The only question on Patrick Horkan and Dawn Fallon's minds before the Mesa Mayor's Town Hall on Thursday night even began was this: What's with the recent onslaught of airplane noise every two minutes without any notice to residents and what's the city doing to help alleviate the situation?
Scott Smith had clearly done his homework. He pre-empted that question by tackling the topic upfront:
"I can start by saying one word: airplanes," said Smith, prompting nods and laughter among the crowd of about 75 at Mesa Community College's Red Mountain campus in northeast Mesa who attended an open-ended Q&A session with the mayor.
"Let's face it, humans and airplanes don't always get along all the time," Smith said. He reiterated the need to find a balance between the residents' quest for some relief from the increasing airplane noise and for the city to build on airport activity for economic development.
"Guess what, the airports aren't going away," Smith said. "And the people aren't going to go away either ... We've got to figure out how to live together with airports."
Smith outlined how the city has put together a task force that has come up with 20 suggestions to help resolve the issue.
The issue started with changes in flight patterns prompted by the Federal Aviation Administration, which has caused so much unrest in east Mesa neighborhoods such as Boulder Mountain Estates and in the Red Mountain area. Smith also told concerned residents that City Manager Chris Brady has requested a meeting with Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport officials to initiate dialogue. But he urged residents to be patient.
Other topics of concern included: the future of the Chicago Cubs' spring training in Mesa; who will be the next police chief after George Gascón's departure for San Francisco, and the Gaylord resort project near Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.
Smith tried to assure residents that his upcoming visit to Chicago, along with Brady and state House Speaker Kirk Adams, R-Mesa, to meet Cubs officials was going to be an all-out effort to keep the powerhouse team in the city.
Cubs Chairman Crane Kenney has said he may move the team elsewhere, unless improvements are made to Mesa's facilities at Fitch Park and Hohokam Stadium.
"We're on a sales trip, let's be honest," said Smith, referring to the Chicago visit, promising that they're going to "work hard" to keep the team in Mesa, for the economic boost that it proves to be year over year for the city.
Mesa resident Marilynn Wennerstrom brought up questions some people have raised online about the relative "inexperience" of the trio going to the Windy City, to which the mayor somewhat sarcastically pointed to his past experience as a developer running a multimillion-dollar company.
"I did run a $300 million company before running for mayor," Smith said, also noting Brady's prior experience as assistant city manager in San Antonio, Texas, and that they were able to attract a $750 million project by way of Gaylord Entertainment Co. to the city.
About whether the Gaylord resort will ever see the light of day, Smith said even though the company may hold back for a while on construction, because of the tight economy, he was confident it would eventually come to Mesa.
"This is cyclical," he said, of convention business, currently hurting because of the downturn.
By contract, construction on Gaylord is supposed to start by December 2011 and finish in 2014. Smith said he's been in touch with a senior Gaylord official and that while things may not work out under the original timeframe, they should happen.
"We'll just have to be patient," he said.
On several questions about a replacement for Gascón and if the new chief would continue the work he did, Smith said city leaders are looking for someone who would build on the good things already taking place within the Mesa Police Department, especially community policing.
He said the city would consider the internal candidates - all three assistant police chiefs - as much as any others currently being sought through a national search. To repeated questions about whether a new chief would change the foundation laid by Gascón or build on it, Smith said:
"Chief Gascón was brought in to enact change, to raise the bar ... and he did a good job. ... We're going to hire a very, very highly qualified individual. We're not hiring George Gascón again," he reminded the community.