LD22 Gilbert Council Candidate Forum, Minus the No-Shows

Why didn’t incumbents Linda Abbott, Dave Crozier and Ben Cooper show up last Tuesday to the Republican Legislative District 22 Gilbert Town Council Candidate Forum?  Uncomfortable around real Republicans?

The only incumbent running for re-election who  participated in the Forum was Les Presmyk.  Many conservatives don’t agree with: 1) his votes to increase taxes, 2) his judgment to buy  Zinke land that, on its face, was obviously overpriced,3)  the unions, 4) his notion that it will take more taxes to fix the budget gap, or 5) his definition of his role as a Council member.  He said he didn’t like a Primary Property Tax.  On that we agree, unless he votes to “send it to the people” like he did on Prop 406.   

You have to admit.  He stated and defended his positions.  What we heard is what we can expect  should he be re-elected.

THE $6 MILLION DEFICIT.

Les alluded to the 5-year financial projection, with more deficits on the horizon.  He spoke of the Town being 26 police positions down.  I wonder why, if Public safety is the first priority, the Council isn’t demanding that those positions be filled?  Is it because Gilbert is #1 safest Town in Arizona, without all those additional police officers?

Challenger Victor Petersen noted that the Town should continue exploring efficiencies.  He cited that, in a recent exercise conducted by Development Services using Six Sigma, the Town cut staff time by 46% and business customer time by 22%.  This is significant and can result in millions of dollars of savings across all departments.

Challenger Jordan Ray said that many suggestions from the 2009 Citizens Budget Committee still haven’t been vetted by the Council.  He also said that the Town needs to look at privatizing certain services to see if there is cost savings without sacrificing quality.  His example was waste management services.

THE UNIONS.

Council member Presmyk defended bringing in the Unions for “Meet and Confer.”  He noted that that employees cannot strike or demand salary increases.  Rather, Meet and Confer has provided for employee representation relating to working conditions and better communication.

Jordan Ray noted that the unions were brought in due to a disconnect  between employees and the Town Manager.  Rather than bring in a third party—the Unions—the Council should have managed the Town Manager.  That’s their job, and that’s what would happen in the private sector.   As Jared Taylor put it once, the Council “used a sledgehammer to swat a fly.”

There is a sunset clause set for 2014, and Jordan stated he would vote against continuing the contract.

Victor Petersen ageed that he, too, would vote against continuing the contract.  His opinion was that a third party interjected between staff and management isn’t healthy and doesn’t reflect Gilbert’s self-reliant heritage.

Did you know that in a Council meeting on 5/20/2009, Assistant Town Manager Marc Skocypec stated that the process of finalizing the Memoranda Of Understanding with the 3 unions had taken 2000 hours of staff time?.  Does anyone believe that bringing in the unions was good for anybody except Linda Abbott, Dave Crozier, and Les Presmyk, who voted them in?  Who do you think will be fighting to get these guys re-elected?  Did you notice all those nice young firefighters handing out palm cards for Linda Abbott at the polling sites?  They were ordered there by their union bosses.

ZINKE LAND DEAL 

Jordan Ray stated that there was no appraisal, no public input.  There was a complete lack of oversight.

Victor advised that there were some recently discovered appraisals done prior to the purchase that indicated that the value of the land was six times less than the Council had approved paying.  As an aside, Victor, who knows land values, asserted this long before the appraisals came to light.   

Les defended the decision to approve the $300,000 per acre purchase, stating that the Council had spent several years assessing the need for parks.  He had relied on the judgment of 3 council members who had real estate experience.

Aside from the fact that none of these Council members had a lick of experience with raw land, the fact remains that, on its face, the land was grossly overpriced.  This was the largest and most expensive purchase the Council ever made.  The public was never invited to discuss it.  it was approved as just another item on the Consent Calendar, right along with waiving the fee for use of the Council Chambers by the Leadership Center.  The difference was that there was discussion about the Leadership Center, but nothing about spending $50 million.

PRIMARY PROPERTY TAX.

All candidates stated their opposition to this tax, which Gilbert currently does not have.   Victor stated that we need to explore many other opportunities to save, which results in increased revenue.  Les stressed efficiencies and noted that he has voted twice to decrease the secondary property tax.  Jordan stated that other communities have a Primary Property tax and yet they still have deficits.  

USE TAX.

Les defended this tax,stating,“we pay it anyway.”  What he means is that SRP provides services to a large number of communities.  Some of those communities have a Use Tax.  We don’t.  Yet, SRP spreads the tax to all rate payers, including Gilbert.  However, as Victor stated, does it make sense to assess ourselves a new tax, simply to “show these other communities” that they will have to pay our tax just like we pay theirs?  We’ll “show them” by raising taxes on ourselves?   

Jordan, a principal in a Gilbert-based legal technology company, stated that his company is considering no longer doing business with California due to its onerous tax issues.

As an aside, there are lots of businesses doing this including Amazon.com and their affiliates like CouponCabin.com.  In fact, according to the latest census, people and businesses are fleeing high-tax states in favor of low-tax states.  Gilbert  should continue maintaining its tax edge and use it as a selling point to encourage businesses to relocate here.  

Another point that the incumbents make is that a Use Tax will "level the playing field" so that internet businesses don’t have an advantage over brick and mortar businesses.  This government interference is just another form of protectionism that hurts everyone in order to increase government revenue.  

PROP 406.

The infamous Prop 406 sales tax increase crashed and burned at the ballot box on 5/17/2010.  Both Victor Petersen and Eddie Cook had studied the budget extensively and went public stating this tax increase was not necessary.  It was also disingenuous for Linda Abbott, Dave Crozier and Les Presmyk to label it dedicated to “public safety.”  Eddie and Victor said many times then and they still assert, “If public safety is everybody’s first priority, why is the Council funding it last”?  Fifty-seven percent of the voters agreed with them.

Jordan Ray was also convinced it was not necessary. He stated that other communities have a Primary Property Tax and a Use Tax, and overall higher taxes, but they have bigger deficits.  It isn’t the revenue; it’s how you spend what you have.

Les Presmyk, who voted in favor of the sending Prop 406 to the ballot, said that, at the time, it seemed necessary.

Listen.  None of the incumbents know squat about the Town’s esoteric foggy budget.  They relied on budget numbers fed to them by Town Manager George Pettit.  In contrast, Eddie Cook, Victor Petersen, and Jordan Ray are all business executives who are responsible for budgets in their business!  They will challenge.  They will not get snowed.

BIGGEST CHALLENGE.

Victor emphasized the importance of breaking the mold of “business as usual” by applying the principles of organizational efficiency.  This seems to be the latest buzz word among the incumbents, ever since Eddie, Victor and Jordan started pushing this concept.  The fact is, none of the incumbents can get past the buzz.  Eddie, Victor and Jordan know and use the techniques.  Victor gave credit to Town staff who very recently, with the help of Council member John Sentz, began using Six Sigma to streamline steps.  But there are many more gold standard techniques that need to be implemented.

Jordan also said that the budget shortfall and future shortfalls must be resolved.  He again emphasized the need to bring businesses to Gilbert.  There was one point that he made, which is critical to making Gilbert attractive to business.  When he moved his own company, inData, from one location in Gilbert, to southwest Gilbert, he went through hassle after hassle from the Town in making that move.  These stumbling blocks to business need to be removed.

Les Presmyk said that, in looking to the future, when you are the safest and best, it’s tough to stay there.  You need experienced leadership.  He cited the Transportation Authority, HOA’s, bringing businesses to Town, and the development of the General Plan.   

COUNCIL MEMBER’S ROLE.

Les Presmyk stated that he has a responsibility to the Town.  He stressed the importance of finding ways to “take the pulse” of the community to ensure that the Council is heading in the right direction.  He cited the use of  the 2009 Citizens Budget Committee, the Citizen Think Tank, and other committees.

And yet, Council member Presmyk didn’t know that this community does not want increased taxes?  And he still doesn’t know it?

Jordan Ray stated that yes, he has a responsibility to the Town, but also the residents.  It is important to learn from them, and he listens to those with whom he agrees as well as those with whom he doesn’t.  He also cited the importance of bringing more transparency to government.  Right!

Victor Petersen stated that his primary role was to protect individual rights.  When he made that statement, it was like someone had thrown open the door letting in a blast of fresh air. Victor made another statement.  It’s a statement that we’ve heard over and over from the incumbents as empty words. Victor’s actions, however, match his words.  He stated that he would ensure that public safety would be his Number One priority.

Both Jordan and Victor know that we have enough tax dollars.  The question is, how do we make those work to the best benefit.  With their private, free market credentials and efficiency techniques, they agree that the time has come for Gilbert to be run like a business.

Once that happens, business will come to Gilbert.

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