A Republican debate at the Grace Inn in Ahwatukee Tuesday night brought up many issues of employee benefits and the budget to candidates running for Phoenix mayor in the Aug. 30 election.
Four candidates were invited to join the forum at the Ahwatukee Republican Women meeting May 24. Wes Gullett, Peggy Neely and Jennifer Wright were all present. Claude Mattox was double booked and had to send a representative in his place. Only Republican candidates were invited because of club regulations that only allow for Republican presenters.
The first question of the night asked the candidates how they would have voted on the budget if they had been on City Council earlier in the day when the council voted 6-2 to approve the budget. Neely, Wright and Gullet all said no to the budget due to a lack of transparency during public budget meetings. Mattox approved the budget earlier in the day and his representative, a former vice mayor and councilwoman for the city of Phoenix, Peggy Bilstein, cited labor agreements made years ago.
"It makes a very easy headline to speak out against but there's a legal responsibility," Bilstein said. "When you enter into labor negotiations and into that contract, to ignore that contract is just asking for a lawsuit."
Many questions dealt with city employee benefits including the step program, which awards pay raises for amount of time working for the city, and roll-over vacation and sick time. Neely and Mattox both questioned what could be done legally to change some employee benefits while Wright and Gullett called for significant pension reform.
The debate brought up some controversial issues and many of the candidates challenged others' records. At the end of the night those in attendance had a better view of each of the candidates.
"I'd vote for Wes," Ahwatukee resident Roseland Barton said. "He knows he has to deal with others. It's easier said than done but he knows he needs to bring groups together."
Others felt like newcomer to the race Wright had proven herself during the discussion.
"She had the most direct plan," said Julia Norgaard, whose mother was moderator for the event. "She wasn't so waffley. She really stuck to her guns and spoke in a way that was easy to understand."
Former City Councilman and Ahwatukee Foothills representative Greg Stanton, a Democrat, was not invited to the forum. Stanton understands not being invited but said the other candidates should not have attended a forum that limited attendance by partisanship.
"I think it takes away from the breadth of the debate," Stanton said. "I personally would never participate in a debate that limited participation based on partisanship. I think it's up to the candidates. They can't claim they didn't know it was limited. It has happened before. The community wants to hear from all the candidates."
Stanton said he is not running as just a Democrat, he's running on his strong record from his years on the council. Regarding the budget he said he'd have to refer to his record for what he would have voted.
"I hate to make a hypothetical argument without the full briefing, background and public testimony," Stanton said. "When you're on the council you get a lot of information, you get a lot from your constituents. I don't have the benefit of that when you're asking me this question but I had the benefit of that during my nine years on the council so I stand by my voting record."
The Ahwatukee Republican Women host monthly meetings with local Republican speakers and welcome the public to attend. For more information, visit http://www.azfrw.org/clubs/arw.htm.
The election for Phoenix mayor will take place on Aug. 30.
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