Mesa mayor wants residents, virtual technology to transform city - East Valley Tribune: Mesa

Mesa mayor wants residents, virtual technology to transform city

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Posted: Thursday, January 27, 2011 3:30 pm | Updated: 3:57 pm, Fri May 6, 2011.

Mesa residents have to take charge of a citywide transformation, Mayor Scott Smith says, and he wants them to start with Facebook and their cell phones.

Smith is calling on residents to plan what he considers transformative community projects that will last generations, but he's starting in the virtual world.

The ideas will be collected via cell phone applications or web-based products, and only after time will Mesa assemble people in the same room to refine the plan.

Smith dubbed his plan iMesa.

The proposal came out at Smith's annual address to community leaders on Thursday, when he lamented that he doesn't want his children and grandchildren to inherit Mesa as it is today. Parts of the city haven't had any attention since he was a child, he said, while some newer parts offer almost no amenities.

"We have to make a conscious decision as to whether we're going to be in survival mode or whether we're going to be in growth mode," Smith said.

Like most governments, Mesa's been shrinking since the nationwide recession began in 2007. The city responded by slashing nearly 400 workers, cutting spending 15 percent and seeing sales tax revenue fall 21 percent. The city has to stop only thinking about the next round of cuts, Smith said, because any more scaling back would trigger painful cuts to service.

The iMesa initiative is a fitting name for a mayor who loves Apple products like the iPhone. Smith unveiled his plan before an audience of 400 while using an iPad to control a slideshow - but he went even farther into the Apple realm. He vanished from stage at one point, shedding his business suit and tie for jeans as if to resemble Apple leader Steve Jobs.

He stressed technology's role in the initiative. Residents who want to participate must sign in to the city's website - www.mesaaz.gov/imesa - and then can leave ideas. They each get 10 votes to cast for or against other ideas. Smith and the City Council will eventually assemble citizen panels to make recommendations, though he admitted the structure will depend entirely on what kind of ideas come in. He plans to carve the city into five or six villages, following the Phoenix model of planning the city based on each area's character.

It will take about one year to come up with recommendations, and some may require voter approval in 2012 or even 2014. Smith said his only rule is there are no constraints at first.

"When we dream, we can't have those restraints," Smith said. "Those restraints will play out soon enough and we'll deal with those. But in the initial stages, no restraints."

Mesa voters have a reputation for saying no at the polls, Smith said, but he considers that unfair. He noted voters overwhelmingly approved a plan to finance a new Chicago Cubs complex, an incentive plan for a Gaylord resort and numerous bond packages.

Smith didn't offer any specific projects for his initiative, saying it's entirely up to residents to set priorities.

He said he'd been asked if he feared his initiative could fail, and he admitted it could.

"This is a big risk. We're putting it all out there," Smith said. "I'm literally throwing something out that could either be a grand success or a colossal, wimpy, just puff of smoke. I get that you don't get anywhere without taking risks. You don't get anywhere without doing something bold. This can be as bold as the citizens of Mesa want it to be."

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