 60. I can never get out of Costco without spending at least $100 or so, will it go up if I go to that one? While everyone is trending towards smaller stores and cars, Costco is going bigger.

Mesa Arts Center wants a marquee. Gee, maybe this is something that people should have thought of before now. Every place from Radio City Music Hall to the Hollywood Bowl has a marquee to tell people whats going on. Perhaps we can get a few more people to the show if they actually knew what was coming up.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

All Eyes on Mesa Sweeps

Now the Attorney General's office is on the action as well as the Justice Department, watching Arpaio as he conducts his sweeps today. Combined with the growing heated language from the local activists, it will be interesting to see if there are any incidents in Mesa today.

Gascon's concern for violence is reasonable, as is Arpaio's desire discourage illegal immigration countywide. However, this all must be done in cooperative fashion that allows everyone to win. We must fine tune our thinking on these sweeps and get people's real intentions into focus.

Gascon has a concern for riots and civil unrest - it doesn't appear that he is fundamentally against a crackdown on illegal immigration. However, he is allowing those concerns to stand in the way, or at least allow the perception to prevail that he is trying to stand in the way. The result is people calling for his dismissal claiming that he is part of the problem on why Mesa is considered a "sanctuary city." Gascon must clearly define himself as part of the solution.

Arpaio wants to fight illegal immigration in the best way he knows how, force. However, he must be mindful that people do have rights and checking every person and pulling people over randomly is walking a very fine line. He must also understand that people have concerns over his roughshod nature and while he doesn't mind if the County has to pay millions in fines, cities like Mesa don't have the money to clean up after the types of messes he creates. Just because someone has concerns doesn't mean they are an illegal immigrant hugging communist.

Let's hope that this can come to safe conclusion.

The "New" Tribune, ugh

I don't know about you, but I am not a big fan of the new East Valley Tribune. Anything you do in which you launch a whole page trying to explain the reasons you are doing something is never a good sign. Its no secret that the print industry has been suffering, and I am sure that the Trib is no exception.

However, the readers who do actually pay for the service should be able to get a level of quality that reflects the fact that they pay for the service. The shorter editorials, the smaller stories, heck, even fewer crazy rants on the vent do not add up to the level of quality that I came to enjoy from the paper. I feel like I am getting 1/2 the paper for the same price.

Welcome to Eye on the 9th Floor

We here at Mesa Issues join Sonoran Alliance and Exurban League in welcoming Eye on the 9th Floor to the party. Its a new blog about the Arizona Governor's office, plus news about those who may be running for it. If the presidential cycle has taught us anything, 2010 is just around the corner.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Gateway Update

The Council and Planning & Zoning taking up the Gateway area plans again. The plans ground to a halt because of the potential residential in the northwest part of the area. This issue needs to be decided because it can't let the rest of the planning be slowed down over this issue. As I have mentioned before, residential in the commercial area on the inner part of the freeway will make sure that there are some people living in the area caring and looking after the community. It also makes the large park much more sensible. If the plan needs to be changed later, fine, but don't let these concerns stop the planning process.

The other great news is that Gateway's numbers are strong despite slow growth expected for more domestic carriers. We must respect Gateway's mission, and make sure that the potential for this area extends beyond the airport. Just as West Mesa was the core of the East Valley as it grew, the Gateway Area can be the core of the South East Valley and Pinal County area.

Sheriff Joe is coming to town 2

He knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you're awake. Now, Sheriff Joe is coming back to Mesa for more crime suppression. He kept his word and gave Mesa 2 days notice that he will be coming to town on Thursday for more sweeps.

Its time for the Sheriff's Office and the Mesa Police Department to play nice and make this thing work. Having more law enforcement in town is not a bad thing, but if the Sheriff wants to be a nice guest, he should probably stop publicly bashing the Mesa PD and figure out ways to actually coordinate. Not that he really cares, but its nice to have the Mayor, Council, and Police chief supporting your efforts. He shouldn't turn around and accuse that they are all illegal immigrant sympathizers just because they want a real heads up.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Mesa Legislative Races and Illegal Immigration

The illegal immigrants arrested in the Waterpark sweeps including Golfland/Sunsplash have been indicted. Its not clear at this point if Golfland Enterprises would be the first company to be indicted under the new employer sanctions law. Interestingly enough, those who have been arrested are being held without bond, which is the results of the passage of Proposition 100 in 2006 (I had to look it up). I believe that Russell Pearce sponsored both that law and the employer sanctions law as well, so it looks to me like he is actually successfully doing something about immigration in Mesa.

I know that a lot of people have strong feelings about Pearce, but you have to admit that when you read about things like 36 people found in a drop house in his neck of the woods, its not all that surprising that people want something done about it.

We'll see how this plays out, especially since someone just sent me this interesting link regarding Kevin Gibbons. It looks like Kevin Gibbons owned INMIGRACIƓN SIN BARRERAS (literally, Immigration without barriers) until January 10, 2008. Then, a little over a month later, he filed his committee to run for the Senate.

Mesa approves budget

City of Mesa has approved a $1.2 billion budget, which has been slashed about $120 million to make up for current revenue forecasts. The budget contains several deep cuts and comes along with a raise to utility rates in garbage, water and trash.

Mayor Scott Smith has tried to diplomatically separate himself from this budget, placing the large majority of it at the feet of the previous council. While this factually true, it probably wasn't the best time for him to make any sort of statement to that effect. He promised that he was going to audit the city from top to bottom. Obviously, he wouldn't have a chance to do that before the new budget has passed, but it would have been better for him to point to the positives that he is planning before distancing himself from the current work product.

It would be best for all of the new council to let this pass and move on to making their own impact on the city, bringing in new revenues and making sure that they don't have to pass another bleak budget like this again.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Mesa Police costing the city more money

Not even a week after the police made a big deal about not getting enough money from the bond package, we find that they are also demanding to be paid for the time it takes for them to take their uniforms on an off. Perhaps this is why they need more money in the bond package.

Some cops are saying it takes less than 10 minutes, while others are saying it takes between 20 and 30 minutes. If I can get a pizza to my house in less than 30 minutes, I certainly hope that someone who sworn to protect the public can get their clothes on in less than that time.

This issue has cost Mesa nearly $190,000 to fight so far, which is even more unbelieveable when the city is having to scrape every dime together for things like keeping the Washington Activities Center open. Its important to keep perspective on things like this.

Expanding Revenue for Mesa

Empire Machinery wants to be annexed into Mesa in return for a tax incentive for a portion of the sales tax that they would generate. It is reported that the move would bring about $1 million to the city's revenue (I am guessing annually).

Right now, Mesa gets nothing from the equipment that is sold at Empire, because they are an unannexed county island. You can see the little white box in the lower left hand part of District 4. So, the question here is: is it better to get part of something or all of nothing?

What they want is a tax break when their sales reach over a certain amount. In this case, when their sales get over $75 million. Also, as part of their agreement, they would also sink $25 million into exanding their headquarters.

Its nice that they put out an offer like this instead of just forcing a deal on the city and threatening to leave if they don't go through with it. While its an equipment company versus a car dealership, the principles are basically the same. Bringing consistent sales tax generators into the community is good for building long term revenue.

It looks like a pretty good deal since Mesa hasn't been getting any piece of the sales taxes for 30 years as it is.

More wins from the DC trip

In addition to getting the ICE support that the City needs, Mesa also has received a commitment to continued support for the aviation program. I don't know if more is being done under the new Mayor and council, or if its just the change in perception that is causing people to stand up and take notice.

One thing is for certain, the old council didn't really make any noise until there was either bad financial news or they wanted to raise taxes. It was like not hearing from a relative for a long time and then only getting a call when they were in trouble or needed money. Its such a huge difference already. Its almost like the the new council is sending us "Just because" cards and pictures of their kids so we can see how they are growing.

This is great news for the city.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Mesa starting to move on Immigration

The City of Mesa and ICE have come to an agreement on prisoner ID checks of everyone who comes to jail in Mesa. The results here truly define the difference between action and words when it comes to getting the job done.

The previous council sent a letter requesting the appropriate training. Their request was placed in the queue and sat at 70th on the list waiting for a response.

Mayor Scott Smith and City Manager Chris Brady meet with the ICE officials while they were in Washington DC and got them to agree to a stopgap measure until the training can be conducted. Now, we are that much closer to checking immigration status, and have a working agreement with ICE that will make everyone's job a little bit easier.

Smith is right, the cities are taking a greater role in controlling immigration. Rightly or wrongly, sometimes you can only count on local government to make things happen. We aren't seeing much on the national level, but things certainly appear to be getting at least a little better on the county and local level.

Hopefully, this type of forward thinking and flexibility will be the benchmark of this new Mayor and Council. Sometimes sending a letter and hoping for the best is not enough. I recently got into that miniseries "John Adams" since it came out on DVD and the similarities and differences between politics and government today were pretty interesting.

Requesting the training and waiting for a response feels like when people used to sit around and wait for emmisaries and delegations from other countries to come and negotiate. Waiting for ICE to get back to them feels like John Adams waiting to get word from the US on where he should be seeking political support.

Smith and Brady taking it upon themselves to meet with ICE and get things moving reminds me of when Adams went and sought funding from Amsterdam.

Hold up at local amusement park

A gunman robbed Jeepers! amusement park, getting access to the establishment under the ruse of looking for a job. According to the story:

"Police say the robber has dark hair, is about 30 years old. 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighs 190 pounds. He wore a white shirt, khaki pants and an orange hat."

It would be helpful if the police had provided some sort of clue to the type of white shirt as well as robber's ethnicity. I know that we live in senstive times, but ethnicity should not be considered a taboo. Its a helpful clue for people to keep an eye out.

Now, if the person was, in fact, Hispanic, I would bet that there would be several commenters that would question his immigration status. While that is an unfair snap judgement, this shouldn't be a reason for police to not release as much information as they have.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Understanding Needs and the Economy

Mesa's Fraternal Order of Police is worried about Mesa's reduced bond package. However, what they don't appear to appreciate is the magnatude of what is being asked. Any bond package is going to have a secondary property tax attached to it. This is a first in Mesa. Perhaps, the folks on the council are thinking that getting their foot in the door with a smaller package of the most critical items is a good way to show the public that they can trust their government.

I understand the public safety needs, but this all or nothing attitude is not helpful in our current economic situation. Mesa is making cuts to stay under budget and people everywhere are seeing climbing utility payments not to mention being robbed everytime they have to fill up their tank. Perhaps a 2 year package is in order to get the city through the next few years and then we can see if anything changes.

What good comes from complaining about this bond being half empty?

Riverview's Theater District criticized

Well, it looks like there are some people upset about the slow going over at the Riverview theater district. Clearly, its not at the same level at the Tempe Marketplace, and in fact, some of the businesses have already closed in the area. It looks like they are taking some steps to make the place more lively.

As we suspected, Mattas is indeed coming to Riverview. It will be interesting to see how they configure the place, especially since they tried an "on the go" type concept a few years back at Fiesta Mall and it failed. Hopefully, it will be more of a sitdown type establishment. One bit of advice to the Matta family: perhaps its time to hire someone under 80 years old to be a waitress.

It also says that a Toby Keith bar is coming to the area. Great, now, they only need 2 or 3 more restaurants to match the central intersection of Tempe Marketplace's "District."

Its clear that the Theater district needs some work to be done, but as I have mentioned before, its not really a fair comparison, since Riverview also has the dealerships, the hotel, and the business stuff that is coming in. So, let's hope that the rhetoric is true and the theater district is only behind schedule and that its not always going to be floundering.

I just hope that they remember that they promised a regional destination, and right now, there is certainly still a lot of work to do.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Mesa's New Logo

Mesa has unveiled its new logo (here is the Tribune's report as well). I don't really like it, but I don't hate it either. I am sure that the graphic wizards over a Exurban League will have more thoughtful things to say about its design and composition. In the meantime, here are my comments:

First, it could have been a lot worse. Look at Peoria. They spent a bunch of money to get a horrible tagline like "naturally connected" and some awful colors. I am glad that Mesa got rid of the line about the people and the service. It hadn't really been true for awhile and it also made me feel like they were trying to sell waterheaters instead of selling the merits of a big city.

Next, maybe its the fault of the newspapers, but I couldn't get a decent version of the logo to post in this blog. It looks all pixelated and "hairy." The logo gets thrown on everything under the sun and sometimes its going to look better than others. They are going to have to do some major quality control on that thing to make sure those smooth ridges look good.

Plus, the lowercase thing is fairly hip right now, but I don't think it will last. In a couple of years, I bet we'll see it go to either all caps, or a combination. This isn't some nightclub we are talking about, the lettering should be a little bit more timeless.

Finally, the colors aren't my favorite, but they are primary and not something that is going to go out of style over time like teal and purple (ahem, D-backs). I guess they are fine, but they certainly remind me of a few things:






Before moving on, Napolitano should clean up her mess

From Today's Tribune Editorial Page
Also Featured in Sonoran Alliance and IC Arizona.

Tom Jenney, Commentary

When I was little and I my room was a mess, my mom would make me clean up before I could go outside and play with the other kids. Right now, there is a lot of talk about Gov. Janet Napolitano leaving Arizona to go play with the big kids in Washington, D.C.

She is on some people's short list to be Barack Obama's vice presidential running mate, and many think she could become the next U.S. Attorney General.

But before she leaves, Napolitano should clean up the mess that she - more than anyone else - has made of Arizona's state budget.

Since taking office in 2003, Napolitano has prodded the Arizona Legislature to grow state budgets at an average rate of 12 percent annually, much faster than the rate of growth of the state's private economy, which grows at 7 percent or 8 percent annually during economic boom times. State government spending now takes up 7.01 percent of the state's economy - the biggest portion since 1980.

With spending growing so fast, and reaching unsustainable levels, it was inevitable that tax revenues would fall short and that a gigantic deficit would emerge. That gap is now up to $2.2 billion - proportionally, the biggest state deficit in the country.

Napolitano was the prime mover in creating the deficit, so she should have taken the lead in trying to fix it. But she failed to call the Legislature into special session last fall to correct this year's budget, and she failed to use her executive power to reduce agency spending.
For next year's deficit, Napolitano has proposed fund shifts and accounting gimmicks, but very little in the way of net spending reductions. The combined impact of her measures would be to temporarily reduce the deficit by roughly $1.2 billion - a billion dollars short of actually balancing the budget.

Napolitano has suggested increasing state property taxes by $250 million, but tax increases are politically unpopular (and bad for a struggling economy). So it appears that her real plan - if she has one - is to balance the budget by increasing state debt. At this point, it is likely that the liberal majority in the Arizona Legislature will support her in resorting to debt.

Of course, taking on debt will not be the end of the story. If Napolitano moves to D.C. in 2009, she will be gone when the state begins paying $200 million annually in interest on that debt. Between the interest payments and voter-approved automatic spending increases, the budget deficit for the following year (fiscal year 2010) will probably still be mor than $1 billion.
To avoid ongoing deficits in 2010, 2011 and 2012, Arizona would have to see spectacular economic growth, with annual growth in tax revenues of about 15 percent. If that kind of growth does not materialize - and it probably won't - Napolitano's replacement will be forced to choose between deep spending cuts and huge tax increases.

Instead of leaving a gigantic fiscal mess for someone else to clean up, Napolitano should work with legislative leaders to make significant spending reductions now.

The Legislature's appropriations chairmen, Sen. Bob Burns and Rep. Russell Pearce, have found $1.5 billion in spending reductions that would allow the state to balance next year's budget without taking on debt or raising taxes. Napolitano should be able to support those reductions, which would shave the overall state budget down to the size it was two years ago, in fiscal year 2007.

And if she is still in Arizona this fall, Napolitano should be ready to call the Legislature into special session to make further spending reductions, if revenues fail to meet current expectations.

For better or worse, Napolitano does not have a political "mom" who will make her stay in Arizona until she cleans up her mess. But she is a big girl now, so maybe she can learn how to clean up after herself.

Tom Jenney is the Arizona director of Americans for Prosperity (www.aztaxpayers.org).

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Fiesta District Update

It must be a West Mesa kind of day.

Here is an update on some of the goings on in the excitedly named "Fiesta District" which, if you recall, is the name the City paid a lot of money for. I have made my thoughts known on that before, but the rest of the stuff is promising for the revitalization of the area.

The blue building has gotten some improvements as well as construction has started on some of the new stores at Fiesta Mall. Several retailers are moving into new digs and it even looks like the place is starting to clean up a bit. This is good news, but there are still some concerns:

1. All of this planned construction has the potential to be put off. As the economy tanks, nothing is set in stone. I am not trying to jinx these projects, but a couple of high rise condos, hip hotels, and theaters could risk being put on hold if outlooks don't improve.

2. These rennovations are all fine and good, but whats happening with the northwest corner of Alma School and Southern? The district will always struggle as long as that eye sore remains a part of it.

Light Rail Testing

Here is a shot of light rail being tested on Main Street towards the Sycamore station. I think thats the stop right by what used to be Tri-City Mall. I haven't been that way in a long time, but it would be interesting to know how the train is able to turn around. I'd imagine it must disrupt even more traffic. Let's hope it won't lead to too many greatest hits.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Revised bond package

Wow, who knew the staff could move so quickly? The City of Mesa has already updated their bond information with the new revised numbers as requested by the council. The smaller package is around $158 million and is scaled back in both transportation and public safety projects.

From the look of it, they cut way back on the intersection projects and removed some other street projects. It looks like Scott Somers district got a couple of things snipped, I wonder if that had anything to do with his behavior on the Gateway residential issue.

On the public safety side, the rennovations have been put on hold (good idea) and they cut back on the number of stations that will be constructed for now. It doesn't mention how they are going to fund the people needed to operate these new stations. So, I looked at the staff's presentation and its in there, $4.3 million a year in operations. Based on what I think they are saying, they are going to take a small tax out on the existing bonds to offset the funds needed to be free for the operations.

If you look on Slide 20, I think it is saying that it will be between 3 and 7 cents to cover this. While it seems like a small number, its going to be a big deal to a lot of people because it means going back and putting taxes on old bonds.

Light Rail and other transportation tidbits

Here is an interesting article on light rail construction coming to Mesa and what it could mean to local businesses. In the article, it discusses that Mesa will make a decision next year on if they want to expand 3 miles further into Mesa. All of this without a single train up and running. I think its probably wise to wait and see how the thing works before we fire up the bureaucracy in extending anything.

It may end up being the best thing since sliced bread, but even the first few pieces of bread were probably a little rough. Let them work out the kinks and figure the best kinds of uses around the existing lines so Mesa can be ahead of the curve if and when they start any sort of extension.

Also, I thought this was an interesting post over at Espresso Pundit regarding the upcoming statewide transportation plan thats trying to get on the ballot. As I have said before, I think it looks bad and its the wrong time for such an epic tax hike, but I was surprised to learn about how much money could be used for wildlife and other special interests. We have real transportation needs in this state, and I think we should address those before we start paying more taxes for animal protection and high-speed trains to nowhere.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Lobbyist benefits don't pass the smell test

The Tribune is reporting that lobbyists and other education groups have tapped into the state's retirement system through the Maricopa Community College District. Well, I guess its not surprising that its through the district who has had their own troubles in the past few years.

Before we get to the heart of the matter on this issue, I do have one question: who the heck is auditing these guys?

Okay, so back to the issue at hand, employees of East Valley Partnership, The Arizona Community College Association and the Arizona Business and Education Coalition are being listed as employees of MCCD, thus qualifying for state retirement. They say they are doing nothing wrong, but clearly this type of behavior doesn't pass the smell test.

The state retirement system is for government workers, but these guys get the money because there is not a law specifically preventing them from getting included. In fact, the community college admits that the relationship is "improper," yet nothing has been done about it. So no one in these organizations ever wondered why they were getting this benefit? Did no one stop and wonder if it was appropriate?

These organizations like East Valley Partnership and the Arizona Business and Education Coalition do much more than help the community colleges, and they are getting paid decent money to do so.

Why should they also get the benefit of a state retirement? If they wanted that, they should work for the state. This is the type of growth of government and bureaucratic wrangling that makes people disgusted with the whole process. How did this happen in the first place? Why did it take 3 years for someone to do something after the problem was discovered?

It makes you wonder who else is benefitting from our government's largess?

An interesting dynamic

Two articles in the Republic today that clearly show the duality that is Mesa.

On one hand, you have people encouraging a "no frills" approach to Gateway Airport. While it would save some money, people are bemoaning the fact that its typical "cheap" Mesa doing only as little as is expected.

On the other hand, you have an update regarding Waveyard and the detailed site plans that will soon emerge. In this case, people are complaining about the cost of the project and how its unneeded and too lavish for the community.

A bad economy does funny things to people. It makes some too scared to spend money and others too scared thinking that we are allowing the economy prevent us from spending what is needed. In both cases, we are dealing with the unknown, trying to determine what is best for our future. We must think about things beyond one economic cycle and figure out how its going to impact us in the future.

As for Waveyard, I am glad that we finally got an update. When the voters passed this project, the developers basically entered into an a partnership with the community. They should be doing everything they can to continue to communicate and let people know what is going on. We had plenty to see and read about when they were trying to get our vote. Now? Not so much. Its part of the reason why people are starting to get nervous.

With the economy suffering, people worry that this is the type of dream project that can fall off the map. Now, more than ever, they should be working doubletime to boost our investor confidence.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Believing in Scott Smith

It couldn't have been coordinated better. Mayor Scott Smith got a significant boost from the latest study from the Mesa Chamber showing the current economic conditions of Mesa and how it compares to the rest of the Valley.

All of this information came out at once, with an accurate assessment of the economic base feeding into his campaign platform transforming Mesa from a bedroom community into a high wage job development center. This story helps boost his credibility when combined with his well-timed op-ed in the Republic on the same subject as part of their Mesa at a Crossroads series, and the Tribune editorial touting his emergence as a leader a week after they criticized his stance on residential north of Gateway.

After reading the stories and his own editorial, you come to find that there is a lot to believe in. He is right, Mesa does a great job educating its kids, but where do they go once they finish college? For the most part, their jobs aren't in Mesa. Heck, people driving in from Queen Creek aren't even working in Mesa - they are driving through to Phoenix, Tempe, or Scottsdale. When Google came knocking, people withing the region nearly laughed out loud at the notion of a progressive company like that coming to Mesa.

Hopefully, these are the types of things that can change. The results of the chamber study show that the large majority of jobs in Mesa are retail and the average job wages are lower. One of the commenters said it best:

"Mesa does not need another Food City, check cashing store or pawn shop."

The City needs to look at the sustainable economic opportunities that are going to drive our future, not another shopping center or call center. This is going to take a good look at the development of East Mesa, but it also requires a thoughtful plan for redevelopment in West Mesa as well. People aren't going to want to drive through a run-down part of town just to get to a good part. I don't know the last time you drove on Broadway, but that is certainly the case now.

Council cuts back the bond package

Finally, we have a council that not only looks at the bureaucratic view of Mesa's operations, they also look at the poltical reality that they are facing with the voters. The council has asked staff to cut back the current bond package, and cut they did, getting it down to $158 million. The Republic focuses more on the cutting aspect of it.

We are now facing a much smaller proposal that only lasts two years and makes much more sense based on the current economic climate we are facing. The front page of the Trib today says that the state is officially in a recession. I am glad to see that the council saw past the notion of asking everyone else to sacrifice because gas is $4 bucks, but they move forward with a giant package. Hopefully they will come out with a broad education effort to get people behind this - something that was sorely lacking from the original proposal.

This is going to be the first true test for the new council and their effectiveness in the future may depend on the outcome of this vote. I believe that voters truly have a lot of hope, but it will be completely dashed if they perceive that this council is no different from the last. For example, the commenters are already questioining placing more Fire stations in developed parts of the city.

I understand why it is done: there is more demand in the developed areas and it helps reduce response times across the board, but I don't think most people get the distinction. Its going to take a road show from the councilmembers themselves to get that point across. Having staff go out and explain this package is not going to work.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Rates are going up

One final present from the old council: increased rates on our water, sewer, gas and everything else. Gasoline is only $4 bucks a gallon, rice has doubled in price, and we can't eat any tomatoes, but thank goodness we will be able to get financial relief from the city... oh wait. Nevermind.

The city is also going to "tier" water use for big consumers which, if they get their water from the city, may be a double whammy to Golfland if they are able to stay open. All in all, its supposed to raise another $6.5 million in revenue from the city. Combined with the couple more million that they have gotten from decreasing the rental exemption from 3 to 2, shouldn't be about time that the city's budget is balanced?

If its not, shouldn't they be going back through and looking for a few more cuts? At this point, it seems like they have no prodded and squeezed every dollar they could out of the residents. Isn't this where some of that change is supposed to come in?

Golfland hit by Employer Sactions Violations

In the news today, Golfland, Waterworld, and Big Surf were hit with a simultaneous search by the Maricopa County Sheriff's office. The story says that 104 of the 198 people (that's 52.5%) who work for Golfland have problems with their social security number. That seems to be a pretty big deal.

They arrested a couple of employees on a tip from a former employee. One guy even ran away, which is always a good way to prove your innocence. It will be interesting to see if the sheriff's office goes after the company this time.

What is most interesting to me is that when you look at a story like this, it always has 40 or 50 pages of comments attached to it. No other topic comes close to immigration in getting people fired up. Especially in parts of Mesa where the day laborers are standing on the street corners and people's houses are being broken into, having something like this is only going to add fuel to the fire.

Monday, June 9, 2008

First Look at the Legislative Races

Well, it looks like September is going to be another interesting Election marked with a couple of heated primaries and some new faces representing Mesa at the Arizona Legislature. It will be fun to watch and see how things go over the next couple of months. If you are interested, you can look up all of the candidates on the Secretary of State's page.

District 18
Senate: Russell Pearce, Kevin Gibbons - Republican, Judah Nativio - Democrat
House: Cecil Ash, Steve Court, Kanani Henderson, Ron Middlebrook - Republican, Tammie Pursley - Democrat

District 19
Senate: Chuck Gray - Republican
House: Kirk Adams, Rich Crandall - Republican, Kathy Romano - Democrat

District 21 (Partially in Mesa)
Senate: Jay Tibshraeney - Republican
House: Warde Nichols, Steve Yarbrough - Republican, Phil Hettmansperger - Democrat

District 22 (Partially in Mesa)
Senate: Thayer Vershoor, Eddie Farnsworth, Joe Bedgood - Republican
House: Andy Biggs, Adam Armer, Bob Brown, Laurin Hendrix - Republican, Glenn Ray - Democrat

The two hot spots are District 18 and District 22. Both are marked by some open spaces to fill on the house side and a heated primary race for the Senate seat. In District 22, you have two known commodities who will be battling to see who can get further to the right.

In District 18, you have a very well known candidate in Russell Pearce running against a virtual unknown in Kevin Gibbons (who's number three result that comes up under a google search is him once owning the trademark to "inmigracion sin barreras"). I think it will be hard to come in with a pro-immigration stance in that part of Mesa.

It will be an all new slate in the house for District 18. District 22's spot became open when Eddie Farnsworth decided to challenge Vershoor in the primary.

Good news from Hohokam Park

Finally some good news in the midst of all of this economic bad news, revenue is up about $1 million from Spring Training at Hohokam last year. This is fairly impressive combined with the $30 million that is poured into the local economy, especially since the stadium is in a residential area across from a graveyard. Here is a troubling stat from the article: "the Cubs accounted for 96,000 room nights at Valley hotels, with 34,000 in Mesa." So only about 1/3 of the people coming to the games in Mesa are staying in Mesa hotels? It makes you wonder where they are eating their food and doing their shopping?

The credit goes almost completely to the Cubs, however, because without such a marquee team, Mesa would be well behind the curve in spring training. Imagine if we had the Kansas City Royals or some other team in Mesa instead of the Cubs. What would it be like then?

Also, as other cities double up on their teams, isn't it about time that Mesa does the same?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Battle over Gateway begins

And so it begins... There is a battle brewing over Gateway and the potential to put residential in the northern part of area. This is a continuation of the fight lead by the old council to push for an alternative to the plan that the city paid over $860,000 for which included high-density housing within the freeway loop. Councilman Scott Somers is against the idea of housing in the area while new Mayor Scott Smith is more open to the idea.

The battle has spilled over to the opinion pages with Somers and the Tribune taking a position against the proposed housing. We'll see if the paper gives any of the people more willing to consider the housing an opportunity to respond.

There is a lot of interesting information over at the Mesa Gateway Strategic Development Plan including links to Alternative A and Alternative B. I have attempted to put together a little graphic that shows the housing difference between A and B:



Its kind of hard to see, but the light orange is supposed to be high density residential and the light blue is business park. So, basically, option B pulled out all of the residential and put in a bunch more business park. Three observations:

1. This residential is not directly in the flight path, and its certainly got to be a lot quieter than the people who are living in the dorms at ASU Poly.

2. Option B results in NO residential on the North side of the freeway. None. Its a couple square miles of business park with some industrial and retail with no one living nearby. No one will be around at night, no neighborhood watch keeping crime down, no one caring about the area because its their home.

3. What's the use of a big park in the middle of all of that if no one is living there? Do you think the employees are going to go out and play kickball at lunch?

I think that they need to figure out exactly what they want and take their time to make the decision. Besides, its not like if they approved the plans tomorrow, they would start building apartments out there overnight.

Council gets right down to business

The council got right down to business after their swearing in on Monday and they haven't looked back since. They are already jumping right into the budget and also taking a close look at the bond issue.

I suspect that we will see a scaled back bond issue very soon. It will be interesting to see what makes it in and what gets cut. What is especially interesting is that Scott Somers is breaking ranks on the airport already while he is the one with the most desperate need for street projects in his district. Do you think that will impact the amount of bacon he is capable of bringing back to his district?

The other interesting observation is this statement by City Clerk Linda Crocker:

"We will have something in November, definitely, we just don't know the amount yet," City Clerk Linda Crocker said.

Since she is not a member of the city council, I don't really think its her call to make. I understand that she is just doing her job and getting everything ready to have another election, but I think there are still some very important decisions to be made.

I think there is a possibility that we may not see something on the ballot in November. The economy is bad, prices are through the roof, so it may not be the best time to go to the voters and ask them to raise taxes. This new council is for bold change, but I would assume that they are at least going to start with only calculated risks.

Don't get me wrong, I think that the large majority of the things they are proposing are essential to keep our city safe. However, they better have a rock solid plan put together if they are going to put it to the voters.

Monday, June 2, 2008

New Council starts tonight

Councilmembers-Elect Dave Richins, Alex Finter, Dennis Kavanaugh, Dina Higgins, and Mayor-Elect Scott Smith will take their seats on the Mesa City Council tonight after being sworn in. Then, they are going to jump right in and face adopting a tentative budget.

Also on the agenda tonight is the election of a new Vice Mayor. I would guess that one of the two seated councilmembers will get the nod. My guess is, since he has been on the council the longest, Kyle Jones will probably get the honor. However, there may be some questions:

First, there may be some people who are uneasy with giving the Vice-Mayor position to the councilmember from the district with traditionally low voter turnout.

Next, neither Jones nor Somers endorsed Smith during the General Election. Would someone like Kavanaugh end up being the pick because he has been there before, supported Smith, and technically has the longest tenure?

Finally, the mantle has long been held by someone from the West part of Mesa, so maybe they would be smart to put it on someone from East Mesa. If thats the case, you may see Somers get the title.

I am sure there was a lot of discussion behind the scenes. It will be interesting to see where it goes.

Classy move by Tom Rawles

Outgoing Councilmember Tom Rawles has gathered nearly $15,000 in donations to help Maria Stenzel's National Geographic Live presentation at the Mesa Arts Center. A man of his word, in righteous and not so righteous things, he sticks to his principles to the very end. He believes that arts should be funded by donations and not by government and he puts it into action.

It is sort of an interesting juxtaposition to the article about Mayor Hawker. The article about Hawker is filled with discussion of principles versus reality and a lot of compromise made by during his time as Mayor. Apparently, he was against pretty much everything like eminent domain and tax incentives, yet he did not stop them.

It is a very interesting comparison since both men consider themselves libertarian at heart.