On Monday, the Mesa City Council ignored the wishes of the public and elected to move forward with plans to build new facilities for ASU. In 2016, Mesa Mayor John Giles said voters sent a clear message when they rejected a proposed increase in the city sales tax to fund the facility.
The City Council voted 5 – 2 to direct the City Manager to begin the process of developing an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) with the Arizona Board of Regents for the development, operation, and maintenance of ASU facilities in downtown Mesa.
Those facilities would house film, media, gaming, virtual reality programs.
Councilman Kevin Thompson voted against the project. “My objection was twofold,” explained Thompson, “The voters told us in 2016 that they did not want us to use public money for this project, and we came back and said ‘no, we know better than you and we are going to proceed.’ In 2016 we voted as a Council to move forward with putting a sales tax increase on the ballot that would pay for public safety and an educational facility. I heard from constituents, time and time again, that they wanted to fund public safety but not build ASU a building. My second objection is that ASU has no skin in the game. The governor and Legislature allowed the universities to bond, but they are not investing in Mesa. They are not putting any skin in the game. If we are going to invest here, why are we not bringing in small business; bringing in people who are willing to invest in Mesa.”
Thompson says it is “really unclear what the goal of the Council is. If you are looking at building the economy, you don’t bring in film and media, what is that going to do for growth in Mesa?” Thompson says Mesa’s “down town is already growing, it won’t take much to nudge it along. Let’s look at housing, bringing in jobs. Once you have that foot traffic, I think that will organically grow our down town.”
Mesa Police Sergeant Nate Gafvert, president of the Mesa Police Association, addressed the Council prior to the vote. Gafvert began, “The Mesa Police Association has always supported what we believed was best for the City of Mesa and its residents. We have supported and carried out decisions that put our officers and the citizens we protect in danger because of budget and personnel reductions.”
Gafvert said that police officers were led to believe that budget cuts were “a necessity for the financial survival of the City.”
Gafvert corrected a statement made by City Manager Christopher Brady during the February 15 Study Session. According to Gafvert, Brady claimed that “every year the City, even during the worst times of the recession, has been adding officers.” However, Gafvert pointed out that the City had “857 sworn officers in 2008. In 2009 that was reduced to 834. In 2010 that was again reduced to 777. We maintained that number for two years. In 2012, 5 officers were added totaling 782 for the next two years but another reduction in 2015 to 759. In 2016, 13 officers were added totaling 772 but in 2017, 21 more were eliminated leaving 751 sworn officers to keep a population of almost half a million people safe. That is 106 less police officers from where we were in 2008.”
“As years have passed since the start and recovery of the recession, all City departments made cuts and the citizens of Mesa felt the result of increased Public Safety response times and decreased service. Budgets were cut, personnel were reduced, and merits were suspended as well as not fully paid,” said Gafvert.
“The rank and file front line officers, and hard working hourly employees throughout the City did more with less while City Management built up banks of millions upon millions of dollars,” continued Gafvert. “All the while leading their own employees and the community to believe there was no money.”
“I stood before you in June of last year, begging for an increase in funding to the police department. Since then, almost 40 sworn officers have left the Police Department unexpectedly, before they were scheduled to retire,” said Gafvert.
“Mr. Brady, you stated you wished you could do more during this year’s very challenging budget. Mr. Mayor you stated public safety was a top priority but times are tough, echoing the difficult budget. Yet here we are again. Another record year of construction, utilities and tax revenue. Nearly 75 million dollars saved up to be spent on the billion dollar ASU college. But no money for one of the core responsibilities of City government; public safety,” argued Gafvert.
“In the early hours of February 15th, Mesa Officers were ambushed with gunfire while making contact with a suspect believed to be violating an order of protection. Bullet holes tore into a marked police cruiser with several officers behind it, trying to avoid being struck. They did not run away. They stood that line between the individual trying to murder them and the community they swore to protect.” Gafvert concluded, “These officers are people I work with, people I care about. Any one of them were inches away from making national news as a fallen officer.”
Gafvert called on the Council to “help us keep Mesa safe.”