03/02/2010 Town Council Meeting Summary

Tonight I was joined by Mickie Niland, Eddie Cook, Susan Hicks, and Chris Ames. The meeting began with Presentations of Student Citizen of the Month Awards, both grade school and high school level. Observing how these kids handled themselves, with obvious poise and gracious humility, gave me hope for the future of our country. And more awards followed: to Jr High School Chess Tournament winners, and then recognition of Gilbert Christian as state champions in basketball.

Citizens were given the opportunity to speak on the Sales Tax Increase, which will be voted on May 18, 2010. (Please vote NO to both the Gilbert ¼ cent increase and the Arizona 1% increase.)

Thus, under the heading COMMUNICATIONS ON TOWN ELECTION, there were 9 citizens who spoke. Seven were in favor of the sales tax, young, earnest Gilbert citizens who had bought the lie that got started by the Town Council when they called the tax “dedicated to Public Safety,” and got fueled by the Unions when they blanketed the community with ads proclaiming that, without the tax increase, police officers and fire fighters will be layed off! I spoke against the tax increase asking the Council point blank: “If this tax increase fails, are you going to lay off poice and fire fighters? Surely you would not jeopardize the safety of your citizens by placing other services above police and fire.” And I used Your Town newsletter which cost taxpayers $415,000 to produce, print, and mail as an example of “other services,” since that $415k represented 6.5 police officer salaries. Another gentleman, Mark Sorensen, spoke against the taxes citing the serious financial difficulties in the private sector, difficulties which hadn’t appeared to affect government at all. He suggested that public safety wasn’t going to be cut. Rather, cuts could be made in other areas.
By the way, did you know that the Citizens Budget Committees and Steering Committee voted to NOT recommend the sales tax increase?

ADMINISTRATIVE ITEMS. Four people from the citizenry (Mickie Niland, Eddie Cook, JC Cox, and Chris Ames) gave four excellent, compelling arguments for why Gilbert Elections should be held in the Fall Even years, not Fall Odd years. Currently, four of the seven Council members are up for reelection in the Spring 2011. Spring elections, and indeed Fall elections in odd years are much more costly to the taxpayer. This is because if we don’t piggyback onto the federal, state, county elections held in Fall Even years, the Town of Gilbert bears 100% of the cost of the election. As Mayor Lewis pointed out, It means the difference between spending $241,000 versus $65,700 in Fiscal Year 2010, and $310,000 vs $72,150 in FY 2011. Gilbert must go to the Fall because of an Arizona Statute that states communities of 175k and over must hold Fall elections. With the Census 2010, Gilbert will surpass that threshhold. However, the law doesn’t specify “odd” or “even” years. Arizona Representative Andy Biggs has stated that the intent of the legislation was even years and a bill is being written to clarify it.

Micki Niland pointed out that there is recurring savings year after year by going to Fall even years. (At $200k per year, that equates to 3.33 police or firefighter positions!) Also, she stated that elected officials must fulfill 2-4 years in their terms, and 3.5 years fulfills that obligation.

Eddie Cook pointed out in his presentation that the Council first knew beginning in October 2009, through the Citizens Budget Committee process, that Committees were recommending that the Council vote for Fall Even year elections. That sentiment was echoed again on 11/12/2009, and again on 11/22/2009, and again by the Steering Committee in December and January. There was overwhelming support for Fall Even years. Council response was to dither, pending “more information.”

JC Cox echoed the sentiments of Micki and Eddie, but added that there is much more voter turnout when the local election is combined with the other elections.

Chris Ames agreed with the previous speakers, and added that going to Fall even, November 2010, would provide the quickest cost recovery, netting a savings of $225k right away!

The Council could have embraced this as early as October 2009, but instead they chose to push this agenda item to the next meeting, and the next, and the next. Tonight, they did it again! They moved it to June 8, which is too late to go to Fall Even! Four council members: Linda Abbott, Dave Crozier, Les Presmyk, and John Sentz have repeatedly cited (and Steve Urie on occasion, but he’s running for higher office so has recently been silent): 1) Personal cost to themselves for the extra marketing materials (because of that “large voter turnout”, 2) Loss of “focus” on the Gilbert election saying everybody will be pay attention to other items on the ballot, and not on THEM; 3) Town Attorney’s (questionable) opinion that shortening their terms might invite a class action lawsuit, and 4) They don’t technically have to comply with the law until the 2010 Census final results which won’t be available until March/April 2011. And thrown in for good measure was Les Presmyk’s comments that the low voter turnout represented the “quality” voters, and if voters didn’t turn out, shame on them.
Quote of the evening had to come from John Sentz: “What’s the rush? Not every decision is dollars and cents.” John, did you say, “Rush”? From October 2009 until now is over 4 months. Dollars and cents = police and firefighters pay. Isn’t that your Priority #1? (Or not.)

Also, as justification to push a decision to June 8, Linda Abbott challenged two of the citizens who spoke to “provide the Council with the case law they referenced”! She identified JC Cox and Ms Christy repeatedly as the citizens who referenced case law. Actually, I didn’t speak to this topic. Also, this morning I received an email from Linda referencing my comments relating to the vehicle allowances afforded to Town employees, and advising that she, Linda, had removed herself from receiving those allowances. Again, I didn’t speak to this topic, that was Elizabeth Cress Sweet. I’m not sure of the nature of Linda’s memory issues. (“Those infernal strawberries!” Captain Queeg, The Caine Mutiny).

In dithering as they have done, they will, by default, likely be running for reelection in Spring 2011, just like always, in the faces of 60 citizens who spent 8 weeks studying ways to trim the budget and recommending going to Fall Even. (Just another Citizen Budget Committee recommendation that bit the dust.)

So, what’s going on here with these courageous Council members? Do they just “really want to stay in office,” much like Latin American potentates who are known for extending their terms too?

TOWN MANAGER’S REPORT. The Acting Interim Town Manager Collin Dewitt advised the Council that progress is being made on vetting the Employee Suggestions for Budget Cuts (dated 01/20/2010), and additional Citizens Budget Committee Recommendations (12/2009), and he will provide a matrix noting the Savings versus the “Impact.” That means somebody isn’t going to be very happy. (This Council doesn’t like that “impact” part. It makes them run from saving taxpayer money like crawdads from a pot of boiling water.)


Anita Christy