Newly Formed Phoenix City
Council Basks In Hope
(From left to right) Jim Waring, Laura Pasto, Sal DiCiccio, Kate Gallego.
Newly Elected Kate Gallego And Laura Pastor, and Re-Elected Sal DiCiccio and Jim Waring Spoke At An Inaugural Event In Downtown Phoenix On Thursday
By Chris G. Braswell
Modern Times Magazine
Jan. 3, 2014 — There were hundreds in attendance at the inaugural event at the Orpheum Theater on Thursday, but the atmosphere was that of a warm family gathering.
In light of the critically important responsibilities that are put upon our public leaders, there seemed to be no strangers present among the impressive and clearly competent crowd of elected officials and staff, uniformed officers, leadership alumni, firefighters, educators, caregivers, and volunteers.
Newly elected council members Kate Gallego, district 8, and Laura Pastor, district 4, and re-elected council members Sal DiCiccio, district 6, and Jim Waring, district 2, were all sworn in, and each took the podium to give a few words about their incumbency and political perspective.
In a place like Phoenix, local leadership would seem to require local experience. So, energetic, vibrant, and innovative as these incumbent members must be, these men and women do not come across as outsiders or newcomers to public leadership in the Phoenix metro. The Phoenix city council is a non-political entity, properly speaking, therefore partisan affiliation is not explicitly part of the electoral process. With such an environment, “we get things done, and we can create positive and meaningful change,” said Mayor Greg Stanton.
There were several themes that were repeated by all of those in attendance, which will seemingly make them likely topics for discussion for this newly formed body.
Domestic Violence, Sex Trafficking
Several council members made mention of the mayor’s task force established last month to combat sex trafficking in preparation for Super Bowl XLIX in 2015.
Prostitution is observed to be common in the periphery of such major public events, and sex trafficking provides the incumbent black market support for the sex trade. Moreover, the black market does not discriminate against bringing children into its operations.
“It’s not an amenity, it is not entertainment, this is real people,” Waring said.
Domestic violence is a problem at which the Phoenix government is also taking special aim, Waring said, as the city plans to spend $200,000 per year to address the issue.
Meanwhile, in comparison, the city is losing between $6 million and $7 million on municipal golf courses and debt service, he said. Waring also noted the recent drop in Phoenix’s tax rating.
“We certainly do not want to be on the cover of Time magazine like Detroit,” he warned, arguing for better management of infrastructure and funds in order to enable more good work like the domestic violence program.
“The city needs to be focused on helping those who cannot help themselves,” DiCiccio said. “Sex trafficking, 12 to 14 year old kids enslaved and used for sex. Not in our city, not in our town, not in our state, and not with our children.”
DiCiccio also discussed the importance of not ignoring our homeless population, where recent efforts have brought in 56 people off the streets, for example, but there are still thousands more in dire straits who would stand to benefit from such publicly sponsored rehabilitation programs.
Public Funding, Systemic Change, And Optimism
Community leadership is not always fun, likeable or easy when it involves odious issues such as domestic violence, sex trafficking, or even just adversarial business and public funding challenges.
“Big government created big problems when there was a hiccup in the economy,” said DiCiccio.
To avoid such “hiccups,” there must be a culture change, “but to change the culture takes time.” And systemic change requires “push” — which is not always a bad thing, he said.
A breakthrough on the path to change came in 2011, when there was no increase in the city’s sewer rates — a parameter that has now been sustained for three years.
“And the real game-changing moment occurred when Councilman Jim Waring got put on the council,” DiCiccio said. “Now we know the field, we are able to score, and taxpayers scored big.”
DiCiccio worked with former Mayor Phil Gordon “to make Phoenix the best place in the country to do business,” he said, “and working with Councilman Gates (Bill Gates of district 3), we stopped the property tax increase.”
Today, Phoenix has the biggest contingency fund it has ever had at $43 million.
“In the past, the government employees, the government unions took all their money; now the question is, where does it go,” he said.
DiCiccio argued that such surpluses should be appropriated by essentially re-investing in the taxpayers themselves.
Furthermore, an important means by which to correct the mismanagement of public funds is to “put the bond program back in place, even if it has to be done slowly; but put it back in place,” DiCiccio said. “Government, no matter what anybody says, does not create jobs; it creates an environment where jobs are created.”
He also noted the importance of the city’s establishing trade partnerships with Mexico, ongoing cultivation of the downtown business district, the importance of establishing wi-fi hotspots at various public locations, historic preservation through desert preservation programs and quality-of-life enhancement programs such as density transfers and creating more open space through zoning policy.
Sustainability, Science, And Business
Gallego, who is the first woman to represent district 8, said her background in science inspires her to make strong endorsements for the city’s potential in that realm. Programs focusing on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics should be implemented for students, either as after-school on-campus events or at local libraries. She iterated the importance of economic development, sustainability, public transportation, critical infrastructure, medicine.
“I am committed to helping Phoenix become the world’s most sustainable desert city,” she said. Toward such an end, making the city more walkable and bikeable are key steps.
“We have a long way to go. Light rail does not even go to south Phoenix,” she said.
She said that augmented air travel availability such as establishing direct flights to Japan at Phoenix Sky Harbor, critical infrastructure, personalized medicine, and raw materials for innovative technology are also keys to local economic development.
“Compromise is neither a bad word or a bad thing,” said Pastor, whose father, U.S. Rep. Ed Pastor, was also present. “It simply means achieving together.”
The hashtag for the event is #phxinaug2014.
Chris G. Braswell is the managing editor of Modern Times Magazine. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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