Q.C. prepares for council's 'youth' movement - East Valley Tribune: News

Q.C. prepares for council's 'youth' movement

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Posted: Tuesday, February 23, 2010 5:23 pm | Updated: 3:46 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Mayoral candidate Gail Barney has lived in Queen Creek for 61 years. Council candidate Toni Valenzuela claims 64 years as a resident. The remaining six Town Council candidates have each been in town for six years or less - or about 24 years between them.

Multimedia: Queen Creek candidate profiles

Queen Creek candidates tackle issues

With three spots opening up on the panel and so many newer residents running, the new council is likely to be made up of a majority of residents who moved to the community during the housing boom.

But even though fewer longtime residents will be governing Queen Creek, current council members and several candidates doubt the shift from longtime residents to people who live in new subdivisions will mean much change for the town's direction and priorities.

Queen Creek grew exponentially the last decade. There were about 5,000 people counted in the 2000 U.S. Census, while more than 25,000 are estimated to live in town now.

"The demographics of the town have changed dramatically over the last five years," said Barney, who is running unopposed. "What people wanted 10 years ago or 20 years ago may not be the same the additional 20,000 want now. You can't stop progress. We just kind of try to control it."

Still, he said he doesn't see dramatic changes coming under a more youthful council. If things transformtoo fast, the residents will speak up and come down hard on the elected officials, Barney said.

Valenzuela pointed to the town's general plan, which has been Queen Creek's driving document for many years. As long as any changes or updates are made with input from residents, she doesn't believe there will be much of a problem.

"Eventually, the new residents are going to be the older residents. I don't think there's really much of a difference," Valenzuela said. "The older residents don't mind the change. It's just the way it's done."

Councilman Jon Wootten pointed to a groundwork that was laid for many years for projects in town. As long as new council members study why decisions were made in the past and listen to several viewpoints, Queen Creek will be well-represented, he said.

"The common thing that I hear is, 'Don't sell our soul for a fast solution.' The specifics of that statement are a little different based on your neighborhood and viewpoint," Wootten said. "But most of the people I've talked to agree reacting too fast and changing too many things at once could do more harm than good in the long run."

Candidate Dawn Oliphant, who has lived in Queen Creek for four years, understands that concern.

"As long as I had the information in front of me and history was documented, I could read up on the history ... and be able to make a decision based on the needs of the people," she said.

John Alston, a Queen Creek resident for more than five years, said it's important to stick with the general plan drawn up by older residents, as long as it remains flexible into the future.

"The general plan is designed to keep the open spaces balanced with new development," the council candidate said. "I like new development. I like having restaurants near my home. I'd like to have a movie theater in town."

Candidate Chris Clark, a town resident for five years, said many old and new residents want the same types of amenities, including a completed trail system and allowing Horseshoe Park to play a big role in the community.

"There's not really any difference. Usually it's a matter of terminology," he said. "I think the budget constraints alone are going to stop anything major happening for the next couple of years."

Julia Wheatley, a resident for more than two years, said she's also seen a pattern concerning issues for old and new residents. Many are interested in transportation and property taxes.

But she also said it is important newer residents end up represented on the council.

"That's the vast majority of the residents," she said. "Whoever gets in, there will be someone who will represent the growth that Queen Creek has seen."

And even the makeup of the current council is a matter of perspective. To Barney, the only current member who could be considered a longtime resident is Joyce Hildebrandt, who has served on the council since 1993.

Among current members not up for re-election, Craig Barnes has lived in Queen Creek for nine years and Jeff Brown has been in town for seven. Robin Benning, who was appointed late last year, came to Queen Creek in 2005.

"It's still a pretty new dynamic even with the current council (makeup). But just because they're new in the community doesn't mean they don't have the town's best interest at heart," Barney said. "Hopefully, some of that history (in the town) will transfer."

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