Disclaimer: The comments in this blog are my personal opinion and may or may not reflect an adopted position of the city of Glendale and its city council.

The choice for a new Mayor of Phoenix is less than 2 weeks away.  I really have no dog in the fight regarding the Phoenix mayoral election but I was intrigued by a recent opinion piece by Robert Robb in the Arizona Republic questioning why the position of Phoenix mayor should be a full time job. In an October 14, 2018 column entitled Here’s why Phoenix needs a part-time mayor Mr. Robb states, “Making decisions about overall policies that put city government on a stable and sustainable path, rather than temporizing and punting, is difficult. But it doesn’t have to be terribly time-consuming.” He goes on to say, “The only way to turn the mayor position, and the city council position as well, into a full-time job is to expand its activities to include political pursuits only marginally related to the charter function of setting sound overall policy.” Here is the link: https://www.azcentral.com/story/opinion/op-ed/robertrobb/2018/10/14/phoenix-mayor-should-part-time-daniel-valenzuela-right/1606614002/ .

One can understand Mr. Robb’s point of view if you accept that he an outsider looking in. His premise is that all activities unrelated to establishing city policy are purely political in nature with the ultimate goal of furthering the elected official’s political career and agenda.

So, Mr. Robb, when an elected official sits on a regional or local committee or board, according to your premise it’s only to advance a political career and not to represent or advance the interests of or the position of that community? Really? So when the elected official sits on a council subcommittee it’s only to advance a political career and not to represent or advance the interests of the represented constituency? Really? So when the elected official is invited to a neighborhood meeting or a local event it’s only to advance a political career and not to communicate with one’s constituency? Really?

There are many events and activities that are outside the scope of sitting at a dais and voting on policy. There’s also a great deal of ‘homework’ for the conscientious elected official to research and consider before casting that policy vote.

Seventeen years ago when I was first elected as a city councilmember it was a part time job and I received commensurate part time compensation. Over the years the job has grown in the complexity of the policy issues about which we decide as well as time spent on regional cooperation and constituency services on a one-to-one basis. In a large city it can no longer be considered a part time job. Then magnify the responsibilities of a councilmember for that of a mayor of a large city. It is most definitely a full time job that admittedly has the elected official pursuing some political agenda but predominately serving the needs of the city and its constituents.

The past mayor of Phoenix, Greg Stanton, received a salary of $88,000 a year. I do not know if he received a cell phone or car allowance but benefits would include at a minimum, medical benefits and a city contribution to his pension.  If the Phoenix mayoral position is considered as a part time job surely the compensation would reflect that as well. A salary of $88,000 a year plus benefits is more than many Phoenicians earn. So, Mr. Robb, a part time job deserves a part time salary.

This issue is pertinent because on October 4th, Valenzuela’s campaign made the following announcement, “I will put my firefighter career on hold during my term if elected as Mayor of Phoenix.” Apparently the candidate has tacitly recognized that being the Mayor of one of the largest cities in the country is a full time job.

His announcement raises a whole new set of questions. What does putting his Glendale fire fighting career on “hold” mean exactly? Is he proposing a sabbatical or leave? With or without pay? When he decides to resume his fire fighting career would there have to be a city commitment offering him his job back immediately?

Nearly every city will grant sabbatical or leave time. It has been typically and historically used and granted to city personnel called up to active military duty, short sabbaticals for research, maternity leave, etc. To my knowledge sabbaticals and leaves have never been granted for a strictly political reason such as holding elected office or for such a long time…4 years. Phoenix voters and Glendale taxpayers have the right to know exactly what putting Valenzuela’s career on hold entails. The voters should know whether they are really getting a full time mayor. The taxpayers of Glendale should know if Valenzuela will continue to receive his current salary if he is on “hold” and if his “hold” time impacts his pension.

There was one other comment made by Mr. Robb in his opinion piece that was of interest and that was, “Valenzuela is the candidate of the status quo powers: the firefighters union and the business community. As mayor, he is unlikely to rock many boats.” This is probably the understatement of all time. He is more likely to advance the firefighters union and business community agenda. After all, they will have brought him to the dance.

Mr. Valenzuela’s campaign has relied heavily on his position as a Glendale firefighter. His campaign signs shout fire fighter. His campaign website has photos with Glendale fire trucks at one of the city’s fire stations. How can one tell? Glendale fire vehicles are yellow and Phoenix fire vehicles are red.

Is this a violation of the federal Hatch Act? I’m not an attorney so obviously I don’t know. But here is some background on the Hatch Act. It is a federal law passed in 1939. It limits certain political activities of federal employees, as well as some state, D.C., and local government employees who work in connection with federally funded programs. ​In 1940, the law was expanded to cover state and local employees whose salaries are paid, in part, by federal funds or whose duties are connected to federally funded activities. The Supreme Court has on two occasions upheld its constitutionality. It prohibits the use of government resources or position to affect the results of an election.

Over the years the Glendale Fire Department has been the recipient of federal grants. The most notable and frequently received have been the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) grants, just one of a menu of Homeland Security grants available to cities. It would seem that Mr. Valenzuela has participated in or benefitted from UASI grants and that his duties are and have been, from time to time during his 15 years as a Glendale fire fighter, connected to federally funded activities. Therefore the use of government assets and equipment for his campaign could be a Hatch Act Violation.

It is up to the Phoenix voter to decide whether you will be getting the benefit of a part time or full time mayor. It’s up to the Phoenix voter to decide whether Mr. Valenzuela’s use of Glendale resources to tout his position as a fire fighter in his campaign is appropriate.

© Joyce Clark, 2018         


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