Neely Launches AWARE – 12 Charter Changes for 2012

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 26, 2011
CONTACT: Paul Bentz

Accountability, Wisdom, Accessibility, Representation, & Ethics

The City of Phoenix was established as an incorporated city in 1881. In 1913, Phoenix was established by charter as a council manager form of government with a population less than 20,000 making it one of the first cities in the country with this form of government. Today, Phoenix has a population of approximately 1.5 million making it the largest council manager form of government city in the country. The charter itself is meant to be a living document that would be amended to change with the evolving city. The last major changes to the charter occurred in 1983 and resulted in the creation of districts to elect the city council.

The form of governance only works if it truly reflects the will and needs of the people it serves. The time has come to have a comprehensive review of the city’s charter to help change the culture at City Hall. We need to ensure that city government continues to serve the residents of the City of Phoenix and not the entrenched interests of government unions, influential zoning attorneys, and companies who have made their business around relationships with municipal service areas. In short, we need to focus on making sure that City Hall serves the taxpayers of Phoenix – not itself.

We cannot wait. It is time to act. If elected, I will use the momentum of this election process to carry forth the most wide-ranging reform of our municipal government in nearly 30 years. The goal will be to comprehensively review the charter and modernize it to reflect the realities of today and the prospects and opportunities for tomorrow. These reforms should focus on accountability, wisdom, accessibility, representation and ethics (A.W.A.R.E.) and focusing on opening up City Hall to a greater degree of public scrutiny and fostering a more open and transparent dialogue among elected and appointed leaders. Phoenix residents should have the opportunity to be more aware of what is going on in their community.

One of my first actions as Mayor will be to set a public process made up of citizens of Phoenix who are the taxpayers all of us in public service are here to serve, to take the comprehensive review of the City’s Charter, not lobbyists, special interest, city insiders and/or those who can earn their living doing business with the city.

Charter reforms will be presented to the public in an open and transparent process, debated, and adopted or referred to the ballot in 2012. Everyone should come to the table with suggestions – I am offering twelve ideas I support that should start this reform process. This is not meant as a comprehensive list of reforms, but as a starting point to use during this election cycle to start a community discussion and debate that will lead to action if I am fortunate enough to be elected:

• Mandatory discussion period and public hearing schedule on all tax increases: Any actions to levy taxes should be done with proper notices, not merely to meet the technical requirements of the open meeting law but ensuring that sufficient time is given to all the taxpayers so that thoughtful debate and discussion takes place before any tax levy is made.

• Zero based budgeting and increased budget transparency: We should start fresh every year with a clean budget slate. No more starting from last year’s budget to decide future spending. In addition, we should implement better reporting mechanism to the public on the finances of the city and frequency of such reports in a public setting where the taxpayers and residents can express their views to the elected representatives. The City’s checkbook should be online and easily accessible and easy to explore.

• Strengthen the ethics policy: Develop a stronger and clearer conflict of interest and ethics policy statement that will clearly point out the minimum requirements any elected official and those appointed by the elected body are to abide by. I would also include those who serve on boards and commissions. There should be no loophole, ambiguity or general lack of clarity that all of us who serve the will of the people should be expected to follow. In addition, there should be strong monetary sanctions and the risk of removal from the position imposed on anyone found to be guilty of violating the public trust in their capacity as public servants.

• Increased council control of debt financing and budget tools: The fiscal stewardship of the City rests with the city manager and not the city council. The Mayor and Council approve the budget and purchases over a given dollar amount but the preparation of the budget and fiscal day to day stewardship rest with the city manager. There needs to be increased City Council accountability for any debt financing and budget tools used to balance the budget – it should not be “take it or leave it” as part of the budget adoption process.

• Unified election cycle: Voters should decide if we should vote on the unification of the election cycle so that the Mayor runs concurrent with all council districts and the candidates for municipal offices appear on the same ballot and in the same election cycle as state and county officials. The potential cost savings would be over $1 million per election.

• Additional city council districts: It is time to debate the merits of additional members to the city council, if they can be added with a net zero change to the council budget.

• Increased citizen representation on healthcare and pension boards: The City works for the taxpayers – they are our boss. However, the healthcare and pension boards are set where the employees basically govern themselves. The taxpayers should have an increased say on how their money is being spent on the healthcare and pension of the employees who work for them.

• Planning commission reform: The appointees and how the appointments are made should be explored and adjusted as necessary. City council members should have more direct input on the planning commission and commission members should have more requirements in the disclosure of conflicts.

• Increased campaign finance transparency: Candidates should file their campaign finance reports electronically and the results should post immediately. Citizens should be able to search the reports for donors, expenditures, and other information instead of downloading large documents with hard to find information.

• Lobbyist reform: Lobbyist registrations should be posted online in a searchable database by lobbyist and by client. The database should also include increased financial reporting requirements – for example, gifts and meals for commission members should be reported just as they are for elected officials.

• Required council votes: Make the City Council more accountable by requiring council votes on critical issues instead of deferring hard choices to unelected citizen committees formed to diffuse responsibility.

• Strengthen rainy day fund: We should agree to save more money in good years by increasing the annual rate of contribution to the city’s “rainy day” fund above 3 percent. We also should require that these funds be spent before considering any city tax increase.

We need better checks and balances that ensure stronger financial stewardship that places the taxpayers and their elected representatives in charge and accountable – not bureaucrats. The public can no longer be an afterthought in this process. This is the pledge I make to you, the residents of Phoenix who we are all here ultimately to serve, not the bureaucrats and union bosses who flock to the city and have ingrained themselves in the system. The doors will be made wide open for you to not only peer into but to examine and demand nothing less than the best from your elected and appointed leaders.

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