Most of the candidates for Chandler City Council have unleashed a barrage of criticism on two major downtown projects in their quest for office.
Their point is moot, as the new City Hall and Arizona Avenue improvements will be done when they take office in January. But the candidates say those projects represent the kind of spending they’d oppose in the future.
Those projects have encouraged some candidates to seek office and serve as one of the most-discussed issues as six candidates vie for three positions.
The only candidate to support City Hall and Arizona Avenue is Councilwoman Trinity Donovan. She noted the city had been setting money aside for years to fund the $80 million City Hall and argues it will cost less to maintain than if the city continued to rent a building. The road improvements will boost downtown by making it more pedestrian friendly, she said.
Donovan argues Chandler’s done a good job handing money, which is reflected in its bond ratings being among the highest in the sates and its taxes among the lowest in the Valley.
Donovan said fiscal responsibility is a priority for her, along with bringing new jobs and maintaining neighborhoods.
“I think businesses come here because of a high quality of life and the quality of life begins in our neighborhoods, so we really need to look at how we provide the strong and vibrant communities,” Donovan said. “That means people need a place to feel safe.”
Kevin Hartke said his experience in the community and as a former councilman included a strong focus on economic development. He headed up the city’s Census effort and said it’s important to attract businesses and jobs.
“We have the best economic development department probably in the entire state, if not the Southwest,” Hartke said. “I really think we are poised to prosper once this recession starts abating.”
He has mixed feelings on the Arizona Avenue project, saying some of the infrastructure involved is needed for future growth despite the temporary construction headaches. The City Hall issue doesn’t matter in the election, he said, because the decision was already made.
“I think in a couple years we will think both of those projects are good,” Hartke said.
Newcomer Scott Taylor said he wants to attract small to medium-sized business to Chandler through his experience founding an insurance agency and building 4,000 clients.
“I’ve done that myself, I haven’t just talked about it,” Taylor said. “That’s rare in this campaign.”
He want to scrutinize expenses, such as a $3 million annual phone bill that he believes could be cut by as much as half by putting it out to bid. City hall is needed, but the city should have waited for better economic times and spent perhaps half as much. The Arizona Avenue project is without merit and the money should have been diverted to other projects, Taylor said. Downtown would benefit more from new employers and better parking than in additional city projects, he said.
“Before we start talking about laying people off, we need to go to the citizens and the employees and say we’ve done everything we can and I don’t think we’ve done that.”
Terry Roe said the downtown projects triggered him to run. Chandler has faced up to most budget issues, he said, except for big projects.
“You lose credibility with the citizens and valued employees when you are pushing employees out the door and reducing services while at the same time you’re continuing to spend money,” Roe said.
He favors quality amenities like parks and wants to focus on core services like water, trash collection, roads and public safety. The city could save money by placing part-time reserve officers at schools rather than full-time employees who get benefits, he said.
Donna Wallace is seeking a return to elected office because of expenses like the downtown projects and the City Council voting itself a raise during tough economic times.
She pushed for Chandler to buy the Rocky Mountain Bank building downtown for $10 million when she was on the council previously, but others rejected that plan for a new city hall. She believes the new City Hall will cost as much as $100 million when adding furniture and other professional work done on the project.
Wallace said she’s upset voters have twice approved funding for a new museum that hasn’t been built. Better planning would have provided money for a museum and City Hall, Wallace said.
“I think there’s such a feeling of frustration on behalf of the citizens and the employees on some of the decisions that were made,” Wallace said. “It almost seems like they were out of touch.”
Jeff Weninger said he’s brought some business-minded thinking to the city in his first term and wants to continue. The restaurant operator said the City Hall and Arizona Avenue projects went too far and wants the city to interact with residents more to find out what they support or oppose.
“I think we’ve done a great job with budgeting, but we can really asses priorities, what’s really important to our citizens,” Weninger said.
He also wants to eliminate photo radar. The program isn’t fair, he said, because violators don’t get cited if the vehicle is owned by a business, is a rental or is driven by somebody other than the owner. He’d invest more money for officers on the street.
Chandler’s primary election is Aug. 24. It includes former Mayor Jay Tibshraeny, who is running unopposed for his former job.
Candidates could win outright in the primary depending on the number of votes they receive. The general election is Nov. 2.
Professional: Executive director of the Chandler Christian Community Center
Experience: One term as councilwoman, Chairwoman of the Maricopa Association of Governments Human Services Coordinating Committee, member of the Arizona Municipal Water User’s Association, member of the Valley Metro Regional Public Transportation Authority, member of National League of Cities’ Community and Economic Development Committee, volunteer for nonprofits.
Experience: Former councilman, Planning and Zoning Committee chairman, chairman of Chandler’s Complete Count Committee for the 2010 Census, director of “For Our City, Chandler,” which brings together faith communities and nonprofits.
Professional: Retired Mesa police sergeant
Experience: Appointed by former Gov. Jane Hull to the Parents Commission on Drug Education and Prevention, former Cub Scout pack leader, former newsletter editor for Phoenix Professional Photographers Association.
Professional: Founder of Taylor-Nielsen Insurance Agency
Experience: Member of Chandler Historical Society, Chandler Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Chandler Community Partnership, Kiwanis Club of Chandler.
Professional: Co-owner Doug’s Radiator and Muffler, sales associate at Macy’s
Experience: Two terms as councilwoman, two terms on board of Chandler Unified School District, former ex-officio member of Chandler Airport Commission, served on Intel/Community Advisory Panel for Intel’s Fab 12 in Chandler.
Professional: Co-owner of Arizona Sandwich Shops, which operates Floridino’s Pizza & Pasta and Dilly’s Deli.
Experience: One term as councilman. Has been a member of Chandler Symphony Orchestra’s board of directors, ICAN’s Business Donor Club, Chandler Airport Commission, Management Services Subcommittee.