An update on issues facing Phoenix with the city’s mayor Greg Stanton.
Ted Simons: Welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Pension reform, union labor contract, and new city council districts. Those are among the more challenging issues facing phoenix city government and new Mayor Greg Stanton, who joins us tonight on "Arizona Horizon." Good to see you, Mayor.
Greg Stanton: Honor to be back. I'll come back any time you want.
Ted Simons: We will take you up on it. What surprised you so far in office?
Greg Stanton: Being mayor, you are the lead dog, if you will, of a city of 1.4 million people. You are expected to lead on economic development, all the big things but you better get the little things right, too. If someone doesn't get the garbage picked up, they are calling your office. You better get that right as well. The breadth of issues that you are expected to be in control of is amazing. But I accept that responsibility.
Ted Simons: To that end, I know you have had some CEO roundtables and meeting with residents here tonight. What are you hearing? What are you learning?
Greg Stanton: There's an optimism right now. This city has been under almost a malaise the last few years because we have been hammered so badly by this recession. And now the economic numbers are coming out and things are looking better. So there is an optimism. I don't think it's an over-optimism. At the city of Phoenix we are not saying happy times are here again. We are casually optimist and acting accordingly but at least there's a renewed optimism that the city of Phoenix is ready to rebound, ready to take our lead as one of the great cities in America and the world. And so that's what I am hearing is that people are excited about the future of this city.
Ted Simons: It sounds as though your bond rating indicates as such as well. Triple A?
Greg Stanton: We just got renewed a couple weeks ago. Triple A bond rating, many major American cities did not get a triple A bond rating during this recent fiscal crisis. City of Phoenix is a very well managed city. We are not perfect but we are very well managed and the people of the city of Phoenix should be proud of their city government that even during these economic times we were managed and led in such a way that we have the highest bond rating of any big city in the country.
Ted Simons: Your quote after the renewal was, "I will continue that legacy as mayor." How do you continue something like that?
Greg Stanton: You make sure you act in a fiscally responsible way at all times. Making sure you have enough money in the reserve fund, as the budget improves, you owe it to the people to start to restore key services that were cut during the recession. Library hours, parks, swimming pools. We are doing all of that. But you don't get too far ahead of yourself. You don't start overspending such that the financial houses look at your city and question whether you have the right leadership in place. The triple A bond rating is a much a function of numbers as well as a statement of confidence in the leadership of the city of Phoenix.
Ted Simons: Let's get to some of these issues here. I know pension reform is big on the table. How much should be reformed? Right now critics say it is simply un-stainable.
Greg Stanton: The reality is this. As you note state legislature passed pension reform that was challenged in court. And twice now, courts have said that you cannot change the pension system for existing employees, which means that we can change it for new employees. The city of Phoenix will be proceeding with pension reform. It will be on the ballot early next year. And we are going to have to have a significant difference in the pension system for new employees versus existing employees in order to maintain the long-term fiscal health of our pension system. From a management perspective that's a little awkward. You will have employees work side by side that will be under different pension systems. However, many major American companies are dealing with very much the similar factors. So with the right kind of management, you really can manage through. It's not a preferred situation but you really can manage through a situation like that.
Ted Simons: What about union labor contract? What are the issues there? Is this something that can be sustained?
Greg Stanton: Despite all the rhetoric that had gone on in the city and certainly in my race for mayor, certainly you see that rhetoric going on around the country with some of the elections in the Midwest and Wisconsin, et cetera. The reality is this in the city of Phoenix. We have great labor relations. We have always had great labor relations. We get some of our best ideas about how to improve our city from our labor leaders and their members who, because they trust city management, come to us with many great ideas. And because of that strong partnership, we are able to reach agreement with our labor groups and we have labor peace at the city of Phoenix right now.
Ted Simons: Some would say a great relationship with labor means labors get getting what its wants, maybe too much so? How do you respond to that?
Greg Stanton: Facts don't bear that out. A study was requested by some people who may be a little cynical about that very fact. A study was requested, was looked at on wages of our city employees versus other employees. And found out our wages are not out of line. So for all the rhetoric that the unions are running city hall and whatever, the kind of inaccurate rhetoric was, the reality is that this good partnership that we have with labor has helped us. When we had a significantly reduce our costs we had to go to labor and ask for a pay reduction. It's only because of that long standing good relationship that labor groups did that and as a result, they are also going to share in the good times. We need to make sure services are restored and we also remain a competitive workplace moving forward.
Ted Simons: It sounds as though salary increases went through as well. Again, tough economic times here. What message does that send?
Greg Stanton: I think most people said what we did was very reasonable. We didn't give away the store. We gave 1.6% restoration of the cut. They took a 3.2% cut a few years ago. Half was restored this year. If we meet our economic goals, their shared benefit and shared sacrifice, we will restore the other 1.6%. I think most people like that concept that there is shared sacrifice and shared benefit. And it was done in such a way that we can still restore numerous services to the people of the city of phoenix, finding the right balance is what people expect of their leaders. I think that's exactly what Phoenix leaders delivered in these last rounds of labor negotiations.
Ted Simons: I know that there is already been some concerns regarding redistricting, Phoenix City Council redistricting, these sorts of things. There's already been a consultant that has been hired, he's been on this program a couple of times, Tony Sissons. But some critics are saying, we are hearing the same thing we heard with the state redistricting. There's a bias there, there's a liberal bias there. It was involved in a campaign against Sal DiCiccio. Was this the best person, the best group to put in charge of redistricting?
Greg Stanton: Look, I have worked with Tony Sissons since 10 years ago when I served on the Phoenix City Council. He put a very strong work product that passed 9-0 the Phoenix City Council back in the early 2000's. He has a track record of doing good work. I have actually seen no evidence of bias in his professional work. Oh, by the way, some other people that are on the consultant team were very actively involved in my opponent's races against me which, guess what, you get over it. You move on. You work with people professionally. And so I think that that would be my polite recommendation to everyone involved in the redistricting including members of the Phoenix City Council is, work professionally with the consultant who has been hired. He has a lot of great experience and if you have a substantive issue, bring it up. But just to sort of throw mud is not the way we should be doing business in the city of phoenix.
Ted Simons: You are no stronger to politics and you know how perception can shape reality. Considering all the hubbub that went on with state redistricting, considering the fact everyone is, look, it's an election year and everyone is looking for bias under any rock they can find, was this the best move at this time?
Greg Stanton: Well, the staffs recommend this individual. He had done great work for us 10 years ago. We see no evidence of actual bias in the work product that he has performed. In fact, I actually think you are going to get a very positive vote of the Phoenix City Council after all the community work. It's incredibly important to understand no decision has been made. There's a lot of community-based work, community meetings, taking community input that has to happen before the city council makes this critically important decision. However, as I said, you probably saw me publicly quoted during the whole debate about airport contracts and concession contract. You want to challenge recommendations, fine. Don't make it personal. Don't challenge integrity of people or the process. That casts a pale over the city. I have worked in the city a long time. The city does not deserve it.
Ted Simons: All right. Last question. Before you go, it sounds like you are off on an aerospace and defense reconnaissance mission.
Greg Stanton: I am meeting with Senator McCain Monday. We are working very closely to do our best to protect aerospace and defense jobs. That's one, we are one of the biggest states in the country in terms of having an aerospace industry. We have a lot of great contacts with the Pentagon in Washington, they are looking at massive cuts to the Pentagon that will directly affect high-wage jobs in our community. I am not pollyannaish. Let's do in this in a more organized way. I am requesting that Republicans and Democrats get together, do this in a much more organized way that best protects those high-wage jobs in our community. It's what we owe our kids. Trevor and Violet, my kids, our grandkids, we have to have a strong aerospace and defense industry in this state.
Ted Simons: Mayor, it's good to have you here. I will hold you to coming back as soon as you can. Good to see you.
Greg Stanton:Phoenix Mayor;