Vol. 15 Issue No. 7 | February 18 – February 24, 2009

Francia delivers surprise ending to candidate forum

By Linda Bentley | February 18, 2009

‘The six people you send to help the mayor cannot be someone spreading fear in this town’

CAVE CREEK – The eighth Cave Creek candidate forum sponsored by Sonoran News had Architect Shelby Wilson literally racing to get there in time to emcee the event from the Bob Bondurant School of High-Performance Driving in Chandler.

The seat left empty by Councilwoman Grace Meeth, the only council candidate who chose not to attend the forum, became one of the evening’s running themes for the apolitical Wilson’s humor.

Candidate’s Opening Statements
Adam Trenk, the 25-year-old one-year resident, kicked things off by saying, “Cave Creek represents what’s best about land.” He said he served on the citizens’ advisory committee for fire protection and is a strong proponent of emergency services.

Trenk, who is a second-year law student, also said preservation of the towns assets are directly connected to the viability of the town.

With a background in finance, Ralph Mozilo, who has previously served on council as vice mayor, was involved in the preservation of Spur Cross Ranch, serves on the budget committee and on the board for the Cave Creek Film and Arts Festival.

Mozilo is also serving on a committee to help develop a new business model for the town.
He said he is running again because “council is fractured,” noting some council members do not support the town manager and, while claiming to support the town, they vote against everything that comes before them.

He said he would like Cave Creek to be viable as a place to live, attract businesses and live with families.

Reg Monachino, currently serving on the planning commission and water advisory committee, said he brings skills in the area of finance, management and business development.

“I’m completely familiar with the budget process,” said Monachino, adding, “With regard to management, the key is planning. Five-year plans are extremely helpful.”

As far as commercial and residential development is concerned, Monachino stated Cave Creek is not regarded as the best place to do business.

Shea Stanfield, who said she’s lived in Cave Creek since 1980, has served on the planning commission, board of adjustment and, most recently, on council, stated, “I think I have a pretty good handle on what’s going on.”

Citing her background is in the arts and education, Stanfield said, “We all need a common vision.”

Councilman Thomas McGuire, running for his third term, said, “I think we’ve accomplished a lot,” although he too commented, “There are people on council that have distanced themselves.”

McGuire said he supports all the candidates who signified they were in favor of the “Policy Issues for Preserve Cave Creek in Election 2009.”

The Policy Issues, which can be read in their entirety in last week’s (Feb. 11) “My View,” include promoting both existing and new businesses, creating a business-friendly attitude within town council to proactively encourage success, supporting town administration with a spirit of cooperation and civility toward the town manager and his staff, and developing an open space master plan with respect for the varied lifestyles represented by the eclectic community of Cave Creek.

Meeth and Monachino did not sign on in support of the policies, while Stanfield said she had not yet seen it.

Steve LaMar, a planning commissioner who served on the town’s first planning commission, said, “I think we’re at a crossroads.” Agreeing with Mozilo, he said, “There are agendas at play.”

Councilman Dick Esser, running for his fourth term on council, has previously served as vice mayor and on the planning commission.

He said, “We’ve moved away from a dart board and a revolving door of employees at town hall.”

Esser called Black Mountain Trail an accomplishment “dear to my heart,” bringing laughter, as citizens recalled he was hiking Black Mountain when he had his heart attack.

Acknowledging the town went to “zero growth” very suddenly, Esser indicated he had confidence in the “fine committees,” working on the problem.

Councilman Ernie Bunch, running for his third term, said “I love open space and trails. We need to pay for those things.”

Bunch stated he didn’t believe he has ever voted against a revenue producing entity.
Planning Commission Chair Jim Bruce, who also served as chair of the fire advisory committee, pointed to a fractured council and said attending council meetings were like walking into a war zone.

He also commented on citizen involvement in the town and said, “The mayor says we have 200 volunteers.”

Councilwoman Kim Brennan said she is running again because she wants to stay involved and was excited about the town’s future.

Questions from the Public
Some questions were asked of all candidates and some to specific candidates. These are highlights from that segment of the forum.

Do you support publishing the town’s check register on the town website or in Sonoran News on a weekly basis?
All candidates said they did.

What is your party affiliation?
Because town council elections are nonpartisan, Stanfield chose not to answer, as did Monachino, who responded “present.”
Trenk, Thomas, Esser, Brennan and Mayor Vincent Francia stated they were Independent, Mozilo and Bunch identified themselves as Republicans, while Lamar and Bruce are Democrats.

Do you support a property tax?
McGuire said it was something they needed to look at while Esser said maybe.
When Bunch said he would never support a property tax, Wilson quipped Bunch must own the most land in town, which became another running theme throughout the night.
Mayor Vincent Francia was a bit more emphatic, stating, “The town’s debt service is $3 million. We made our payment and we can do it again without a property tax.”

Do you support posting the town’s expense reports on the web?
McGuire responded, “Yes.”

Do you believe promotion of merchants/businesses should outrank citizens’ reasonable peace and quiet?
“The problem is,” said Bunch, “commercial is right next to residential … commercial pays more for land and more in taxes.”

What was your reasoning behind voting to rezone T.C. Thorstenson’s property?
Monachino responded, “The town needs business. T.C. was going to build an arena,” although he conceded the planning commission was presented fuzzy information regarding access.

When was the town’s financial trouble brought to your attention?
Esser replied, “Before the economic downturn.”

Will the town budget sales tax money from Wal-Mart before it knows how much it will be?
Perplexed, Mozilo responded, “No, but I support Wal-Mart.”

How much of a budget shortfall will we have for 2009?
Mozilo said the town was working to meet its debt service obligations.

How much was the budget shortfall for 2008?
Bunch explained budget shortfalls do not exist and that if revenue doesn’t come in it can’t be spent.

Why are all your campaign funds from outside Cave Creek?
Trenk responded, “They aren’t,” and said about one third is from Cave Creek.

What are your thoughts on development outside the town core?
Trenk replied, “It’s important that it happens.”

Your support of business is clear. What would you do to promote business development?
“It’s our job to get out of their way and I hope we would stop doing that,” said Bunch.
Francia said the town did do that with the Chevron Station and it has been working diligently with Dr. Bullington to develop his property.

What are the priorities for development along Carefree Highway?
Francia said step one would be completion of the wastewater treatment plant and step two would be infrastructure so businesses can hook up.

What would you do differently so council wouldn’t be dysfunctional?
LaMar responded, “Not let it evolve into turf wars or a personal agenda.”
Esser said it required leadership that could “place principles before personalities.”
Brennan said, “We need to work together.”

While council deals with very complex issues, how would council neutralize personal agendas?
Esser responded, “You do your homework. You do research and just delve into it.”
Brennan added, “We often have professionals in those fields advise us.”

You’re linked very closely with Grace Meeth. Do you support the town manager and staff?
Monachino replied, “First of all, I don’t know who’s doing the linking and I don’t care … I’m not linked.
When he responded, “The ultimate authority is town council,” he was asked again, “Do you support the town manager?”
“Sometimes,” said Monachino.

What is your vision for Cave Creek ten years into the future?
LaMar answered, “I’ve had the same vision since day one,” and said, “Preservation of open space will bring quality commercial and residential development, a more diverse tax base while preserving the town core. People will come here because we haven’t cookie-cuttered our community.”

Did you know the water tank was built on the wrong land since you were the listing agent for the sale?
“No, I did not,” answered Brennan.

Have you changed your mind about the day labor center?
Mozilo made it clear that it wasn’t a simple yes or no answer as he explained what the town was like several years ago when over 100 day laborers lined both sides of Cave Creek Road every morning, why and how the day labor center started, how it got booted from the church and moved to the American Legion, to the change in leadership at the church which took it back and refused to discontinue the center after being asked. He then said, “Yes, I started it.”
McGuire stated, “The center itself wasn’t illegal. Too bad we could not coordinate it for the workers.”

Why did you decide to run?
Stanfield said, “Diversity is the key.”
Monachino said he had the “experience and skills to help the town with its finances and management.”
LaMar said friends asked him to run and stated he’s an advocate not a politician.
Bruce said, “I’m not afraid to make hard decisions during hard economic times.”

We were told if we would rezone, 4,000 acres would be ours, now I found it’s not. I’ve heard the land department will not commit. What is the story?
Candidates chimed in here and there with pieces of the answer but the issue was subsequently referred to Town Manager Usama Abujbarah in the audience, who explained the land value will be based on open space regardless of when the town is in a position to purchase it, as an appraisal is only good for a period of six months.
Abujbarah also made it clear the sale of this land could not be compared to any other state land sales for open space in the state as this was the first agreement in Arizona history where land has being designated as open space.

Do you support Wal-Mart at the proposed location?
(Wilson clarified the proposed location is just south of the southeast corner of Cave Creek Road and Carefree Highway.)
All but Stanfield and Monachino said, “Yes,” although the mayor also stated the location would require council to rezone.
Stanfield stated she supported large retail but not Wal-Mart, which she described as “low income just selling stuff” from China, and would prefer a Sprouts or Whole Foods.
Monachino said he didn’t support it at that location.
Bunch said he supported Wal-Mart for one-stop shopping, stating, “It’s the only place I know where I can get a box of 22 shells, a dozen golf balls, a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk.”

Why not support or reject a sales tax instead of Wal-Mart?
Trenk said he didn’t see what one had to do with the other.
Monachino said, “Taxing the town into oblivion is not the answer.”
Bunch stated, “We need more cash registers in this town.”
Francia stated, with the recent passage of the one half cent increase, “We’re as high as we can go.”
Trenk added, “I don’t think Wal-Mart is in direct competition with the unique shops in the town core.”
LaMar stated wherever Wal-Mart decides it is going to locate, that’s where they will go, which the town learned the hard way from Home Depot. He said, “Citizens of Cave Creek have a right to purchase their day-to-day supplies and support their town.”
Bunch pointed out the town is uniquely positioned as far as sprawl is concerned because no one is going to build another competing shopping center in Tonto.

Do you support a water rate increase?
All said yes with LaMar noting rates have not been increased since 1986 and Mozilo, as chair of the committee that is suggesting the rate increases, said the utility needs to at least break even.

Do you support construction of a new sewage treatment plant?
All responded affirmatively.

Do you support Habitat for Humanity condos in Cave Creek?
Francia said, “So long as they meet the requirements of the zoning ordinance … They are treated the same as any other developer.”
Bruce and Monachino abstained since HFH has a case before the planning commission on Feb. 19.
LaMar said he was the founder of HFH Desert Foothills, supports the organization and would be recusing himself for that case.

How important is tourism to you and would you promote it?
Francia said that is something the town already does. “When this town does something, it does it very well,” he said, adding, “It would be nice to have an event one time per month the size of Harold’s (Super Bowl event).”
Monachino said, “It’s important to finish the streetscape and enhance trails.”

Would you support a gentlemen’s club at Hammerhead Jack’s?
Trenk said, “No.”
Stanfield said, “Yes.”
Mozilo asked, “What’s a gentleman’s club?”
Esser said, “No, it’s discriminatory.”
Wilson then clarified, “If it’s a strip club would you support it?”
LaMar said “No.”
When Bunch said, “If it’s not precluded by zoning,” Brennan said, “I believe it is.”
Francia said it could not be within 1,000 yards of a school, which would rule it out.

How do those who are not on council see themselves fitting in?
Trenk and Stanfield both responded, “I don’t see a problem.”
Mozilo said, “I’ve been on council … I agree to disagree.”
Monachino said, “We’ll agree, we’ll disagree, we’ll vote and that will be it.”
LaMar, an attorney by profession, said, “There’s nothing wrong with a debate on the merits.”
Bruce, a retired attorney, said, like LaMar, “We spent most of our time fighting with other people. You fight for issues for your client.”
Brennan said, “Some of this takes staying power. I’m committed to the town.”

The closing statements that awakened Siddhartha Gautama
Monachino, in closing, said only voters can effect change as he accused the town council of “abrogating its responsibilities for the last two years.”

He said, “This is a town council that badly managed acquisition of the water company. It’s up to the voters. I’m an advocate for change and prudent expenditure of your money. The town needs to work toward dismantling all impediments to doing business with the town.”

Monachino’s accusations struck a nerve with Francia, who was uncharacteristically harsh as he struck back, saying, “In 1999 I took over as mayor. We have chosen goals and went after them. The six people you send to help the mayor cannot be someone spreading fear in this town. No other agendas are to take place in this town.”

Photos by Linda Bentley
Mayor Vincent Francia, running unopposed in the March 10 Primary Election, was uncharacteristically unyielding in his final comments following accusatory statements made by a town council contender about the current council.