Candidates for Glendale City Council faced off Aug. 8 during a candidate forum at the Glendale Woman’s Club.
The two-hour event began with opening statements from each of the five candidates — incumbent Bart Turner and Ray Strahl vying for the Barrel District seat; incumbent Jamie Aldama and Emmanuel Allen competing for the Ocotillo District seat; and incumbent Lauren Tolmachoff running unopposed in the Cholla District.
“Everybody knows the condition Glendale was in five, six years ago,” Turner said. “We not only were in financial straits, we’d lost a lot of longtime employees that knew and understood the history and culture of Glendale. We’d also had a turnover of elected officials, as well. And I could see signs that Glendale was on the wrong track and headed in the wrong direction, and I thought, ‘If not me, who? Who’s going to run and get the ship steered straight again?’
Since he’s been on the council, he’s helped restore Glendale’s financial condition, citing the city’s A1, AAA and A+ bond ratings; worked to create jobs and brought good business to the city, citing BMW, Top Golf and the Desert Diamond casino; and stopped subsidizing professional sports, he said.
Strahl said he is running because he believes in moving Glendale forward.
“I have 47 years of actual corporate experience in managing and budgeting hundreds of people and millions of dollars,” he said.
He said he’s a problem solver and he listens.
“I know that my answer isn’t always the best answer, so I try to look at all the possibilities.”
He knows how to work with people to reach a consensus and get solutions, he said.
“I think the council could benefit from that approach,” he said, adding several councilmembers and the mayor support him.
Aldama said he’s lived in Glendale 49 years and in the Ocotillo District 42 years.
“I certainly know the needs of our community,” he said. “When I ran for office and ultimately was seated in 2014, the city was on the brink of bankruptcy.”
He said the city now celebrates AAA bond ratings, refinances bonds and has saved taxpayers about $72 million. He said the city has also ended costly litigation and has entered into a revenue-sharing profit agreement with AEG.
“We are now paying only $4 million, they returned a check to us for $1.4 million,” he said.
He said streets are being paved and lights are being changed out to LED.
“The district is doing better, the city is doing better,” he said, adding employee turnover has been reduced from 20 percent to about 8 percent.
“We no longer have a line in the unemployment line,” he said. “We now have a line for new jobs in the city of Glendale.”
Tolmachoff said one of the promises she made when she ran was to restore stability to the city.
“Not just fiscal stability, but stability as far as the management of the city, which is something I think Glendale was really lacking,” she said.
Glendale now has a city manager and staff with great vision, she said.
“We’re moving the city forward in a lot of ways,” she said, citing the bond ratings that have saved the city nearly $72 million in long-term debt.
“That’s real savings for the taxpayers,” she said. “That’s money that we would have to pay in interest on bonds that we don’t have to pay now.”
She said the rainy day fund is growing, and that the LED light conversion project not only resulted in a rebate check of $400,000 from Arizona Public Service Co., but will also save the city $670,000 a year in electric costs.
“That’s a huge savings, and that’s going to be an ongoing savings, that’s not a one-time thing,” she said.
She touted establishing a scenic corridor along Loop 101, preventing billboards from being erected and blocking the mountain views from the road.
“Phoenix had a scenic corridor that stopped at 51st Avenue,” she said. “Right when you enter Glendale, that’s where the scenic corridor stopped. Now the scenic corridor goes all the way to Bell Road.”
Allen used his opening statement to “fill in the blanks that somehow keep missing, left out of the reports about me.”
He said he’s the pastor of a church, which sponsors Roots, a community service program. He said Roots has a contract with the city to provide after-school and summer programs to youths, and as part of the contract, Roots gets the use of two city-owned community centers. The church rents space in one of the recreation centers and provides most of the volunteer manpower for Roots, he said.
“Here’s the important part. As they say in politics, follow the money. The city pays nothing for Roots programs,” he said.
Allen said neither he nor any Roots volunteers take a salary, adding he doesn’t take a salary from the church, either, because it can’t afford it.
“Aside from occasional small government grants, the only money that changes hands between the city, Roots, the church and myself is the rent paid by the church to the city,” he said.
He said the rent has occasionally fallen behind.
“Our members of our church, they’re rich in spirit, but not in the pocket,” he said, adding Roots does not charge residents for any of its programs.
“I see only two possibilities here, either I’m the worst con man in history, paying for the privilege of working for free and convincing others to do the same, or I’m deeply dedicated to this community and our children,” he said.
He said he’s not perfect.
“But I’m certainly not trying to deceive anyone or mispresent myself or my work,” he said.
After the opening statements concluded, candidates answered questions submitted via email and through the Woman’s Club Facebook page, as well as written questions submitted prior to the forum.
Topics ranged from Glendale Glitters and the Glen Lakes Golf Course to councilmember raises and city sales tax. While candidates generally agreed on some topics, others were contentious.
One of the more controversial issues they were asked about was Glendale Glitters and if they would support rearranging the downtown festival budget to bring back the two programming weekends that the City Manager’s Office deleted.
Strahl said another weekend has been added and that there has been a lot of talk about it in the community, and that the issue needs to be reinvestigated further. He said people love the Christmas season.
“I think it is upon the council and community leaders to do whatever we can to expand Glendale Glitters and Glitter and Glow,” he said. “It’s very important to this community.”
Aldama said he favors the events and would not like to see them go away.
“However, this council has a fiduciary responsibility,” he said.
He said more money is spent in downtown Glendale than any other business area in the city, including Westgate and Arrowhead Mall.
He was pleased that the city manager reimplemented one weekend, he said.
“But at the end of the day, I don’t want them to go away, I would like to see them back, but we have a fiduciary responsibility to you, the taxpayers, to make sure that we are spending dollars wisely, efficiently and the way you want us to,” he said.
Allen said he supports the festivals coming back.
“I understand the fiduciary responsibility of the council … and when you do look at those numbers, it is important that we make some necessary changes,” he said. “We do need to take another look at that.”
He said a lot of people have grown up with the festivals and have great memories.
“I think it’s important that we do make a decision that is beneficial to us as taxpayers, but also for those that enjoy the experience of these festivals,” he said.
Tolmachoff said nothing has been canceled.
“There seems to be some confusion that something was canceled, because nothing was canceled,” she said. “I heard from a lot of people that were not satisfied with the carnival atmosphere that was every weekend downtown.”
She said deleting some of the programming weekends will offer something for everyone.
“If you want the big, with all the vendors and bouncy houses and all that, you’re going to have that option, but you’re going to have other weekends when you can come down here with your kids in a wagon, with a stroller with your families and have an enjoyable, relaxing experience,” she said.
Turner said the good news is most of Glendale Glitters will remain the same.
“The opening weekend right after Thanksgiving and the closing weekend, Glitter and Glow, which is the second weekend in January, are going to be very similar to what you’ve seen before,” he said.
He said he was disappointed that the way staff handled the decision to deprogram the three weekends in-between left the downtown merchants surprised.
Candidates were also asked what they would accomplish if elected and if they would support a resident committee to review the city charter, something they all said they would.
Candidates were divided on the topic of the Glen Lakes golf course when asked if they would be in favor of making the necessary capital improvements to keep the city-owned course open.
Turner said he was in favor of keeping the course open.
“That is a really important piece of open green space in Glendale,” he said.
Strahl said he’s played at Glen Lakes for 25 years and has enjoyed it, but has seen it go downhill, and costs to fix it keep rising.
“A number of years ago, it would have cost maybe $100,000 to put it back in great order,” he said. “Now, that number is somewhere around a half a million dollars, and it loses a half a million dollars a year.”
He said more research is needed.
“As far as keeping it open, I’m not sure that is the right answer at this point,” he said.
Aldama said he supports saving the course.
“I want to remind you that we have a capital improvement policy and that policy states that the city should invest and shall not walk away from their assets and shouldn’t allow them to deteriorate,” he said, adding the city allowed it to deteriorate.
“I can’t allow it to do that,” he said.
Allen said creative and innovative solutions are needed.
Tolmachoff said she wished she could be supportive of restoring the golf course.
“But, unfortunately, the last I heard, it’s several million dollars it would take to bring that back up to par,” she said.
Candidates were asked if they thought north Glendale residents get preferential treatment over south residents, with everyone agreeing that that is typically the perception, but that perception is not always reality.
When asked if they agreed with Glendale paying for the Cardinals parking lot on 91st Avenue, Tolmachoff and Turner both said the city was obligated and had no choice. Furthermore, they said the parking lot saved the city money compared to the original parking garage plan. Allen said he’d need to do more research. Strahl said anytime the city spends money, it needs to question if it’s a good investment and that he’s not in favor of the city footing the bill for sports teams. Aldama said he supported the parking lot and would not have supported the parking garage if he had been on the council when the decision was made.
Candidates were asked how they would use their district allocation of Glendale’s budget to benefit the entire city, and they all said the $15,000 each councilmember receives is earmarked to improve their specific districts. They were also asked what their vision was for downtown and they all agreed they’d like to see a thriving city center.
Question No. 12 elicited giggles from the candidates who were asked if they would favor salary raises for councilmembers. They all essentially said they’re not in it for the money, but nobody said he’d turn down a voter-approved raise, either.
Finally, they were asked if they would favor deleting the extra .7 percent sales tax, which was approved by residents in 2012, gradually over a period of four years.
Tolmachoff said she’d have to look at the five-year forecast.
“Don’t be mistaken, that 7/10 of a percent sales tax is about $27 million a year,” she said.
Turner said the .7 percent goes into the general fund and that the city needs to be careful about reducing tax that goes into the fund, but that the city could reduce the transportation tax, which would have the same effect for residents’ pocketbooks.
Strahl said the tax should be reviewed on an annual basis.
Aldama said the .7 percent helped the city get of financial hardship, but that he would be in favor of looking at a reduction.
Allen said if it could be lowered, it should be, but that the topic needs to be studied.
Fireworks flew during closing statements, just after Turner praised everyone for being so civil.
Strahl used the majority of his three minutes to attack Turner, saying he “talks a good game during election season, but he leaves the ball on the table.”
He accused Turner of failing to address street issues and the Glen Lakes Golf Course.
“But suddenly, Bart is campaigning as a hero for all of these issues,” he said.
He also said Turner “basks in the glow of the council that has gotten much accomplished even though he was more of an obstacle than a supporter.”
Allen spent most of his closing statement criticizing Aldama.
“He holds meetings in the community but his record of actual accomplishments are pretty thin,” he said.
He said he found it ironic that The Glendale Star endorsed Aldama based on the accomplishments of the entire council.
“The irony is, as the council was making progress, Jamie Aldama was dragging his feet, objecting and playing political games,” he said.
Tolmachoff criticized one of her colleagues in attendance whom she did not name for being “on both sides of the issue,” referring to the council’s recent decision to place dedicated school resource officers in every high school in the city.
“This is a leadership position,” she said. “You have to be unafraid to make decisions that you know are going to anger some people, and one of my colleagues up here tried to be on both sides of the issue. I would never want to be represented by somebody who wanted to be on both sides of an issue.”
Moderator Grace Kobojek surprised the candidates by giving them each one minute for a rebuttal.
Neither Tolmachoff, Allen nor Strahl had anything to rebut.
Aldama used his time to explain why he used some of his district improvement allocation budget to purchase trees for a school district.
“I provided shade for children, the school could not afford the trees, so I provided them for them,” he said.
Turner quipped, “Perhaps I spoke too soon about civility,” drawing laughter from the audience.
“I didn’t mean that to be a laugh line,” he said. “I’m sorely disappointed at the turn to the south that this has taken in the last few minutes. It disappoints me that people use their final moments to attack, perhaps not knowing that there would be a rebuttal opportunity. But I’m going to stay on the high road, keeping it about accomplishments.”
To watch the forum in its entirety, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1A5kWd6wVw&feature=youtu.be.