Candidates speak to Miner Ed Board
EDITOR’S NOTE: All nine Council candidates and three mayoral candidates sat down with the Kingman Daily Miner’s Editorial Board which included two members of the public on Jan. 29 and 30. The nine Cou
Board: What mistakes did you make when you were mayor and what steps would you take to keep from repeating them?
We'll start with nobody's perfect. It's a lot easier to look back; hindsight is 20/20. I can look back now and say, politically, I should have, could have. I'm not necessarily sure on some decisions I made at the time, but certainly we felt we were right.
A specific mistake I know that I made was moving ahead with certain things that, even though the Council felt was in the best interest of the community, we didn't have the buy-in or the support from the public.
Specifically, the Airway Underpass. Even knowing now that it would have had to sit on the shelf for an entire other year, I wouldn't have gone ahead, because we can't seem to educate the people on why we had the timeline we did.
The mayor and Council should have been the PR people, the educators on that rather than using staff people. That was a huge mistake.
And this is just coming up with my recent interview, it was talking about the city manager hiring process. I thought the process we had in place was good. We had three panels - one consisting of residents, one of staff and one of the mayor and Council - that all went through and interviewed. We also looked at essay questions. We really tried to find a good fit for Kingman.
The one thing that I would absolutely do differently, and if not me then whoever is elected does do this, we need to send someone from our community to where the city managers come from and have them talk to members of Rotary, talk to someone at the newspaper, talk to the residents, former council people and say, "How did he fit in this community?"
I've talked about one thing I definitely know there's room for improvement, and that's communication - both ways. I think the City Council now has to get back the trust of the community, and I think the mayor and Council definitely have to make things better accessible. One of the things that bothered, me, and I even said this as mayor, we need to have someone designated on staff that is communicating with the media and with the public. We see reporters come in and they're walking from desk to desk trying to find a story, and we need to communicate getting the information to the public.
The other thing we need to do better with communication, and I should have just gone with my instinct a while ago instead of piggybacking with the police and doing open houses, the mayor and Council need to have regular town halls. You look at the format at Praise Chapel. In my eight years involved in politics, I've never seen such incredible turnout. So people definitely want to be informed and they definitely want to be involved in the decision-making, so that's something that I will really focus on.
Board: You were the mayor and then you weren't the mayor, and a lot of people haven't heard from you in two years. What have you been doing for the past two years?
First of all, I stayed out of the spotlight as best I was able to. Once you're a public official, frankly, going to Safeway is never the same. But I really thought the best thing I could do was be respectful of the wishes of the public and not comment.
I truly believe, whether I support elected officials that are currently in office, whether I voted for them or not, I believe I owe them the respect and dignity of the office. So I was very careful never to speak publicly. I think we should be supportive of our elected officials. I don't always agree, obviously didn't agree with a lot of things, but I didn't think it was my place to criticize.
What have I been doing for the last couple years? I've stayed very busy. I work out of my office at home. I made that decision when my son was born 15 years ago. I couldn't do it both really well, the corporate and raising children, so I chose the hardest path of all, trying to keep an office in your home and mix it all in together. But I still work with my husband's business and manage his office.
My husband is Mike Gates. He's been here longer than me. We've been here about 25 years. He started as a block layer. We built a masonry company. It's now a little more general: it's called Mike Gates Construction LLC. He's built some homes, but the masonry side is still our bread and butter. I manage his office.
Additionally, I'm very involved in a lot of non-profit activities, mostly benefiting children.
Board: How would you respond to the allegation that you were on the side of out-of-town developers? You did make some comments when Jim Rhodes came that he was a "visionary."
Actually, what I had said about Mr. Rhodes and some of these other ones that were proposed at the time, it was the first time anybody had ever come to the city of Kingman with a master plan.
That is what I called "visionary" - the plan of a 30- or 50-year build-out that would include parks, police stations, fire stations, open space, grocery shopping - planned communities. Rhodes was one.
There was another one out of Las Vegas, came to me, made a proposal and they showed the old-fashion city center and the concentric city circles, and they created walking paths. I did say that is visionary. It was different than what we'd seen in Kingman. I can tell you, we've had one out-of-town builder come to Kingman, and he wanted to have a homeowners' association. Our city staff said we don't do that. We've never done that.
So when I refer to these people as visionary, I believe the plan is visionary - it's a vision for the future. You go out and look at the state of Arizona. Our governor has said, "Please, don't just build a city. Build your infrastructure. Connect it." And that's what they proposed to do. It doesn't mean I support the individuals. And certainly, how do we determine who's local and who isn't? At some time, when someone comes down to purchase property in your community, they become a stakeholder. I think it is important that we don't ignore them just because we don't agree with them. If we suspect a builder may not be a great builder, I think we can perhaps inform the public that they should check with the registrar of contractors before purchasing a home, whatever we can do to best educate the public.
I don't believe I misspoke. I believe it was perhaps taken out of context. I still support the concept of a master planned community. I think it's very important that a builder comes and doesn't just want to put up an edifice and a few houses, but looks at open space and looks at the greater good of the community. I think that is extremely important.
The other thing, in all fairness any time you're in a leadership position, if things don't look well, that goes on your shoulders - as it should. That's part of the territory. I didn't create the growth explosion here. I just happened to be in the driver's seat when a lot of it was going on. That's when the state of Arizona said they expect this area by the year 2030 to potentially be the third largest metropolitan area in the state. That comment came on my watch. It didn't mean I said, "Hey, come on in."
What I tried to do was, as quickly as possible, how do we prepare for this? This growth is coming, how will we get ahead of it and make sure we direct it? How do we put city standards in place so that we are having everyone build to the minimum standards? And I hate to say minimum standards, but we weren't even there. So that's when we put in place as strictly as possible, if you wish to be inside the city's water-service boundary, you will build to city standards. And I'm proud of that, because now you can go out outside the city limits and see curbs, gutters and sidewalks, and that's important.
Board: Former City Manager Paul Beecher was hired and given an outrageous salary package, which he wrote himself, during your tenure. In the future, what kind of package would you find acceptable for a city manager, and why didn't the city run so much as a Google search on him?
It was the responsibility of the mayor and City Council, ultimately, to hire the city manager. We used our human resources department, which are the resources of this city; we used our police department, which again are the resources of this city, to investigate and do this background check on Mr. Beecher. We believed they had the expertise to have found if there were shadows or questionable activities in the past. There's something flawed with those departments that nothing was uncovered. Would we do it differently? Absolutely, and certainly the public would want to be ensured that that was done differently.
Board: How would you do it differently?
I still the think the process is a good idea; we created a brochure, we advertised what we wanted to see in a city manager - what characteristics and educational background. And then we advertised a salary range, which was in part a recommendation from the League (of Arizona Cities and Towns). I like the process of having all of the candidates go through and fill out an essay. We sent them a budget and asked them to comment on it. I like the idea of having three panels, and I think maybe that just wasn't enough.
Board: You mentioned the HR department and the police department, that something was flawed in those processes. So how would you do that differently?
I think we would have to go to an independent, third party, somebody outside the city that could do a thorough background check rather than using the city's resources.
Board: How much would that cost?
I don't know. I don't. But I'm wondering the cost of not doing it. Especially, we have to have the public behind the new city manager. We need that support, so I think there's a cost in confidence if we don't be a little more aggressive in checking the background. And I still think it's important to make sure that somebody from your community goes to the community the city manager worked in the past. We did. As a Council, individually, we did make phone calls back to where he worked. We did have a member of Council get on the Internet and Google him, and I clearly remember the comment, "Oh, there are no skeletons." Well, you know, apparently there were some things that we overlooked, by omission, so I think we will definitely do a better job next time.
Board: What role should a mayor play in a city like Kingman, where there is a city manager in place?
First of all, out of the 90 cities in Arizona, 84 have the city council/city manager form of government, so I would say that's the overwhelming choice. The role of a city manager is obviously to implement and carry out the policies set forth by the council. The mayor is the leader of the city council because she is elected separately. It's a stand alone election. Certainly, that's the leadership that the people are looking to. And again, when things go wrong that's the person that needs to say, "I did it." And when things go right, that's when you share the accolades.
But what the mayor also does is be the one out in public, trying to build consensus with the council, should be conducting the council meetings and affording everyone an opportunity to speak and to be heard. The mayor also, I believe, should be charged with ensuring that the city manager is carrying out the policies set forth by the council. There has been a lack of direction from the elected officials to the staff of late that has created this vacuum of leadership and this lack of direction, and this lack of working together. So I think we need to get that back on track as soon as possible with the mayor leading the city council.
Board: What have you noticed of the current Council meetings? Are there practices that they're doing now that are different than when you were in office?
I've watched our agendas go from forward thinking, planning agendas, planning for the future, work sessions to discuss major issues that may affect us 10, 20 and 30 years down the road, to a reactionary agenda where the business of the Council is focused on one small order of business. And we're not even looking beyond that billboard to what's in the best interest of the community. That has been a great concern. One of the things that also bothers me, while I was mayor, I asked if staff would come forward with a recommendation. Whatever item was on the agenda, we wanted a clear recommendation for approval or denial and a rational as to why. That is the staff's job - to do their homework. They are the experts. Come to the Council and say this is a good project and this is why we feel it is or this is why it is not a good project and this is why we disagree.
The City Council are a group of lay people elected by the majority to represent the majority. We all bring specific interests and talents to the seat. What we don't bring is some of the expertise that we're paying staff to prove to us. So it concerns me greatly that staff is not stepping up and providing the information and a recommendation as they should, helping Council to make a more informed decision.
Another is, I don't see the meeting run efficiently and effectively. I'd like to see the leadership return. I would like to see respect and dignity returned.
Board: During the Call to the Public, are you as the mayor supposed to keep quiet?
Board: You're not supposed to get into a verbal battle back and forth?
No. Not at all. When I was mayor, we actually had two calls to the public. We moved one to the beginning of the meeting, and that was so that an individual who had a complaint or a concern and wanted to address the Council could do so in a reasonable amount of time. So if somebody wanted to complain about the cracked sidewalk, they didn't have to sit there until 9 or 10 o'clock at night. Had that one there, left the one at the end of the meeting, and that was so if someone heard something through the course of the meeting, an item of business they agreed or didn't agree on or wanted further discussion, they had that opportunity. ... We would see these City Council meetings going on until 10 o'clock, 10:30, 11 o'clock at night, and you've got somebody that may have been upset when they walked in at 7. They're really upset at 10:30. ... The Council should not be involved in back and forth communication. What they should do, at the end of the meeting, under what we used to call direction to the city manager if it was the will and the majority of the Council we would say, "OK, Mr. Smith reported this broken sidewalk." If it's the will of the Council, then let's agendize this issue, as a vague example. That's how things get on the agenda. The agendas should be put together by the city manager and the mayor, and no individual Council member should agendize anything, it should be the will of the City Council. If we have consensus, four of us at least, here's an item I would like to see discussed.
That's when it should go on the agenda. But right now, I see this as a staff-driven reactionary agenda, and that concerns me for today and for the future of Kingman.
Board: Impact fees were put in place when you were mayor. Would you have done anything differently, such as lowering them when the economy slowed?
Impact fees, I felt at the time, were the right thing to do. I still think it's a great thing to grow a healthy community. One of the things we did was we did engage a citizen panel to participate in these discussions. This was not capricious. We did sit down and have meeting after meeting. Looking back, there were too many vacant seats in that room. We should have said, "OK, Mr. Developer or Realtor, if you can't be here, we need somebody to come to the table and get involved in this." Would I reverse my decision on the impact fees? No, I think it's a good thing. But, we don't have the buy-in of the community. The builders are absolutely convinced that this has stopped growth and development, so we need to sit back down. The other thing that might make good sense, we can't just arbitrarily adjust impact fees; there's a formula that's statutorily regulated. But let's not go back to the same consulting firm, because my suspicion is they're going to agree with themselves.
So let's take another look at this, bring in the building community ... I know we'll have more participation. I know we'll have more community buy-in. And if impact fees aren't the way to go, let's get some input from the community, at least developers, to see how we deal with the infrastructure deficit that gets bigger every day.
Board: Does that infrastructure deficit include downtown?
Yes. Yes. Downtown just breaks my heart, that it continues to just fall to disarray. I see these great new businesses opening up and then I drive back down, and where did it go? I just kind of felt that the city has to do a better job getting involved downtown. The way it is right now, often times I believe we're setting people up to fail, or allowing them to because we're not giving the support to the downtown area that we need to. That is just such a huge tourist opportunity for us that I believe as a city we need to make an investment in. And this is probably going to upset some of the innkeepers in town, but does using some of that bed tax money, does that make good sense to apply that to make Kingman a destination? My question is, and I used to be an innkeeper, if somebody walks in and says, "I'm here for the afternoon. What's the one thing in Kingman I need to see?" Well, I can't fill an afternoon, but downtown can. It has that potential. It's already there. We don't need to reinvent it. We need to just bring it up and make it into the jewel it really is.
This last summer I was very fortunate, I took a trip to the Mediterranean. People would say, "Where are you from?" They didn't know Kingman, a couple of them knew Las Vegas, but they all knew Route 66. So there it is, we've got the opportunity. A friend of mine said, "The new Sky Walk has made Kingman a destination." I said, "No, it's made Kingman a place to spend the night. We have to make it a destination." And I think downtown is absolutely critical.