Chandler sticks with AZ League of Cities - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler sticks with AZ League of Cities

February 16th, 2019 development
Chandler sticks with AZ League of Cities

By Jim Walsh and Jason Stone

Staff Writers


The Arizona League of Cities and Towns lost the state’s largest city when Phoenix took the unprecedented step of canceling its membership, but neither Chandler nor Mesa have plans to follow suit.

Both Mesa Mayor John Giles and Ryan Peters, Chandler’s intergovernmental affairs coordinator, defended the league – saying it represents a vital voice for cities in lobbying efforts with the State Legislature.

“There are 91 cities in Arizona and 90 of them remain in the Arizona League of Cities and Towns,’’ said Giles, a member of the League’s executive committee along with Gilbert Mayor Jenn Daniels and Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell. “We absolutely rely on the league for a lot of work with the legislature.’’

“Phoenix’s decision doesn’t affect our participation with the league,” said Peters. “The league is a great resource to us in a variety of ways.”

After more than 80 years, Phoenix City Council voted nearly unanimously to leave the group – whose main mission is to represent cities and towns on issues at the state level.

Phoenix Council members called the group “ineffective” before voting to stop paying the $145,000 annual dues, based on population.

Mesa’s dues with the league are $112,000 a year. Mesa spends another $20,842 a year for membership in the National League of Cities and Towns, which lobbies Congress on federal funding and other issues that affect cities.

“We engage with national and state organizations as a rule. We get a lot of value out of that,’’ Giles said. “What you learn is that your problems are the same problems other cities have. You learn the best practices. We steal from one another – the good ideas.’’

Chandler pays $97,000 a year for the benefits such as legislative advocacy, help with issues like sales tax and aid dealing with state agencies.

“It helps when we’re all speaking together,” said Peters, whose main job is serving as the city’s lobbyist at the county and state level.

Mesa has two other part-time lobbyists at the legislature, Scott J. Butler and Miranda DeWitt, who work on issues directly related to Mesa while the league represents the interests of cities throughout the state, Giles said.

“It’s not just clout. We get expertise we don’t have to recreate in our own organizations. We get the best practices from others,’’ Giles said.

Phoenix Mayor Thelda Williams and Councilmembers Jim Waring and Sal DiCiccio criticized the league at a recent meeting when the council voted to terminate its membership.

Because Phoenix is a much larger city than Mesa, its dues were $145,300.

“I would argue that the City of Phoenix does not get its money’s worth,’’ Williams said. “I cannot justify paying dues to an organization that has been ineffective for Phoenix taxpayers.’’

Waring echoed Williams’ criticisms.

“I have been frustrated with this organization going back a decade,’’ Waring said. “We almost got out in 2012. We should have then and I hope we do now.’’

The Phoenix council voted 7-1 not to pay the dues, but Giles said he does not think the divorce will be final. He said the dispute might improve the league’s performance.

“I don’t think this is going to be a permanent status going forward,’’ Giles said. “I look forward to Phoenix coming back.’’

Mesa Vice Mayor Dave Luna, a member of the executive committee of the National League of Cities, said Mesa receives about $3.75 million in federal Community Development Block Grants each year.

He said the funds are vital in assisting the city’s strong lineup of nonprofit agencies, including A New Leaf, Save the Family and the Child Crisis Center.

He said that when the Trump Administration proposed eliminating the CDBG funding, the National League of Cities lobbied in Congress to get it defeated, an effort that was successful.

“The National League of Cities ensures that we have a voice in Congress,’’ Luna said. “We want to make sure we get the federal money we deserve.’’

The lobbying effort to reverse the CDBG cuts alone proves that Mesa gets its money’s worth from affiliating with the national organization, Luna said.

“Without that safety net in our community, we would be at a loss,’’ Luna said. “Our return on investment is certainly worth it.’’

Gilbert officials also have no plan to leave the league, a 90-member group whose member municipalities go as far north as Page and as far south as Bisbee.

“We have no plans to leave the League at this time,” said Rene Guillen, the town’s intergovernmental relations director. “The town benefits from membership in the league in a number of ways.”

He added the town continually evaluates the value of its membership in the league, which a group of mayors formed in 1937 in the hope that by banding together, they could preserve local decision-making over local matters.

Gilbert has been a dues-paying member of the league likely since then. The annual dues for fiscal year 2019 is $97,000, according to Guillen.

In return for its taxpayer-funded dues, Gilbert receives the league’s help in understanding the impact of passed and proposed legislation and help in a coordinated strategy on issues, he said.  

“Professionally, we work with the league when it comes to compliance with state law on elections, finances, human resources, pension, public safety and other areas,” Guillen said, adding:

“They help coordinate statewide conversations among cities to develop best practices and model ordinances. Legislatively, they provide added voices to Gilbert’s on issues impacting the town.”