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Separating Wheat From Chaff In This Election Campaign

SedonaEye.com financial columnist J. Rick Normand

SedonaEye.com financial columnist  J. Rick Normand

Sedona AZ (August 19, 2014)Sedona has only a week left before its Mayoral and Council primary election. By now, most all candidate’s campaign strategies have devolved into arguing over who has the greatest credentials and who best employs tactical camouflage discussion topics. Debate of this City’s most important issues is nowhere to be found, or heard.

The most common complaint regarding Sedona’s sitting Council is that, after promising to follow the will of the people, they didn’t. So, what’s the mantra of the new crop of people running for office in next week’s primary?

Same ole thing!

One candidate says, in her campaign promotional video, that her goal is to “…contribute and to build on what other Councils have done.” Does anybody know what that means? How is that done?

Another says, I’m for “Fiscal Responsibility & City Budget.” What does that mean? Opposition to Home Rule would constitute fiscal responsibility in the midst of a six year economic recession.

Most all of them say they’re for “Education.” That’s the function of the school district and the state. Education, as certain candidates promote it, is tantamount to the indoctrination of those willing to listen to the candidate’s political belief system.

City Councilors need to concern themselves with infrastructure design development and management; physical asset management; city debt reduction; proper and transparent accounting; controlled but permitted growth and public facility development; outsourcing personal service contracts and performance monitoring thereof; attracting resident benefactors who can finance essential projects privately; attracting corporate sponsorships and partners to generate non-tax revenues; developing non-tax revenue means and sources; acquiring city services from outside contractors at minimum costs which are measured against monitored performance benchmarks; and, elimination of less-than-arms length contract awards for services that most all other cities outsource. I don’t hear any candidates talking about dealing with these really critical issues in any depth at all. Instead what we get is self-serving debate and indoctrination to support the goals of candidates, as well as current Council and Staff…instead of the City’s real needs.

For instance, while not a single candidate is listening to the public outcry in opposition to Home Rule, the City, on its physical premises at City Hall, is handing out a glossy flyer entitled “Facts on Home Rule.” It represents a feeble propagandized attempt to explain the Home Rule Ballot Issue in a fair, unbiased and neutral presentation. It is, in fact, far from neutral! It is subtly biased, period!

wheat from chaffWho is responsible for this unconscionable misuse of the City’s mandate and power to honestly disburse information? The answer is, the current Council, Mayor, Staff and City Manager and, most all of the current candidates for office, all of whom can only acquire more power with more money…your money!

What happens if the Home Rule Ballot Issue Fails, the handout asks? Says the City, “… it may result in the City’s inability to expend funds despite sufficient revenue to support a higher level of operations. Starting in Fiscal Year 2015-2016, the City would have to reduce its estimated annual budget by $9 million or 26%, regardless of the amount of revenue collected that year.”

Oh, cry me a river!

It implies, that if the Home Rule Ballot issue is voted down, all these terrible things are going to happen since the City would have to reduce its ESTIMATED annual budget, regardless of the revenue amount collected. This is the old shell game…it is what you don’t know that’s important, but not mentioned. If the City can’t spend revenue earned in excess of what the state of Arizona says is a fiscally conservative average amount, then the excess must go into a rainy day fund or reserves to be used to service the City’s basic necessities, if we should have an economic malaise fall upon us.

God forbid, what a terrible fate for the City (saving precious reserve capital and paying down a very high debt load)!

On the other hand, the City handout implies that voting against Home Rule could result in denying the City the ability to expend funds despite sufficient revenue to support a higher level of operations, as dictated by a Staff ESTIMATE of City operating expenses. What this means is that any Council will be perplexed over not being able to spend every cent in excess revenues it generates (over the cost of basic city services and replenishment of vital reserves as dictated by State of Arizona statute law) predicated on Staff cost ESTIMATES for past and present Council’s personal pet projects, like the defunct Cultural Center and Amphitheater, the collapsed Barbara’s Park performing arts dome, the Wetland’s Preserve injection wells, and maybe a Creekside Walkway, etc.

Are we all to feel badly for any City Council, which doesn’t believe in subsidizing rainy day reserves? Or should we, instead, laud them for believing and behaving as if there is no such thing as a severe recession (even though we’re already in one!).

It’s always so utterly astonishing that people, who have no knowledge in economics, are always the ones who never think they have to reserve for tough times. With all the current candidates, as well as the sitting Mayor and Council, in the face of all economic facts and overwhelming expert national and world expert opinion to the contrary, it’s still “LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL!”

Let’s really keep this upcoming Mayoral/Council election positive by dealing with specific truths, instead of generalities, unabashed self-promotion, belief-system cheerleading, and, worst of all, employment of tactical camouflage discussion topics. Should not, and would not, all candidates with a degree of integrity be willing to answer these questions immediately, one way or the other? Who, if any, will evade answering these critical questions?

eyeAll of them will see this article. I would think that those who have the integrity to level with the public will answer these questions to this website.

Here are the essential questions of all:

1] Do you support or oppose Home Rule? If you support it, please explain, without any double-talk, why the reduction of the City’s estimated annual budget by 26% is a bad idea, considering what that really means is that the City would be forced to put approximately $9 million dollars a year into a rainy day fund or reserves or pay down debt, in light of the irrefutable fact that the U.S., AZ, and local economies are in a state of serious decline with no evidence of a turnaround on the horizon?

2] Do you support or oppose awarding the City’s Destination Marketing contract to the Chamber of Commerce without requiring that it be done so through a competitive bidding process (“RFP” or “RFQ”) to assure the best potential players, such as Roger Brooks International or Total Destination Marketing, get fair consideration at the lowest price charged to the City?

3] Do you support or oppose the beneficial financial support, with City treasury money from sales/bed taxes, of non-City of Sedona Chamber members such as the Hilton and Enchantment hotels?

4] Can you explain what the City’s revenue sources and non-tax revenue concepts will be, should the City’s tourist-generated tax revenues significantly decline in the near future?

5] Would you support or oppose property taxes to supplement City revenues if Home Rule is voted in again?

6] Would you support or oppose designation of the City of Sedona as an immigration “sanctuary” city?

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For the best Arizona news and views, read www.SedonaEye.com daily!

61 Comments

  1. Allie says:

    In case you didn’t know, drop your city ballot today and tomorrow in the box outside city hall at Roadrunner Drive. Don’t bother to mail and that way it is sure to get there on time and be counted.

    I’m voting for Cliff Hamilton for mayor and that’s because he is good for Sedona. I’m voting for Rio Robson and for Robert O’Donnell because they will be too.

    Big fat NO to Sandy, Angela and Scott!!! You aren’t for this town being successful and you don’t respect business or local residents or businesses!!!! I know firsthand you think you know more than anyone else. What ridiculous closemindedness!!!!

    Here’s a show of support for Barbara Littrel. She’s a very hard worker and while we may disagree I feel heard and that’s important. Allie

  2. Tom Lamkin says:

    Sorry I am late to respond, but for some reason I must have missed the original note on this. I can appreciate the frustration on not seeing the candidates answers to certain questions not covered in the forums. There is not much time to respond as the questions are asked by the forum sponsors with little time to answer them let alone other topics that may be just as important.

    I would suggest in the next election that SedonaEye establish a forum to ask questions it feels may have been left unasked. In the meantime I will attempt to answer some of the questions posed.

    First, I support Home Rule as it gives Sedona the ability to spend money it takes in without having to roll it over into a reserve. I am a strong believer in reserves, but when the reserve is adequate I am not sure it needs to grow beyond a certain point. I think the real issue is how the current money is to be spent. The root cause of those opposed to home rule is to put a financial constraint on the money spent so that wasteful boondoggles are limited. It does not fix the problem. The problem is fixed by electing people who will not abuse the budget and spend wastefully. It also assumes that we would not want to accelerate real infrastructure projects that make sense and implement them ahead of time to meet the needs of Sedona. For example, assume that the City needs to pave roads and make improvements that total $2M, but only $1M is in the current fiscal year. With Home Rule we could still spend the $2M and not have people wait a year for the next $1M to roll around. Of course one needs to review the budget fully to make sure that all of the expenditures are necessary and required rather than fanciful.

    As far as the Chamber goes, I believe in competition and the open bid process. At this time the Chamber has been awarded a contract which can be reviewed, but I do not believe we should condemn the process without knowing all the facts. At this time I do not know all of the facts, but would expect full accountability is welcomed by the Chamber. It is also possible that the Chamber may end up being the least expensive bidder with the advantage it has from past experience and current infrastructure in place. That could be tested during the next tourism board selection cycle. Regardless, all businesses should be treated fairly and equitably.

    It has already been said that most businesses with a Sedona zip code will benefit from destination marketing efforts through association, but we need to give real thought to the best way to promote those businesses that collect the tax monies. I am not familiar with the current process, but it would seem to me that those businesses that are paying to be a member of the Chamber should be promoted by the Chamber and have access to the resources that the Chamber provides. At the same time, the destination marketing efforts, if funded by tax dollars, should allow those businesses that collect that revenue to also be represented somewhere as well whether or not they are members of the Chamber. I would expect the benefits would be different by site.

    I expect the City’s revenue sources to remain fairly constant over time as the population is projected to grow fairly slowly over the next few years. Should the tourism business take another hit as it did in 2008, then I believe the City would adjust again just as it did then. The effect would be similar to or more severe than if home rule were not in effect. This goes back to making sure that an adequate reserve is in place to help weather such an occurrence. I am confident the City would survive, but it would be contingent on Council having the will to fund first things first.

    I am opposed to implementing a property tax whether Home Rule is approved or not.

    I am opposed to Sedona becoming a sanctuary city based upon what I have seen happen to other cities that have done so. Sedona does not have the public facilities or financial resources available to support such an action.

    Please feel free to contact me with any questions by phone at 847-302-4613 (I am fine with publishing this number) or at my email address of shininginsedona@gmail.com. I would also like to add that based upon my interaction with the other candidates running for office, that none of them are in it for the “money” or “perks”. They truly want to make Sedona a better place to be. How that would happen may vary slightly by candidate, but overall I believe that Sedona is being well represented. I encourage those who feel they have no voice to run for Council in the next election. I have done so and you can too. It does not take a lot of money. I have spent less than $150. And, I have found the people of Sedona welcoming and willing to sign the forms that get you on the ballot. I thank them for their support and open arms.

    Tom Lamkin

  3. @Tom Lamkin,

    Thank you very much for your very professional and well-conceived response. I just wish you could have posted it much earlier. Today, as I was voting, many of the voters recognized me, commented on my article here, and indicated that candidate’s answers did or would influence their voting decisions today. BTW, I think your idea that the SedonaEye should establish a formal candidate discussion forum in future elections is a stunningly excellent idea. Thank you!

  4. Interesting, LeFevre transferred $1000 to Jablow for his campaign, after spending 10,566 on her campaign (after paying herself back the 3300 she loaned her campaign, thus spending little of her own money). Her final financial report even has an error in it. Yet Hamilton who supports Jablow did not transfer funds to him but instead gave it to the library and the Audubon Society.

  5. @ Mr. O’Donnell:

    Is there anything illegal about any of that?

  6. No, there is nothing illegal with any of it, just interesting info that links candidates together, or how one candidate chooses not to financial support another one but instead gives to a worthy cause.

    The error in a financial report is interesting because here is someone to be on the council that does not check for accuracy on a report filed for herself.

    I also feel it should be required that a candidate put in at least as much as their highest contributor into their own campaign, and that is via a donation and not a loan that they can later pay themselves back with others donations.

    This is at a local level, I can understand at the state level and beyond that there are much larger contributors needed and that would block some from running.

  7. Another two interesting items on finances.

    First our incoming mayor, who is an accountant, can not accurately report her campaign finances.

    What does this say about the future for the city?

    Steve Segner twice donate money, first 1000, then 600 on 8/25 and the report requires that all contributions from that individual be reported as a sum, yet on her September report she claims his total contribution was only 600 instead of 1600!!!!

    Are there others?

    Secondly, if one looks for all the campaign reports, 4 have been moved to the terminated list AND two candidates have not turned in a report for September as required by the 25th. Those missing final reports are Frey and Robson.

    Both winning council candidates are supporting Jablow, who in his own words said he was concerned about the new hotels yet he and the rest of the zoning committee voted to approve the new hotel by the high school, without requiring the city’s community plan and requirements be adhered to by building lower cost housing.

  8. Helen C says:

    Agree, Robert O’Donnell, Harvey Weinstein, there is nothing illegal (only questionable) about one candidate transferring money to another.

    – what is telling is the link or brotherhood or agreement to a group of people running together and just screwing the rest of us! Just because Mz Angela wants another like minded socialistic on Her council and their concept of taking control over and of Sedona…………what’s that old saying? — damn the torpedo’s and full speed ahead????

    The Sedona City Council is and has always been a Non-Partisan Council………until recently! So they (Angela, Barbara, John Martinez etc) are shaping our town to their Democrat Vision and enabling mantra vs having any respect for our little town.

    Scott Jablow is just another Dem and transplant who are want to be’s.

    Rio Robson is the Real and Vested Deal. Vote for him so he can offer a new perspective and vision of how we can save Sedona!

    Please Robert O’Donnell – understand that financial reports are submitted on correct dates but it takes the City a few days to update those to their site………so your statement is not viable at this time………..but you will end up getting some good info once the city clerk updates the financial sites on all candidates.

    We all need to look for inconsistencies or irregularities or just Mistakes on all council candidates financial reports so that we can learn about their abilities to read them correctly and know they know how to dot their i’s and cross their t’s..pretty simple concept.

    Bottom Line is that we, the silent majority, just got screwed.

    Please Vote for Rio Robson! As he is truly a breath of fresh air and has no agendas!

  9. […] August 19, 2014 this writer wrote an article at http://www.SedonaEye.com entitled “Separating Wheat From Chaff In This Election Campaign” in which I speculated on almost the same issues today, except for the consequences of voting in […]

  10. […] August 19, 2014 this writer wrote an article at http://www.SedonaEye.com entitled “Separating Wheat From Chaff In This Election Campaign” in which I speculated on almost the same issues today, except for the consequences of voting […]

  11. […] August 19, 2014 this writer wrote an article at http://www.SedonaEye.com entitled “Separating Wheat From Chaff In This Election Campaign” in which I speculated on almost the same issues today, except for the consequences of voting […]

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