Tempe's about to elect a new mayor and three city council members. Early ballots go out next week. The primary election is March 13.
For almost eight years Tempe has been run by Mayor Hugh Hallman, who's not seeking re-election. Hallman's fingerprints are all over Tempe City Hall.
According to a Jan. 31 East Valley Tribune story, a meeting of candidates at city hall the night before "provoked a lively debate." The discussion ranged from the Tempe Town Lake to a proposed trolley car system that's been described by some as a financial boon to downtown and others as a $139 million dollar "folly car" to move partiers from bar to bar.
This debate was an opportunity for the candidates to talk about hard issues like Tempe's continually having the highest crime rate in the East Valley, 20 points higher than Mesa's, the presence of the Sinaloa Drug Cartel and the current high cost of operating and living in Tempe. Tempe has more employees per resident than any other East Valley city at approximately 9.9 employees per 1,000 residents. The other East Valley cities average 6.8 employees per 1,000 residents.
Unfortunately, the mayoral portion of the debate reportedly came down to candidate Michael Monti attacking current councilman and candidate Mark Mitchell.
Monti reportedly "accused Mitchell of spending $14,400 of the city's money on travel over the last three years" to help his "political credentials." Monti's inference that the expense was wasteful was obvious.
Mitchell, who serves on the boards of Arizona League of Cities and Towns and National League of Cities and has been recognized as a regional leader, has legitimate reasons to travel on city business.
It's too bad Monti, who touts his business experience and connections to Hallman, didn't speak out on the current city hall regime's wasteful spending of $258,000 to repaint Tempe's entire fleet of police patrol cars black and white purportedly to "help recruiting" and not wait to phase in new colors over time like other cities do. Or what about the $96,000 sole source non-bid contract given to Fiesta Bowl lobbyist Gary Husk by city hall to provide "consulting services" to the police department? When asked, officials were unable to produce any documents showing the work done by Husk other than his exclusive contract and a list of monthly payouts.
Talk about wasteful and suspect spending to the tune of $354,000.
$354,000 would've paid the first year's salary for six new police officers or nine new firefighters or helped keep swimming pools open during the summers that were closed due to budget cuts.
According to the story, "Monti's tiffs with Mitchell ran down the debate clock." Mayoral candidate Linda Spears spoke of her vision for a "robust economy, parks that flourish and a healthy rainy-day fund." I'm glad the former councilwoman and accountant had a chance to talk and not be attacked by Monti.
In today's world of shrinking budgets and economic challenges, our next mayor not only has to see and understand Tempe, but also the world that exists beyond the city limit line. Now more than ever, cities in the East Valley, and Phoenix, need elected leadership that is willing to work together and trust one another in order to benefit the futures of all cities and their residents and business. Tempe has room to grow when it comes to working well with other cities.
Tempe doesn't need another antagonistic mayor.
Tempe needs a mayor who has the trust and respect of not only the community, but also of his or her elected peers in the East Valley, across Arizona and in Washington in order to maximize Tempe's assets and future revenues that are needed to ensure the city's sustainability and quality of life.
Hopefully Tempe's next mayor will take the city where it needs to be and not where it's been.
Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at email@example.com.