Francisco Heredia

Francisco Heredia

The first Mesa City Council meeting of the year convened last week, and the new slate of council members got right to work, starting with electing District 3 Councilman Francisco Heredia vice mayor.

Heredia was originally appointed to city council in 2017 to replace former council member Ryan Winkle, who was removed from his seat by council following a DUI arrest. After his appointment, Heredia won election to finish out Winkle’s term in 2018 and then won a full four-year term in 2020.

He is only the second Hispanic council member in city history, after former District 5’s David Luna.

The biography on Heredia’s campaign website states that his parents were migrant farmworkers who moved to Arizona for a better life.

He is a member of the Valley Metro rail and public transit boards and has served in numerous government roles, including the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs recently appointed Heredia’s wife, Carmen, to lead the Arizona Healthcare Cost Containment System.

 “We’ve been doing a good job, (but) I think we can always do better,” the new vice mayor said after his election. “Things like homelessness, housing, transit and transportation, and many other issues, I think we can always do better.”

The council also proclaimed January Anti-Human Trafficking Awareness Month, which a Mesa police officer said was especially important this year in the lead up to Super Bowl LVII in Glendale on Feb. 12, as large events tend to draw in human traffickers.

The Department of Homeland Security defines human trafficking as “the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.”

Joshua Lee, a sergeant on the Mesa Police Department’s Human Trafficking unit, told the council that the department’s unit is small but makes a big impact for its size.

Lee works with two detectives in the unit and between 2021 and 2022, he said, “We’ve actually completed 13 large-scale investigations, arresting hundreds of suspects, saving countless victims of human trafficking.”

Lee added that greater awareness is especially important this month with the upcoming Super Bowl in Glendale and other big events like the Waste Management Open and the Barrett Jackson car auction.

“Any large event will bring in human traffickers, but it just happens to be we have the trifecta of human trafficking coming into the Valley,” he said.

Lee said the department takes a “victim-centered approach” to enforcement, targeting human traffickers and their customers, but also “the victims themselves – to help them and give them the resources that they need to escape the invisible chains that actually bind them to this lifestyle.”

Meanwhile, for the past four months, Casey Davis, a Mesa resident and former Republican mayor of San Bernardino, California, has been attending council meetings and taking to the podium to accuse the city of overspending and overcharging utility customers to compensate for that spending.

Davis, a certified public accountant who served as mayor from 2014 to 2018 in the aftermath of that city declaring bankruptcy, moved to much larger Mesa after losing a bid for a second term.

Davis claimed in his public comments last week that “Since 2011, the city has overspent government activity revenues by $947 million and transferred from the business-type utility funds over $1.2 billion to offset governmental activity overspending,” 

“Given the likelihood of an economic slowdown in 2023, demonstrated by recently announced significant corporate layoffs, it would seem prudent for the city to take a proactive stance by reducing expenditures,” he added.

Mayor John Giles has met with Davis to discuss his concerns since he began his commenting campaign last year, but Davis has continued speaking out at meetings.

“I hope you will forgive me for sounding like a broken record,” Davis said, “but as a Mesa resident, I’m concerned about the long-term fiscal health of our community.”

City officials were able to indirectly respond to Davis’ claims last week during an action item in the agenda in which they council was considering acceptance of the Annual Comprehensive Report for Fiscal Year 2022.

The council can’t respond directly to public comments about topics not on the agenda, but since the city’s budget was on the agenda, city staff could address Davis’ concerns more directly than in the past.

“The city does not run a deficit. That would be illegal for us to do that,” City Manager Chris Brady said. “Everything that was planned in our budget, whether it’s governmental resources or transfers, are planned and are calculated to meet the needs of the city.”

 “If you want to isolate specific descriptions of revenues and taxes, and only these operations over here, you can show that they don’t match up,” he continued. “but that’s not how we do our budget. We look at all the resources available to the city against all of the needs that we’re going to have.”

Brady may have been encouraged to offer a forceful response by the annual financial report the council adopted a short-time later.

Accounting firm Clifton Larson Allen audited the report and issued a “clean opinion,” meaning no modifications were necessary.

While city staff characterized the finding as positive overall, the firm reported a “significant deficiency” in internal control over financial reporting, finding a problem with “oversight and/or inadequate review of year-end close out adjustments.”

The firm recommended the city evaluate its financial reporting process, which Finance Director Irma Ashworth agreed with.

In Ashworth’s presentation summarizing the report, she said the city’s revenue increased $102 million in the 2021-22 fiscal year over the previous year. The city has assets totaling $5.2 billion against liabilities of $4.2 billion.

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