Public safety debate only sparks at council forum SanTan Sun News

Public safety debate only sparks at council forum

June 17th, 2018 | by SanTan Sun News
Public safety debate only sparks at council forum
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By Colleen Sparks, Managing Editor

 

Incumbent Chandler City Councilman Terry Roe was quick to defend the city’s crime-fighting record after a former member of council raised concerns about police response times.

But those were the only sparks that flew as the six candidates vying for three council seats answered questions and tried to sell themselves to voters at a candidate forum organized by the Chandler Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by SRP and Intel.

Six men seeking voters’ support in the August 28 primary election answered questions generated by local businesses, focus groups and social media outlets.

Roe and incumbent René Lopez faced off with challengers William “Bill” Crawford, Matt Eberle, Aaron Harris and Matt Orlando.

For most of the forum, the candidates expressed similar views about Chandler. They agreed it is a strong community with sound fiscal policy, impressive business growth and a great partnership with the Chandler Chamber of Commerce.

They also stressed the importance of strong economic development and enhancing the already strong schools.

But Roe and Orlando, who previously served on the City Council from 1990-98 and then from 2004-2013, clashed over public safety.

When asked what two or three areas of focus they would work on if elected to the City Council, Orlando replied, “Public safety, public safety, public safety.”

“Our (police) response times, they need to dramatically improve,” Orlando said. “We need more police officers, more police presence in our communities.”

He added improving the safety of schools and neighborhoods, as well as the “quality of life” in Chandler are among his priorities.

Roe was quick to defend the city’s police and fire departments, citing the city’s provision of new body armor, vests and other equipment, as well as a new fire station and new fire/police training facility.

“On its face, public safety is excellent,” he said. “We have great public safety. Can we have more people? Yes. We are trying to meet that need. We need to be the grown-ups in the room. We’ve got 65 parks. This is a great community.”

After the forum, Orlando, who retired a year and a half ago as a director of technical sales at Honeywell, said he is concerned about the average time it takes for police officers to respond to calls.

He said the city’s goal was to respond to priority one, which are calls about life-threatening issues, within five minutes.

However, the city police department’s response time to priority one calls was on average a little over six seconds, according to the 2016-17 year-end estimate.

Orlando, a retired member of the Arizona Air National Guard, said he is also bothered by the decline in the number of sworn officers since he was on the City Council in 2008.

“That’s a huge concern for me,” Orlando said. “You have to have a safe community for businesses and people to want to move here. If I call the 9-1-1 call and it takes (an) average of six minutes to get here, who knows what could happen? I believe we need to address it.”

He said he is “not faulting leadership or style” but that city officials need to have an “open dialogue with the public” about police response times and the number of officers.

Roe, who spent 20 years with Mesa Police Department, said after the forum that Chandler has 15 new, civilian positions allocated in the police department recently.

He said those new positions will allow sworn police officers to get on the streets and respond to issues faster. Roe said he believes the police department has a bigger presence than it did before the recession. The number of violent crimes has also decreased in Chandler since 2008, he noted.

“I think in this past 12 months has been all this moving around and reorganizing to get us back to a good place where we can move forward,” Roe said. “I believe that it’s back to a level where our chief is confident that he can provide good public safety.”

Other City Council candidates also talked about the importance of public safety at the forum.

Crawford, who had worked for Phoenix Police for 23 years and then served 10 years as a volunteer reserve officer, said economic development/support for businesses, “outstanding schools” and “safe neighborhoods” were his chief concerns.

“Neighborhoods are the cornerstone, the building blocks of our community,” said Crawford, who retired as the vice-president at Chandler-Gilbert Community College.

He said “ample resources” are needed for first responders and the “technology they need to solve crimes.”

He added the city needs to work collaboratively with schools to “ensure kids come home safe.”

Crawford serves on Chandler’s police and fire pension boards and is chairman of the Si Se Puede Foundation Board of Directors and president of the Arizona Justice Educators Association’s Board of Directors.

Harris, who is federal programs director in the Higley Unified School District, said public safety and safe neighborhoods would be some of his major focuses if he is picked for the Council.

Providing amenities in the neighborhoods, including sufficient soccer fields, is also important, as are resources to ensure residents have access to affordable utilities, he added.

Harris is on Chandler’s Housing & Human Services Commission and chairs the Citizens’ Panel for Review of Police Complaints and Use of Force.

Eberle, managing member of Biltmore Executive Group LLC, said finances and continuing to develop business corridors would be two of his areas of emphasis if elected. Looking at underserved areas for potential development would also be important, he said.

“Opportunities for small businesses – where are those?” Eberle said. “Every Intel and SRP started in somebody’s garage.”

He is part of Chandler’s Architectural Review Committee and is on the board of the Tri-City Christian Academy, as well as being part of various business and nonprofit boards and organizations in Chandler and Phoenix.

During the forum Eberle touted his experience helping corporations including as a financial holding director and controller for Fortune 500 and publicly traded companies.

He also said he belongs to a group of six executives who saved a $100-million-dollar publicly traded technology manufacturer, selling it to a Fortune 100 company.

Incumbent Lopez said “number one, maintaining as small as possible effective government” is one of his priorities.

“For me having a structured budget,” he said. “Businesses aren’t going to move here unless we have our house in order.”

Lopez, who was elected to City Council in 2014, said a “sound budget” allowed for a new ladder truck and other inventory for public safety, another one of his intended areas of focus if reelected.

“I decided to run for office because I wanted to make sure Chandler stayed as great and well-run as it had been,” Lopez said.

When asked what his fiscal priorities were for the city, Lopez said maintaining the AAA bond rating. He said Orbital ATK, Intel and other companies have come to Chandler because of its strong financial position.

Other City Council candidates also praised Chandler’s financial strength including its AAA bond rating and how the city, because of good saving, weathered the recession better than other cities.

Harris said resources are needed for street and sidewalk repairs and that southeast Chandler needs resources to complete projects, including new parks.

At the end of the forum, moderator Jim Sharpe, morning news co-anchor from KTAR Morning News, 92.3 FM, asked the candidates “lightning round” questions where they could only answer “yes” or “no.” Often they all answered the same.

When asked if they would support stricter zoning ordinances as the city approaches build-out they all said “no.” They all said “no” to greater regulation on autonomous vehicles, too.

To learn more about the August primary, visit chandleraz.gov.

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