BY LINDA BENTLEY | FEBRUARY 6, 2013
‘Nothing I have heard from the challengers tonight would make me vote for you’
Photos by Linda Bentley
CAVE CREEK – After a stunning piece about Cave Creek aired on CBS, based on misinformation provided to them by council candidate Steve Snider, Snider decided to no-show for the Jan. 30 candidate forum sponsored by Sonoran News.
Two days later, we learned Snider withdrew his candidacy for council “due to personal issues.”
And, with last minute news that scheduled moderator Shelby Wilson was ill and could not attend, Planning Commission Chair Dan Baxley (l) stepped in to moderate the event.
While the mayor and most of the candidates thanked Sonoran News for hosting the forum, candidate Adam Trenk claimed he was portrayed in the newspaper as a fictional character who is “a Scottsdale resident and Obama’s love child.”
The truth of the matter is Trenk stipulated in a court challenge to his candidacy brought by Rob Papinaeu that he was living in Scottsdale and only came to Cave Creek on weekends for recreational activity, since his house in Cave Creek was leased out.
The judge ruled in Trenk’s favor, not because Trenk was actually residing in Cave Creek but because he intended to return to Cave Creek.
Sonoran News simply attended the hearing and reported on what transpired in court.
This council term will be unique, unless something happens at the legislative level, in that it will be for three and a half years instead of two years, to bring the town in sync with statute requiring all elections to be held in the fall of even numbered years. The town traditionally held its council elections in May of every other odd numbered year.
The council candidates, which included incumbent council members Shelley Anderson, Jim Bruce, Dick Esser, Steve LaMar and Thomas McGuire, and Vice Mayor Ernie Bunch, and challengers: Mike Durkin, Reg Monachino, Charles Spitzer, Adam Trenk and Eileen Wright, were seated alphabetically and given time for a brief opening statement.
Mayor Vincent Francia, who is running unopposed, was seated to the left of the field.
Anderson, a seven-year resident, said she served on various commissions and boards prior to running for council and found that experience invaluable to the decisions she’s needed to make on council.
Bruce said he was very proud to serve the last eight years, four on the planning commission and four on council and stated he was happy to run for a third term and to see things turn around economically for the town.
Describing himself as the “right wing” of town council, Bunch said he’s been in Cave Creek since 1999 and is running for his fifth term.
Durkin said he’s lived in town for 23 years and cited the town’s “onerous debt” as one reason he’s running and stated the current council is “out of touch” with its citizens.
Esser, a 25-year resident, stated he was pleased to see the room so full and said, “I love this little town.”
LaMar, who has lived in town since 1986, helped write the town’s first general plan and served on the planning commission for 15 years, is seeking his third term. He said he was proud of what council has done in the interest of the town.
McGuire, a 12-year resident seeking his fourth term, said he is proud of what council has done, the fact the town has a $3.4 million reserve balance despite paying all its debt and believes in “growth on our terms.”
Monachino, currently vice chair of the planning commission, touted his financial expertise and knowledge of budgets and corporate lending as an asset to the town in light of the financial issues it’s facing.
Spitzer said he solves problems for a living; computer problems. He said he sticks with problems until they’re resolved. He said the town has problems and has failed in three areas: fiscal responsibility, transparency and rural life style.
Trenk, who served one term on council after winning his seat in a card draw when after tying with McGuire, said he loves the town and started going to council meetings in 2008.
Last, Wright stated, “Living in Cave Creek is a privilege,” as she accused council of “pushing a scorch the earth” agenda. She said she was concerned about how the town council manages debt and claimed it spent $20 million for a water company worth $2.5 million.
One of the questions addressed the town manager and Esser said during a private forum the night before, someone said council should “fire the town manager.”
While council members stated they didn’t always agree with the town manager, they all thought he had done a good job for the town.
McGuire said he was proud of what the town manager has done for the town.
Monachino said individuals don’t hire and fire town staff and town council is what people needed to decide.
The current council agreed that council sets policy and town manager executes the town’s affairs in the town manager form of government.
Bunch stated, however, that he is not so much interested in setting policy and said he was more inclined to prevent bad policy from being put into place.
Spitzer denied being part of a slate and said he agreed with the town manager at times and disagreed at times. Durkin also denied being part of a slate.
When asked if they had met together anytime before the forum, all said they had.
Trenk elaborated by saying, “Yes we met at a practice forum and last night at Bob Moore’s house.”
Monachino said they had met with regard to property tax, Enchanted Canyon, APS and other issues and called the slate issue a “distraction” and being tarred as a slate, fear mongerer or dark side was to discredit dissenting opinion.
Aside from Monachino and Trenk, none of the other challengers have ever served on any town boards or commissions for the town, although Spitzer said he has attended approximately 400 council, planning commission and other committee meetings.
When asked about paying for emergency services with a property tax, Francia said he would not be in favor of a property tax and the town should explore other options, while Bruce seemed to believe the town would be unable to provide emergency service for the long term without a tax.
Francia also said he wanted council to review repeal of the temporary half-cent sales tax in order to make the town more competitive for businesses and council members seemed to all agree.
Bunch, who chaired the No Tax PAC in conjunction with Trenk to defeat the property tax for fire service, said property tax is confiscatory and he did not support it.
Durkin said it could not be supported without a property tax.
Monachino said the property tax was thinly disguised as fire protection and stated the next proposal would be for garbage collection. He said the whole aim of property tax is to grow government.
Spitzer said there are only three ways to get money – income, property and sales tax – and he was not in favor of any of them.
Wright also disagreed with property tax for emergency services.
Several challengers questioned the validity of the town’s $3.4 million reserve, to which both the mayor and vice mayor offered to escort disbelievers to the bank to review the town’s statements.
Francia also emphasized the town has never missed a debt payment.
During closing statements, Wright said, “A few years ago, Cave Creek was a quiet little town.
Now we have a water company and a wastewater treatment plant.” She then accused council of “blatant financial mismanagement,” after having stated earlier there should be a forensic financial audit that would uncover a host of wasteful spending.
Trenk said at best the town needed to accept a growth agenda to preserve the town.
Spitzer said Cave Creek is like a microcosm of the United States and seemed to have a creeping rezoning in residential areas.
Monachino said he has 35 years in the financial sector and has served on the fire committee, chaired the water advisory committee and is currently vice chair of the planning commission. He asked people to vote for him and donate money to his campaign.
McGuire reiterated he believed in growth for the town so long as it was on “our terms.”
LaMar seemed unable to get all his thoughts out before getting cut off by time constraints but made it clear the accusations coming from the contenders regarding the decisions council made with respect to the water company and the wastewater treatment plant were completely unfounded.
He was cut off before being able to finish explaining how state statute made those decisions necessary.
Esser, who is retired from a long career in government, said because of that he has been entrusted to represent the town at MAG. He is currently co-chair of the Small Communities Coalition that has obtained grant money for the town that the town might not otherwise have received.
Before running for council, Esser said he worked his way up to chair of the planning commission. Currently he said he puts in 20 to 30 hours every week on behalf of the town.
He also said Enchanted Canyon was never an issue.
Durkin said, “If we could take a snapshot of Cave Creek and guarantee it will never change, we’d all be happy.”
Durkin’s platform was based on his claim the town does not have a long-term financial plan or capital improvement plan.
Bunch, who has served four terms on council made it clear he has never taken a dime in campaign contributions and that way he is not beholden to anyone in particular.
He took umbrage with the contenders criticizing council’s rezoning decisions, said not all properties are appropriate for all proposed projects and asked, rhetorically, “Why didn’t Walmart want to build where Enchanted Canyon wanted to go?”
Bruce said he didn’t know what the contenders thought until the forum that night and said, “I don’t know if it’s a slate … if it walks like a duck … but it’s all negative.”
Anderson said she was a proponent of open space and the town’s trails system. As a business owner, she said she wants to make the town more business friendly while remaining devoted to preserving the lifestyle currently enjoyed.
After listening to the challengers accuse council of financial misconduct, its lack of long term planning and so much as request a forensic audit to “uncover wasteful spending,” the normally even-keeled Buddhist Francia went on a bit of a tirade and said, “Nothing I have heard from the challengers tonight would make me vote for you,” and called their speech “hateful.”
Trenk attempted to interrupt Francia and blurted out how he felt what he was saying was “unfair.”
Papineau shouted out to Trenk from the audience, “It’s not your time! Shut your hole!”
Francia then asked the challengers where all of them were when the town preserved Spur Cross and when the town negotiated with the state land department for seven years to work out a plan that would preserve 4,000 acres of open space as well as other long-term plans council was involved with.
Francia said council often passes things with a 4-3 vote because they discuss and deliberate the issues and don’t rubber-stamp things with a 7-0 vote.
Baxley ended the forum by thanking everyone for coming and said, “I was going to say this is democracy in action … I guess yelling is part of democracy.”