Editor’s note. The following article on the subject of GY city council’s behavior during the prison debacle deserves to be published in the AZ Republic or West Valley View, media with a much larger audience than howardsgoodyearblog. Unfortunately, neither of these outlets has chosen to even cover this issue. For the other papers’ oversight, I am both grateful and flattered that Mayor Cavanaugh has asked hgb to publish his thoughts on the matter.
by Mayor Jim Cavanaugh
On September 15, howardsgoodyearblog included an article written by Gary Gibbs, a citizen of Goodyear, describing Mr. Gibbs’ presentation to Goodyear City Council during the September 12, Council Meeting. The blog, which is entitled “Council Berates Citizen Over Prison Question,” deserves our full attention and action as residents of Goodyear for it illustrates what is wrong with government in Goodyear and it does so through the unforgiving facts of a streaming internet video. See Goodyear council meeting of 12 Sep on the Goodyear website. (http://goodyear.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=8&clip_id=1943 click on item #6, go to 18 min 42 seconds).
Mr. Gibbs does not venture into hyperbole in use of the word “berate.” Council, primarily Mrs. Lord, but not only Mrs. Lord, berated, castigated, and excoriated a person they are sworn to serve, a person they report to, a citizen of Goodyear. With condescension, they implied “I’m better than you, and you had better not forget it.” Mr. Gibbs took about two and a half minutes of the three minutes he was allotted to speak. Council used about twelve minutes to crucify him (Mrs. Lord consumed three of those minutes) and yet never specifically responded to his question. (Editor’s note, I watched the video only after reading this article and if you listen carefully, only Joe Pizzillo is clear about the question if he had “EVER” supported the prison. The rest of them dance around that and focus on council’s “public position”, which refers to after the Georgia public meeting).
What did Mr. Gibbs do that so infuriated our Council? He referred to internal City of Goodyear emails obtained by howardsgoodyearblog concerning the State of Arizona’s initiative to evaluate the potential expansion of Perryville Prison located in Goodyear. The subject of prison expansion and the consequent actions by council and staff to protect themselves from criticism are amply covered in a series of September howardsgoodyearblogs, which need no additional elaboration.
The purpose of my blog is to address the actions of council in response to a single citizen’s request for information. Mr. Gibbs sought to understand why council did not voice strong opposition in the early stages of the prison site investigation process. It appeared the City had been inconsistent and uncertain in its approach to the issue. Mr. Gibbs had to be concerned after reading an August 10 email from the city manager, ‘’we have never said that we are opposed” (to the Perryville Prison expansion). This was two months since the city staffers assigned to the project started meeting with the prison lobbyists and probably four months since the city manager and hence, the council, were aware of the interest to expand Perryville (and per each councilmember, each had expressed their individual opposition). This particular quote from the city manager leaves a reasonable person to conclude that only one of two scenarios regarding council involvement could have occurred in the prison decision-making process. One, each councilmember is being truthful, and from the beginning (whenever that was) opposed the expansion in conversations with the staff and in executive session (if there was one). If this is true then Goodyear has a renegade city manager who does not respond to city council views. Or secondly, the city manager honestly believes that the council (almost assuredly after many group and individual interactions) was not opposed to the expansion.
As one of the 65,000 citizens of Goodyear, Mr. Gibbs was simply exercising his right to question those who work for him. Like howardsgoodyearblog, he was doing his duty as a citizen. Unlike the council, Mr. Gibbs was not willing to sweep under the rug a question that every council person should have previously engaged in a public manner. The city manager’s comment via email should have been examined in the open. Mr. Gibbs offered council the opportunity to do just that. Be honest and forthright. Instead they (excepting Mr. Pizzillo) hid under the mushroom and accused Mr. Gibbs of playing politics (Mrs. Lord and Mrs. Lauritano said that), wasting government resources (Mrs. Lord and Mr. Stipp said that), conspiracy (Mrs. Osborne said that), and being 100% wrong (Mrs. Lord; yes she actually said that, not to a child, but to an adult citizen who, unlike Mrs. Lord, had a long and exceptionally successful professional career).
There is no doubt that during a city council meeting or work session, council members have a distinct advantage in one-on-one engagements with citizens. The elected official is customarily on a dais physically above the citizen, the mayor controls the proceedings and gets the last word, the council member is not time constrained in speaking while the citizen is limited to 3 minutes, and the elected officials have available and on-hand legal assistance while the citizen is largely on his/her own from a legal perspective. The situation is difficult for the citizen and can be particularly intimidating if unfamiliar with public speaking. The leadership characteristic of elected officials is witnessed not in their action to manipulate and control a situation customarily advantageous to them, but in their action to forgo that advantage.
I met with Gary Gibbs on one occasion and that was in my real estate office for about an hour or so during the past election cycle. I do respect the hard work he put into the campaign and I commend him for standing up in front of council and staff expressing an issue that thousands of other citizens should have been willing to do. It is unlikely that my vision for the city would find full agreement from either Mr. Gibbs or howardsgoodyearblog. Neither our three political visions nor the politics of our 65,000 residents will ever fully coincide. However, the 65,000 of us as Goodyear citizens would be better served in this democracy if we thought of ourselves as a team, a team that must stick together and stand by any member who has the courage to step up to the plate. None of us can successfully take on self-serving government alone. It is far too powerful and manipulative.
As a final word, I couldn’t help but learn a few things during my 45 years of public service. I found an important principle I gleaned from my military career was just as applicable as a mayor of a city. The principle concerns a person’s boss and is only applicable if the mayor and council member of a city truly accept the fact that it is THE PEOPLE WHO RULE. The principle is simply “Never criticize or demean your boss in public.” In the USAF, consequences for violating the principle were career-ending. The USAF had it right.