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Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon has lofty goals, little time

[Source: Lynh Bui, The Arizona Republic]

Term-limited mayor aims to lure jobs, development

When Phil Gordon gives his final State of the City address next [this] week, he’ll have nine months to accomplish some final lofty goals.

The Phoenix mayor wants to bring 35,000 new jobs to the Valley, attract a four-year university from the East Coast to downtown, and start hiring and training police officers again after a more than three-year freeze amid shrinking budgets.

But as Gordon looks to seal his mayoral legacy, the term-limited mayor faces political and economic challenges that could put those dreams out of reach.

He’ll be leading a City Council with at least four of nine members running for re-election or to fill his seat. Consensus likely will be difficult as they start posturing for their own campaigns.

At the same time, Arizona is recovering from a deep recession, and some companies are still wary of coming to the Valley because of political controversy over the state’s anti-illegal-immigrant legislation. Economic realities make new jobs and more city spending seem less likely.

Then, there’s the obvious hurdle.

“There’s not a lot of time,” said Gordon, who turns 60 in April and was first elected in 2003 and re-elected in 2007. “It’s going to go quickly.”

Facing a time crunch

Barry Broome, president and chief executive of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, said Gordon’s legacy “is sealed as a mayor that worked hard on the city’s economy.”

With less than a year left, “it’s really important for an incumbent mayor to do what he can finish,” Broome said, whether it’s completing what he started or taking care not to launch new initiatives that can’t be completed in a limited time frame.

Gordon said he will focus on three key goals:

– New development downtown.

Gordon’s time as mayor has focused on revitalizing downtown Phoenix by bringing an ASU campus and medical school to the area.

“Downtown still reflects what Phoenix is seen as, whether it’s on TV, to visitors or to businesses,” Gordon said. “They’re always coming and seeing the heart of our community.”

He said he now is working on bringing a new county teaching hospital to downtown and developing public-private partnerships to fund Arizona State University’s law school, planned for Taylor and First streets. He said he also aims to develop a marketing district around the downtown sports venues to attract more people and retail by lighting up the streets with electronic billboards and animated signs.

The Legends Entertainment District could open as soon as July, when the Major League Baseball All-Star Game lands in Phoenix.But the hospital and other major downtown development may not come to life, said Martin Shultz, a Valley business leader who also worked as a chief of staff to several past Phoenix mayors.

“The odds are highly probable that that’s not going to happen,” Shultz said. Although there may be some announcements about new development downtown, the economy will be a major stumbling block, he said.

ASU President Michael Crow said it will be at least another year and a half before significant progress is made on the law school.

– Job creation.

Earlier this year, Gordon announced that he would work with Gov. Jan Brewer to bring more than 35,000 new jobs to the Valley.

But those efforts may be stalled. Gordon was hoping at least one-third of those jobs would come from a Chinese manufacturing company looking to bring 10,000 jobs to Phoenix. Landing the company, which Gordon declined to identify, could establish a workforce on par with what Intel or Honeywell International has in the Valley. Recently, however, talks with the company have stalled, Gordon said.

Gordon also has been increasing trade talks with foreign countries, hoping to sway companies from places such as Mexico and the Middle East to invest in Phoenix. But, he said, it will be challenging for Arizona, which is still suffering from image problems because of tough, anti-illegal-immigrant laws the state Legislature approved in recent years.

– Hiring police.

When Gordon campaigned for mayor in 2003, he vowed to make Phoenix “the safest city in America” and was a rallying force behind two public-safety taxes voters approved to expand the police force.

But because of budget cuts, reduced sales-tax revenue and a citywide hiring freeze, the city hasn’t hired recruits since 2008, leaving the Police Department with more than 500 vacancies for sworn officers.

Gordon wants to find ways to lift the hiring freeze to, at minimum, keep the vacancies from going much beyond 500 positions.

“We’ve got to stop the hemorrhaging,” Gordon said.

To pay for it, Gordon said, he is considering cutting other city programs, dipping into contingency funds or raising revenue by seeking a new public-safety tax or adding a surcharge on criminal tickets.

While police have been in a hiring freeze, city crime rates in every major category have dropped to the lowest they’ve been since the 1980s, a trend Gordon said he wants to maintain.

Proposing a public-safety tax would be politically challenging, Gordon said, but “somebody’s got to stand up and talk about this.”

“By maintaining quality of life and maintaining public safety, it makes us more competitive economically,” Gordon said.

Politicians may not have the appetite to support tax increases in the middle of an election year, especially after the city made painful cuts to shore up a $277 million budget shortfall last year.

Councilwoman Peggy Neely, who is considering running for mayor, said that Phoenix has managed to reduce crime rates despite the budget shortfalls and that it may not be the right time to consider a tax or hire officers.

She said Phoenix has done a good job of managing with the resources it has so far.

“We’ve put ourselves on a financial diet, and we have to stay on that track until we see the economy coming back to a level where we are confident our taxes are going to increase,” Neely said.

‘Keep a steady hand’

Shultz said Gordon should work on maintaining stability in the city, especially because Phoenix is poised to see a drastic shift in leadership by the end of the year.

“All he has to do is keep a steady hand on guiding Phoenix out of the Great Recession and into the next chapter of our history,” Shultz said. “If there’s not any great flare-up, he can leave office and go down as a very active mayor who focused on the development of downtown, the economy and jobs.”

Paul Barnes, head of the Neighborhood Coalition of Phoenix, said the City Council is already becoming politically fractured as some members prepare for the Aug. 30 election.

Most recently, council members were divided on whether to remove Police Chief Jack Harris from overseeing the daily operations of the Police Department. He had come under fire amid questions about the credibility of kidnapping statistics the city used to win a $1.7 million federal grant. Gordon and other council members threw their unequivocal support to Harris after news of Harris’ reassignment spread. But several other elected officials supported the city manager’s decision to oust Harris until the city and the federal government complete a probe of the numbers.

“You’re seeing the chaos now,” Barnes said. “You see it in how the affair with Harris got politicized.”

Building consensus will be important for Gordon if he wants to see his policy agenda come to life. The council will also have to reach consensus on other issues, including how to close a fiscal 2011-12 general-fund deficit estimated to range from $50 million to $80 million.

“Whatever Phil is going to be able to get done will be difficult because nine months in government is a blink of an eye,” said former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson, a longtime friend of Gordon’s. “He can get his agenda done, but he has to position it in such a way that it’s helpful for the people running for mayor and council.”

But Gordon already has achieved significant success in office through conceiving the partnership with ASU and downtown and bringing it to life during his time as mayor, Johnson said.

“Phil has one of the best legacies of any mayor I know,” Johnson said. “Sometimes, he doesn’t recognize that. Now, he needs to realize that he should focus on delivering a financially well-run city and to help hand over the reins of leadership to the next mayor.

“He needs to help make the new mayor and council successful.”

SIDE BAR: Phoenix’s government

Phoenix has a council-manager form of government.

The city manager, not the mayor, is in control of administrative duties such as preparing a budget, hiring and firing department heads and running the day-to-day operations of the city.

In Phoenix, the mayor is one vote out of nine council members. The mayor and City Council’s can hire or fire only the city manager.

Some cities, such as Chicago or New York, have a strong-mayor form of government, where the mayor has much power over the city’s daily administration.

Meet and Greet Phoenix Mayoral Candidate Greg Stanton TOMORROW

NOTE: The Downtown Voices Coalition (DVC) does not endorse any candidates, and invites all candidates to submit information on any event in which they participate.

What is important is that voters be informed, AND VOTE.

For information on other candidates, please visit:

[Source: Stanton for Mayor]

The PHOENIX HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS COALITION cordially invites you to meet and chat with GREG STANTON:

Greg Stanton served nine years on the Phoenix City Council.

He was a leader in protecting neighborhoods and building a more diverse, sustainable economy.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011, 5:30-7:30pm
Home of Craig Crane – 917 W. Palm Lane

Come listen to Greg share his vision for our city and speak to him about yours.  Enjoy refreshments and learn why he is capable of creating the city we all want for our hometown.

This is not a fundraiser.

In order to have adequate refreshments, please let the organizers know if you will be able to be with us by contacting to James Zorn by email at James.Zorn@cox.net –  Event paid for by Stanton for Mayor


Greg Stanton joins Phoenix Mayor’s race

Stanton

[Source: Lynn Ducey, Phoenix Business Journal]

Former Phoenix City Councilman Greg Stanton has announced his candidacy for Phoenix mayor.

Stanton is deputy attorney general at the Arizona Attorney General’s Office and is seeking election to the city’s top post in the Aug. 30, 2011 election.

He has served as a city councilman for nine years, grew up in West Phoenix and attended public schools in the Valley. Stanton is married and he and his wife, Nicole, and have two children.

“I love Phoenix, my home for 37 years and the place Nicole and I are raising our children,” Stanton said in a statement. “But our city stands at a crossroads. Growth for growth’s sake can no longer stand. I am committed to making us more competitive, more aggressive, and more focused on growing jobs—not growing sprawl.”

Both the mayor and Phoenix City Council members serve four- year terms. The mayor can serve two four-year terms, while council can serve three.

Current Mayor Phil Gordon was elected to the post in both 2003 and 2007 and cannot seek re-election.

Others seeking the mayoral seat include city council members Claude Mattox, D-5, and Peggy Neely, D-2; and Wes Gullett, a political consultant and aide to Arizona Sen. John McCain.

For more: www.stantonformayor.com; www.mattoxformayor.comhttp://wesgullett.com; http://peggyneelyexploratory.com.

Message from the Mayor

Mayor Gordon has issued the following statement responding to recent criticisms in some circles over city wages and benefits.

 

Mayor: The Truth… For A Change

How would you like it if you spent years working to build a city, making it the best place in the world to live, work and do business, only to watch self-serving naysayers tear it down, either to fatten their wallets or to make a grab for higher office?

You would feel frustrated. I know that, because so many of you have shared your frustrations with me. You’re sick of the constant negativity. You’ve spent years making this City a better place, fighting to create jobs, grow the economy and rebuild our downtown. You’ve told me you want the truth to come out.

Welcome to the City of Phoenix, where many of us have worked together for decades, and where city government strives every day not only to create a first-class city, but to conserve every last taxpayer dollar. We’ve heard you. We get it. We work for you. Every dollar we spend comes from you. We must do more with less.

That’s not an empty sentence. That’s how our City does business. Yet to hear the naysayers tell it, we’re a city full of pigs at the trough.

Let me give you an example of how those who seek to tear down the City use an old tactic – games with statistics – to do their dirty work.

Last week, Councilman Sal DiCiccio sent an email to thousands of Phoenix residents. I know Sal well. In fact, as he’d tell you if you asked, I was instrumental in having him appointed to his seat in District 6. That’s why Sal playing fast and loose with the facts disappoints me. How does he do it?

For starters, the email carries a headline that uses carefully chosen wording to distort the truth: “$100,000/yr city employees to get big bonuses.”

For months, we’ve this has been a unceasing refrain: That City of Phoenix employees make $100,000 a year.

There’s a word for that claim: False.

The average salary for every employee in the City of Phoenix, according to our Budget and Research team, is $60,104 a year. But let’s go inside the numbers.

About 3 percent of our employees earn a salary over $100,000. They’re our top management, our civil engineers, our architects, our judges – in short, the folks who make sure you have clean water, that our buildings are safe and that our laws are followed. Are they well-paid? Yes. Are they paid better than they would be in the private sector? Absolutely not.

After that group comes our police officers and fire fighters, first responders, men and women who run toward danger while we seek refuge. The average police officer salary in Phoenix is $70,437 annually. For a firefighter it’s $72,132. For police supervisors – our most experienced cops, our sergeants and lieutenants – it’s $86,257 a year.

Can we get cheaper heroes? I imagine so, but could we rely on those younger, less experienced heroes when we’re threatened by danger? I’d rather not find out.

Finally, there’s everyone else in the City, our librarians, our park rangers, our supervisors and managers. The supervisors earn an average of $68,000 per year. And the rest of the nearly 15,000 employees of our City?

That group – more than 7,000 positions, or about half our total head count – earns an average salary of $43,345 a year.

Is that a healthy salary? In these times, yes. But it isn’t $100,000 a year. In fact, it isn’t even close.

So how did we arrive at that fantastic headline? You know the old saying – there’s lies, damn lies, and statistics. Councilman DiCiccio simply takes every single dollar that could possibly be associated with the cost of employing someone and he treats it as compensation. That’s every workman’s comp payment, every Social Security dollar, every unemployment insurance payment, every dime for Medicare, every dollar for insurance premium, every uniform allowance, every dollar spent on police safety gear, everything.

Frankly, if I used math like that, I could start referring to Councilman DiCiccio as the “$100,000-a-year Councilman,” by counting not just his $61,600 annual salary from Council and his $7,477 “double dip” pension from his last Council term, but every other benefit and expense that accrues to his employment.

I wouldn’t do that, of course. Because, while it might be semantically accurate – and kind of funny – it’s not what I consider to be the truth, in context.

It’s like saying that the City paid more than $200 million last year for employee pensions. Is that a lot of money? Yes, but it’s also about 5 percent of the City’s $3.5 billion in total spending for the year. That ratio compares more than favorably with private sector businesses that employ 15,000 employees, many of whom receive defined benefit pensions.

As for the City’s health benefits package and holiday schedule, which the Councilman calls “Cadillac” and “generous,” again they compare favorably with private sector companies of a similar size. More important, though, is the trend in the size of Phoenix government and the measures we’ve put in place to steward taxpayer dollars.

I’d file those under “Things The Naysayers Never Bother To Mention.”

Here’s the truth, not the spin of a politician seeking elected office. As you likely know, I’m termed out in January 2012, so I’m not hamstrung by the need to spin.

The City of Phoenix General Fund budget for 2010-11 is $79.2 million – or 7.2 percent – lower than our budget five years ago. This despite a 6 percent population increase and the opening of dozens of new city facilities.

Our General Fund budget is $185.5 million less, or 15.5 percent lower, than our peak budget in 2007-08.

You can follow the logic, I’m sure. When times were flush and our population and economy were growing, City government worked to further that growth. As the economy turned sour and we looked for ways to cut back, we slashed spending and ramped up efforts to do more with less.

That’s why the City has cut its budget six out of the past 7 years. We’re likely the only big city in America who can make that claim, by the way.

That’s why City workers agreed to a 3.2 percent pay cut last year – an agreement set to save us $100 million over the two years. That’s why property taxes in Phoenix have dropped 40 percent. That’s why we’ve instituted an Innovation and Efficiency Task Force that, thus far, has saved our City more than $20 million. And that’s why our head count of employees has steadily dropped from a high of 16,171 in July 2008 to 14,531 employees today.

Today we have the smallest city government, per capita, that Phoenix has enjoyed in 40 years (despite having a larger population by more than a million residents). We have 1,600 fewer employees than we did at our peak, jobs we’ve cut through attrition, not gimmicks. We’ve preserved our AAA-bond rating and we’ve received numerous national awards for management excellence and budget transparency.

We’ve accomplished all that while keeping our neighborhoods safe – our crime rate is at a 20-year low – and keeping valuable services, like libraries and senior centers, operating at reasonable levels.

Is our City perfect? No. We’ve made mistakes and we still have problems that need solving. But we’re working hard to be the best City in America, even in the midst of an unprecedented economic downturn. We’re doing it by taking care of taxpayer dollars and telling you the truth, accusations aside.

Speaking of which, here’s my favorite: That the City has offered workers “a $16,000 bonus for doing a good job.”

Uh, guilty as charged. Kinda, sorta.

The truth is, yes, we’ve ramped up a bonus program for employees who make suggestions – a program that’s been in place since the 1970s. The idea probably sounds familiar, since you may very well have a similar program where you work.

Employees make suggestions meant to save the City money. If a suggestion is adopted, that employee gets a one-time bonus. Last fiscal year, we got about 175 ideas from employees. We adopted 20. That saved the City about $435,000.

The bonuses? They totaled $20,600. All of them, together. A savings of $415,000 isn’t bad in return for a $20,000 investment.

This month, we changed the rules to give employees more incentive to get involved. We held numerous public meetings to discuss how an employee should be rewarded for saving the city a significant amount of money. The $16,000 figure Councilman DiCiccio quotes is the absolute top bonus available, the cap. To earn it, an employee would need to save the City nearly $2 million.

Compare that to the headline: “$100,000/yr city employees to get big bonuses”

You’ve come to me by the hundreds over the past year-plus, expressing your frustrations over the deceit, the distortions and the accompanying silence. You’ve told me you want the truth to come out, to hear about the progress we’ve made and the reforms we’ve passed.

I can’t simply stand by and allow baseless attacks to go unanswered. That’s why you’ve received this piece. I’m sure the naysayers will respond with more skewed stats and more distortions … but now you have the truth.

Please forward this message to all concerned taxpayers.

Thank you.

Phil Gordon

Mayor of Phoenix

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