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A voter walks into the polling station inside the Federated Church on Aspen Avenue in Flagstaff last May.

Of the six candidates running for Flagstaff City Council in 2018, all live in neighborhoods from which other candidates have run for council previously.

And looking at the history of public office in Flagstaff, this is not unusual. If you map where those running for public office have lived in the past eight years, one thing becomes clear: when it comes to candidates, some neighborhoods simply seem to produce more than others.

The hospital hill neighborhood is one example of this, producing five candidates since 2010 -- one of which, Jamie Whelan, is currently vice-mayor.

The neighborhoods of lower and upper Greenlaw are similar, producing four candidates for office since 2010, and to the south, the neighborhood of Foxglenn and those surrounding Country Club have offered up six candidates in the same amount of time.

Other parts of the city -- the Southside, Plaza Vieja and Sunnyside for example -- look very different. The Southside neighborhood has produced only two candidates since 2010. And no candidates have come out of either the neighborhoods of Sunnyside or Plaza Vieja.

The unofficial mayor of the Sunnyside neighborhood and chair of the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association, Joe Ray, said it’s a problem that has long affected the city and is something he believes has real consequences for the residents of those neighborhoods.

President of the Southside Neighborhood Association Deborah Harris agreed, adding that the lack of representatives on council have historically meant far fewer dollars going into the community.

“To be honest, I think that Southside really hasn’t been represented well on the council. When you look at these neighborhoods, you will see that they look very different from the other neighborhoods,” Harris said. “And if you go years back and look at the people who were on council, you would probably see that they probably lived in places like Greenlaw, or they lived in University Heights.”

Harris pointed at the issue of flooding in the Southside, which she believes may have been solved far earlier if the neighborhood had been better represented on council.

But Ray said he believes he also has the solution: the implementation of districts across the city.

“I feel our council should be elected from a district that they live in,” Ray said.

Ray said implementing districts is something he has been pushing for some time and, although he does not yet know the timeline, he plans to start an initiative to get the concept implemented in the city.

According to Ken Strobeck, executive director of the Arizona League of Cities and Towns, 10 cities in Arizona have city councils that are elected through a form of districts. Of those, he said none of them had districts written into the original charter.

In other words, in each case, the residents themselves decided to change the charter in order to implement districts.

“It’s kind of dependent on how citizens feel,” Strobeck said.

Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans said she too believes districts could be beneficial for both the city and its residents, and for council.

Council, Evans said, could benefit from the diversity by simply having people who live in a more varied group of neighborhoods.

“You know who lives there, you know what the issues are, you know what the traffic pattern is, you know what the neighborhood wants and what the neighborhood needs,” Evans said. “You know these things, so if you were to be on the council, you would be able to bring perspective from that area and I think that is something that is valuable.”

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Evens added that in many ways, the council already acts in a district system but as opposed to being based on neighborhoods, they are based special interest groups. Because of this, Evans said, when residents ask who they should contact about an issue in their neighborhood, she tells them to send the complaint to everyone on the council.

“What you’re going to find out is whoever is interested or passionate or has time to delve into that is going to be the person that responds to that,” Evans said. “That’s just how it works, based on issue rather than area.”

Based on who runs for council currently, there is some question as to whether, should districts be implanted, a candidate would run in every seat. But this may have more to do with the current barriers to entry when it comes to running for office.

And Evans pointed at the county, which doesn’t have a problem finding candidates.

“The county manages to put people forward for their five districts, we have 75,000 people living here,” Evans said, adding she doesn’t believe the city would have a difficult time finding candidates for each one. “I think there would be a restructuring, though, on how the council is set up. I think then it goes to being a full-time position. I think then the pay system is different.”

During a council meeting earlier this year, Councilmember Eva Putzova floated the prospect of raising the amount of pay councilmembers and the mayor receive as another way to attract a more diverse group of candidates.

At the time, Evans had agreed with Putzova and said that in her experience as mayor, it is more than a full-time job, but one in which it is not possible to live off of in Flagstaff. And Evans said, to allow people to run in every district, this would likely have to change if districts were implemented.

The compensation, Evans said, restricts who can afford to run for council or mayor as the current pay prevents anyone from running for public office who is not either retired or owns their own business.

As of next year, councilmembers will receive $25,500 per year in compensation for their work. The position of mayor will receive $38,500 a year. Both were raised by the council earlier this year.

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Adrian Skabelund can be reached at the office at askabelund@azdailysun.com, by phone at (928) 556-2261 or on twitter @AdrianSkabelund.

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Reporter - Government, Development

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