Editor's note: This week, we're looking at the Flagstaff City Council candidates in more detail, giving each a platform to talk about what matters to them.
For Austin Aslan, sustainability is more than simply a buzzword used when talking about the environment and it means a lot more than just going green. For Aslan, it is about how future generations will see the decisions we make in the present.
“Are those people going to look back and say, ‘Wow, those people, that city council from 2018, were really thinking about us and the things they did were right,’” Aslan said.
One area sustainability can be put into practice more thoroughly is public safety, Aslan said, adding that issues of public safety in Flagstaff need more attention than they have been receiving. As the city continues to grow, the Flagstaff police and fire departments have felt the same stresses as the rest of the community, but they have not seen the funding they deserve.
“Revenues seem to be up recently and I think we need to be using a lot of those dollars to play catch-up with our public safety sector and just with our city employees in general,” Aslan said.
Aslan pointed to the Watershed protection plan as one area where the city has acted in a proactive and sustainable way to protect public safety, but he wants the city to do more.
This concept of sustainability also goes into the growth of Flagstaff and especially the rate at which it grows. Change is inevitable, Aslan said, but it is the rate and direction of the change he is most worried about.
Aslan said although he has only lived in Flagstaff for five years, he grew up in Prescott passing through and visiting the city often. This has given him the opportunity to see the city change -- and change it has.
“I have very clear memories of what Flagstaff used to be like and I’ve seen all the changes coming through. A lot of them have been exciting as Flagstaff has stopped being a really small town and sort of found its footing on its own merits,” Aslan said. “But also, I’m sensing the real pressures Flagstaff is under to change, and to change at an accelerating pace, and that concerns me.”
Specifically, Aslan said, he is concerned for people who grew up in Flagstaff who may feel they can no longer live here because of the cost -- an existential threat for the city and for its character. He said they need to be able to continue calling Flagstaff home and have more say in shaping the future.
As a research and policy analyst at NAU, Paul Deasy has spent much of his life working to provide accurate information to politicians and policy makers. But in the end, no matter how much time he spent verifying the data, Deasy said, it was always a 50-50 shot on whether the information ended up actually influencing policy.
So why not cut out the middle man, Deasy said, adding one of his goals is to turn council into a body that makes decisions based on the facts and a consistent logic between issues.
Deasy had considered running for council in 2016, but when his wife had twin girls and he got a new job, he decided based on his family life that it might not be the best time for him to run. But after the election, Deasy found himself in the middle of the controversy over the passage of a higher local minimum wage through Proposition 414.
“My phone was ringing off the hook,” Deasy said. People from both sides of the issue were calling him for answers on what the law's effects would be, and there were times when it seemed like he was the only person who knew the answers.
Suddenly, he found himself essentially taking on a campaign. He was eventually able to develop an amendment to the law and was successful in passing that law through council.
Since his amendment passed, Deasy said, he sees the issue of the minimum wage as finished until a substantial study on what the law's effects have been.
Deasy also said Flagstaff needs to be better when it comes to managing change, although he added that this most recent council has been doing a much better job of it.
One problem, Deasy said, is that Flagstaff is a small city, with the problems of a small city, but it likes to think of itself as a small town.
“We are going to continue to grow. There is no stopping that. We’re not going to put a wall around the city to stop people from coming,” Deasy said, adding that the city needs to learn to embrace change instead of running away from it.
And that’s not just change to infrastructure but also to the city’s economy, Deasy said. For example, finding ways to encourage business other than those only devoted to tourism, especially industries that can utilize the educated workforce that NAU produces, so you don’t have engineers serving coffee.
For Dennis Lavin, one of the joys he has discovered while campaigning has been the excuse to walk the streets of Flagstaff and knock on people's doors. For this reason, Lavin has spent much of his campaign money on simple paper pamphlets rather than signs or online ads.
“I’m trying to stay away from special interests,” Lavin said, adding that most of what he has spent on the campaign has come from himself. It’s not always the most effective way to campaign; often when he knocks, no one answers.
But when someone does answer the door, he likes having those moments of personal contact with voters -- the ability to look people in the eye and engage with them, often speaking with someone for 10 minutes and telling them about the issues that most matter to him before moving on to the next door.
As a certified accountant, Lavin has spent much of his life in the world of corporate governance, saying it has given him the skills to plan for the future and help run large and complex organizations.
When it comes to the city, Lavin said, he is extremely proud of the financial situation Flagstaff is in. One of his goals on council is to preserve that, and if possible, improve it.
Most of all, Lavin said, he sees the job of the council as making sure that the city is preforming its simple day-to-day duties to the best of its ability. The financial situation of the city makes a huge impact on how the city is able to perform this job, and how well it is prepared for the future.
Lavin said one concern he has is about the city’s ability to fulfill its commitment to the pensions of employees, something many cities struggle with.
“I really want to make sure we're keeping our eye on that,” Lavin said.
The diversity of the economy is also an important issue for council to take up, he added.
Lavin said he has spoken to many people who have had problems finding the kind of work they want or who know others with the same problem. This especially crops up, Lavin said, when someone gets a job at NAU or W L Gore & Associates, but their partner or spouse then has trouble finding work of their own.
“We have a lot of poverty in Flagstaff,” Lavin said, adding that a diversified economy could help solve that problem.
Shimoni is not the only candidate running for council who ran for an office in 2016 and lost. Alex Martinez ran for a seat on the state legislature, challenging Bob Thorpe and Brenda Barton.
Martinez was sitting in his dining room and reading about a bill Thorpe had just introduced to allow students to carry guns onto campus. That’s when he decided enough was enough.
Education and public safety are two issues Martinez said he is extremely passionate about, and this bill ticked both boxes.
“Education crosses all lines -- health issues, safety issues,” Martinez said. “It isn't just the public school classroom and the university classroom, although those really are the utmost concerns I have other than welfare.”
The interest in education comes out of a near-lifetime involvement in the sector. Martinez joined the Navy when he was 17 and when he got out, he decided to follow his wife's footsteps into public education, her as a teacher and him often working as an administrator. He worked on the head start program, and also returned to the Navy for a time. The thought of firearms on campuses was a step too far.
Both Thorpe and Barton were running unopposed by any Democrat, so he decided to throw his name in the race.
In the end, he lost to both of them with only 31 percent of the vote, which Martinez blames primarily on gerrymandering, and the experience soured him on politics. It didn’t, however, sour him on public service, and Martinez said one draw to seeking a seat on council is the nonpartisan nature of the position.
Now, Martinez said, he sees the job of council as simply making sure the city is operating in the best way it can, and making sure that those living in Flagstaff are safe and secure.
Martinez said the council has ignored issues of public safety for too long. He is especially worried about how the city is prepared for the possibility of a natural disaster such as a forest fire, and if the city’s infrastructure could hold up under pressure.
And on affordable housing, Martinez said the city should tackle the issue head on, not by implementing what he considers welfare programs that only help people in the short term -- such as the affordable housing bond -- but working with companies directly to bring in higher paying jobs.
Regina Salas has a long history of involvement in politics and public work, both in her life and in her family’s. Growing up in the Philippines, Salas’s father Rodolfo Salas and much of her extended family helped lead the communist guerrilla group the New People’s Army, which fought against dictator Ferdinand Marcos throughout the 1970s and '80s.
As a child, other than a few letters and gifts her parents were able to smuggle to her, Salas said she was only able to see her family during clandestine visits every few years. But growing up in such a way also showed her the lengths her family was willing to go to, and what they were willing to sacrifice in the name of improving their country.
Salas said she has carried this commitment to public service with her ever since, working as a chief legislative officer and an analyst in the Philippine Congress, and now after 12 years of living in Flagstaff and working for both Coconino County and the Chamber of Commerce, spurring her to seek a seat on council.
When on council, Salas said, she wants to challenge the notion that living in Flagstaff should be defined by poverty with a view.
The solution to this, Salas said, is sustainable and strategic growth and economic development. She thinks council should especially do more to help small businesses thrive and this means taking a hard look at how the minimum wage law has affected businesses.
Salas said people don’t realize just how much more costly a hike in the minimum wage is for business owners. She has spoken to people who are torn between keeping their house and their business. But the city also has to be on good financial footing.
Because of this, Salas said, although her heart says yes to the housing bond passed by council, she believes it uses far too much of the city’s bonding capacity, which could be needed in the future to address other pressing issues such as a long-term water supply for the city.
Salas said she also wants to push council to take a second look at the regional plan, which she believes can be improved.
For example, Salas said, she is concerned about how the city will be able to deal with solid waste in the future, especially as the lifespan of the current landfill becomes shorter and as the city continues to grow.
Ever since the night of Nov. 6, 2016 when Adam Shimoni came just within a hair's breadth of winning a seat on council, he knew he would be running again.
Shimoni said he thinks about that campaign and election cycle all the time, about what he learned about running for a seat on council and about what he learned about himself.
During the last election, Shimoni said he challenged the conventions of how most people run a local campaign for council, and in the end, learned many of the strategies he used may not have been as effective.
Despite that, Shimoni said he also learned certain approaches to politics, although not perfect, were important to him personally. One of these was focusing a huge amount of his time on a population that is usually not as involved in politics: young people.
Spending valuable campaign time getting people younger than 18 educated about the issues is something most candidates would avoid. But getting youth involved in politics is something Shimoni said he is passionate about.
“If you can get someone hooked on the understanding of what it means to be involved and the importance of it, even at 12, 13, 14 years old, by the time they're 18, they're already on track to being an engaged citizen who sees the value of civic engagement," he said.
And it’s that bigger picture that Shimoni said he prefers to look at.
Shimoni said he has seen many of the important issues of 2016 become more defined in the last two years. One example of this is high occupancy housing. People now have a better understanding that they have to get involved early in the process, Shimoni said, because if they wait, it’s too late to influence the development.
NAU has also continued to expand and grow. In April, a company that buys and manages land on behalf of NAU bought the Granny’s Closet parcel, among others, and Shimoni said the city needs to put more pressure on NAU and the Arizona Board of Regents.
The issue of affordable housing has also become more salient, and how other concerns, such as open space, often overlap and compete for solutions.
“What's needed now more than ever is leadership that is going to take these issues and these moving pieces and find synergy between them and work towards better solutions,” Shimoni said.