August 8 forum at Roadhaven Resort enlightens AJ community
By Bill Van Nimwegen
The Apache Junction community had an opportunity to meet and hear candidates for Mayor and City Council last week at a forum held on Wednesday, August 8.
Roadhaven Resort hosted the candidates in their impressive community center. Approximately 84 attended the forum in person, while another 1,300 people viewed it online.
The evening event was moderated by Mike Lamb, co-founder of Superstition Mountain Regional Business Alliance; owner and GM of SKY 7 and The Junction 24.7 (local online radio stations). Charles Hefton with Life Builders led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance, read the rules of the forum and introduced the candidates.
Running for Mayor are incumbent Jeff Serdy and Councilman Dave Waldron. The candidates for three open seats on the City Council are current Council members Gail Evans and Christa Rizzi and challengers Robert Schroeder and Walker Waldie. The election will be held August 28, 2018.
Ten questions, submitted by the Apache Junction community, were chosen at random and asked of all candidates, who had up to 2 minutes to respond.
Mr. Serdy spoke first, expressing his desire to continue to “do things that haven’t been done before.” A few of the things he took credit for were beautifying the city with trees planted in his Royal Palm neighborhood and erecting a large Kachina sculpture donation downtown. He reminded the audience that he has been a Council member and then Mayor for a total of thirteen years. If re-elected, however, one of his stated objectives is to get term limits passed to prevent that kind of tenure in the future. He stated that he would like to see “new blood” in city leadership.
Mayoral challenger Dave Waldron said that he has been on the council for 12 years. He emphasized that the city needs to provide “an open and honest service for all of its citizens.” Besides his time on the City Council, Mr. Waldron mentioned that he serves at Central Arizona Governments (CAG) and has the leadership skills needed to develop the city’s inventory of infill properties.
Councilwoman Gail Evans has served on the Council for four and a half years and believes “Apache Junction is on the verge of something big.” She stressed the importance of a council that works together. “We are each just one of seven votes; no one does it alone. We all have different ideas, but they require a team effort.”
Councilwoman Christa Rizzi, who also serves on the board of the Apache Junction Unified School District, has been an Apache Junction resident for 22 years and is seeking her second term on the City Council. She was a founding member of the Apache Junction Drug Prevention Coalition and is active with the Superstition Boys and Girls Club and VFW Auxiliary. She expressed her desire to always seek a win-win outcome for those with business before the city.
Robert Schroeder said that this was his second run for a seat on the City Council. He currently serves on the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Construction Code Board of Appeals.
Walker Waldie introduced himself as “the new guy” who will bring new ideas to the council. Mr. Waldie has not served on any city boards or commissions yet, but expressed a passion for his new community and said he wants to make the city “the gem of the East Valley.”
The first question, “What would you do in this term that you didn’t do in your current term and why were you unable to do it in your current term?” was directed more to those already serving as mayor and council members. The audience got a chance to hear how the candidates responded to the realities of city government.
Mayor Serdy expressed frustration with the split votes on his attempt to impose term limits for future councils. Along with his pledge to continue movement in that direction, he said he wants city staff to be more helpful, more pro-business and to continue to go after an acquisition of state and federal lands surrounding the city’s boundaries.
By contrast, Councilman Waldron answered that major development on state land to the south will come on its own. He said that when citizens see empty lots in town, they wonder why the properties can’t be developed. As an example, he said that the new Fry’s store took five years to secure. The city worked together creatively to help them get the land. Waldron expressed a need for the city to listen to objections and try to overcome them. He said that businesses will want to work with Apache Junction if they see that rules are followed consistently.
The other candidates answered the question more as follow-ups to previous statements.
Councilwoman Evans said that she did not perceive any anti-business sentiment on the Council. “We want them to do things the right way; we want to be safe.” She emphasized a need to work on infrastructure.
Mr. Waldie thinks that red tape in city offices is stunting growth. He says that Pinal County is the fastest growing county in Arizona, but Apache Junction is not growing as fast because of the red tape.
Mr. Schroeder took the desire for growth in stride, emphasizing instead a need to clean up what Apache Junction already has. “We have to get absentee owners to fix their properties.” He said that growth should be paced sensitively and not encroach on the community’s equestrian culture.
In response to the question, “What do you view as the biggest challenge currently facing the city of Apache Junction?” Mr. Schroeder said it is the city’s image. He said the “curb appeal” needs to improve and suggested that changing city code to allow for more aggressive code enforcement would help. “We just gotta do it,” he said.
Councilwoman Rizzi thinks the biggest challenge is improving the city’s reputation. She suggested that the city become more business friendy, and consider repercussions to ordinance changes. She also thinks that the city does not adequately celebrate drug arrests.
Another question asked of the candidates was more specific to crime in the city: “What will you do to help reduce and/or prevent the progressive drug and theft occurrences in Apache Junction?”
Mr. Waldron suggested that the mayor and council work with the Police Department to provide more resources if they are needed. “They depend on us to be the eyes and ears of the community,” he said.
Mayor Serdy feels that more police detectives and code enforcement officers are needed.
Mr. Waldie and Ms. Rizzi did not agree that the drug problem in Apache Junction is severe. Ms. Rizzi suggested that the city does not go after drugs hard enough and recalled that a paraphernalia sales restriction she introduced did not take hold.
Mr. Schroeder recommended that the city continue to support D.A.R.E. and establish neighborhood watches.
The 2-hour forum concluded with statements from the candidates, each expressing thanks to the audience for attending. Ms. Evans emphasized how much work there is yet to be done, but cautioned that things don’t happen fast. Ms. Rizzi added that she loves AJ and she considers it the most generous community she has ever lived in. Mr. Waldron concurred and promised to work to create a balance among all of the citizens. Mr. Serdy said his past term was transparent and called for more transparency by eliminating executive sessions. Mr. Schroeder said that he has conditioned himself to find, address and fix difficult problems.
The forum may be viewed in its entirety by visiting the Apache Junction/Gold Canyon News Facebook page.