Salem grows into role as Kingman mayor
John Salem benefits from experience as he enters third term as Kingman mayor
After being re-elected to serve a third term as the mayor of Kingman, John Salem sat down with the Miner for a question and answer session. Here's how it went down.
Miner: How have you changed - in terms of governance - since you first took office?
Salem: I've become a whole lot more thorough when it comes to issues that are presented before us as a Council. I spend a whole lot more time researching the issue, gathering as much information as I can before I come to a decision. And a lot of times what will happen is I won't formulate a decision in my mind until the Council meeting after we've heard testimony from any of the citizens that may be concerned with a particular issue. Basically, I've become a whole lot more thorough.
Miner: I've heard that when you were first elected you were at the City Complex every single day studying. Was that more about learning the job rather than researching an issue?
Salem: It was, and it was organizing all of the paperwork and what was left behind. There were a lot of documents that were still in the office that I needed to familiarize myself with. Yeah, I was there like 12 hours a day the first year.
Miner: So familiarization opened the door for you to put your time into research rather then just organizing yourself?
Salem: Exactly. It went from 60 hours a week down to 35 or 40 hours a week. I'm down there for at least five or six hours a day, or doing city business for at least that amount of time.
Miner: What has being more thorough done for you?
Salem: I feel a whole lot more comfortable about making the decisions that we've made in the past. The more information that your able to gather before you make a decision, it helps in the sense that I feel really good about the final outcome - that the decision was a good decision.
Miner: Do you feel like you come from a place of certainty when your making these decisions based off of research?
Salem: Yes, and I've never been an indecisive person. We have to formulate a decision - we have to get this done. I'm not a big fan of prolonging a decision. If we have to table an item until the next meeting to gather more information, that's fine. But by the time it reaches the City Council level people are expecting us to take a stance on something, make a decision and pull the trigger on whatever we are going to do. How are we going to take action?
Miner: Why do you think the voters decided to give you another term?
Salem: I think that the voters of Kingman - the constituency - feel that I'm a good leader, and that I make good decisions. And I feel as though they trust me. That's very valuable to me. I don't want to breach that trust so I'm working harder then ever.
Miner: You have that idea that people trust you. Your making decisions, they're based on research, but ultimately you're going to let somebody down. Is that difficult?
Salem: It is. But you can't make everybody happy. I have to do what I think is right for the majority of the people that are affected, and understandably, there are some people that are affected negatively from the decisions I make. But by in large, I know that whatever ultimately happens - in my mind, anyway - that the majority of the people that are represented are going to be the ones affected in the best way.
Miner: Do you hope people - when they see you make decisions - even if they don't agree with you can say to themselves, "Well, I know John did this, this and this to come to that decision, and I may not agree with it but at least he did his due diligence." Do you feel like that adds to your credibility?
Salem: At least a dozen times since I have taken office - in two terms - I have voted against what I personally felt about a decision and voted in favor of what the people that are most affected have relayed (to me). Once they relayed their stance or their take on it or their perception of a decision that is about to be made. I may not agree with them, but I will vote with them because I have spoken with them.
Miner: Is that what happened with talks of a potential sales tax increase in spring 2011?
Salem: That is exactly what happened. At the time, we had some challenges with our road department. There is only a certain amount of general fund money to go around. We have made cuts, and we cut our budget with respect to those items. We had to come up with some sort of revenue source for road maintenance and repair, but the (Highway User Revenue Fund) money being cut along with (Local Transportation Assistance
Fund) really hurt us. I was in favor of a small sales tax increase, and it was largely unpopular with the public, so I voted against it. That is just one example. There have been a few zoning cases where I have done the same thing.
Miner: On election night, you spoke of relishing the chance to be mayor during a time of economic improvement. What exactly does an improving economy mean for Kingman and you as mayor?
Salem: In the beginning, it's going to give us a little bit of breathing room. As the economy improves, sales tax revenues increase. There's going to be some relief at the city level, and I'm looking forward to be able to operate as efficiently as we are now and carry that efficiency into the future. But it will have a little bit of breathing room to where if there is ... a small surplus of cash then we can invest that back into the community in whatever way the Council may desire. We've got that $245 million capital improvement plan. There are some very affordable projects in there that I would like to see at least get started. If we have some of that breathing room, we can free up some of that cash to make those investments.
Miner: What is the biggest mistake - again, in terms of governance - you've made since becoming mayor, and what did it teach you?
Salem: I have made a lot of mistakes. None of them are real big from what I can tell. There are a couple of things I have learned. No. 1 is I value people's opinions that I may not agree with. But I've learned to be patient and to give everybody the opportunity to speak whether I agree with them or not - and to actually listen. I have improved in that respect. The biggest mistake I have made since I have taken office is not getting more heavily involved in lobbying the powers to be such as the Legislature and the other forms of government that are higher up on the food chain then us. Lobbying to them harder, louder to protect the resources that rightfully belong to Kingman. And that's a process that takes a little bit of time because when you first get into office there are friendships and networking relationships that need to be cultivated, and that takes time to do. Now that I've been able to establish and maintain those relationships, our success and lobbying for what rightfully belongs to Kingman has increased. I wish I could have done it sooner. That's the biggest mistake, and it's not so much a mistake. At the time I don't think I was capable of it. Like I say, I'm working harder now then I have ever worked on behalf of the citizens of this community, especially with respect to trying to maintain what belongs to us.
Miner: How do those two - what you've learned and what you see as your biggest mistake - fit together, if at all?
Salem: You have to be able to listen, especially at the Council level because sometimes, although I may think I'm right and that my opinion is the right one, maybe there's somebody on Council that I may not have agreed with in the past on a particular issue. If I don't listen to what they have to say, I'm actually cheating my colleagues on Council as well as the public and myself because maybe they have a better way of doing it. Maybe there's another way to do it that would be more efficient, or another way of doing it to where it wouldn't cost the city as much money. So, I think it's really important that I listen to those opinions and value those opinions. Patience is something, again, that I've learned. I'm a very high-strung individual. I'm a go-getter, let's do it, let's get it done, let's get it done now, let's get it done as quickly as possible in the best possible way that we can. I don't like to procrastinate - I want to get after it. Sometimes in doing that I can't see the forest through the trees. You have to stop, take a deep breath, not make a decision today, maybe make one tomorrow - sleep on it. I've learned that, and it really has helped me.
Miner: What's one goal you hope to accomplish during your next term?
Salem: I'm going to work harder with Economic Development and tourism. The one goal that I would like to see come about is at least a plan that has a really solid opportunity for moving forward with both of these interchanges. With Rattlesnake Wash and Kingman Crossing or the Rancho Santa Fe Parkway and Kingman Crossing. We still have those friendships and relationships made with people who are still very much interested in moving there. I would like to see something really come to fruition in the next couple of years to see those interchanges move forward.
Miner: Throughout the campaign, your leadership was questioned, especially when it came to enticing new businesses into Kingman. Now, you may not agree with the criticism, but is there anything you can do to become a better leader?
Salem: There is, and I don't agree with all the criticism. During the campaign there are those that are going to criticize you. Sometimes people running will look to make themselves look better by making the other candidate look bad - with respect to some aspect of personality or work performance.
I feel as though I'm a pretty good leader. It's obvious in the way that the vote turned out that the people of Kingman think that I'm a good leader. I have to continue to prove that to them, though. So how do you become a better leader? You work harder at it. You have a plan with a particular issue, such as an infrastructure/capital improvement that needs to happen that is going to be associated with bringing in a new industry. There has to be a plan. How am I going to institute that plan? Where is my discretion, where is my authority, what is the goal? Can that goal be conveyed to my colleagues on Council that ultimately have to vote on it? How are we going to entice (industry) to come? We can ask them. We can contact them, and we can maintain that relationship and that friendship. But the fact is these are private enterprises that are investing private dollars that are away from the public sector. They're investing their cash in us. They have to have faith in us that they're going to succeed, so we have to set them up for success.
We're working on that. These past several years have been horrible for the economy, and some larger companies and some large retail companies are still looking at us. We're in the middle of everything. Our proximity to everything is wonderful to them logistically. We have everything they want. We have relatively inexpensive land and properties, and we don't have a primary property tax. The county taxes are low, relative to other areas. We have five highways within a 20-mile radius of here plus the railroad, industrial park and airport. They're looking at us. They know where Kingman is. They know that Kingman is prime for investment. We don't have a lot of things to offer them as far as infrastructure goes yet. But it's coming, and this is where we need to get creative on how we're going to figure this out, and how we are going to get private sector money invested here.
It's a work in progress. But now that there is a little bit of an upswing in the economy, you're going to find that a lot of these major corporations are sitting on the largest stockpiles of cash they've ever had. They've just been reluctant to invest that cash. Two things are going to happen. They're going to have to start investing it pretty soon because they're earning interest on that cash and will have to start paying taxes on it, if they haven't already. Secondly, I think that once the economy becomes just a little bit stronger, some of these private enterprises, their boards of directors and stockholders are going to have more faith in moving forward with an investment, so that there is more of a guarantee of the return on their investment.
This is where public/private partnerships come into play, and I'm a big fan of that. You can see it across the country where there has been a whole lot more success with public/private partnerships than failures. It's a very viable alternative to using public funds to make the sole investment.
Tourism and economic development with industry has something very much in common. Typically, industries are going to produce a good that is sent and sold somewhere else. It might be sold here, too, but not on such a large scale as where it's going to be shipped. So, you have a company that may be based back east or in the Midwest someplace that is going to set up a facility in Kingman. You know they're using Kingman labor. We have money coming from someplace else and into out community. Those goods are sold somewhere else, but the labor force used to manufacture it is here. So, we get brand new money coming into Kingman from someplace else.
Tourism is the same way. You've got people that don't live here coming here, spending money from someplace else and pumping that money into our local economy. Both of them are tremendous assets.