Flagstaff’s New Mayor Ready for Action
As Mayor-elect Jerry Nabours prepares to be sworn into office later this month, his to-do list is growing longer with every passing moment. Just 10 days after the general election, he is outfitted with a city-issued smartphone that is helping him gain the upper hand on his quickly expanding list of meetings and appearances.
At our meeting at a local coffee shop, Nabours listened graciously and intently when approached by supporters and constituents. Already, he seems comfortable in his new role.
Nabours won with 51 percent support, or 320 votes, edging out challenger Al White who has served as a councilman since 2000. The incoming mayor says supporters wanted to see a change at City Hall.
So what is priority number one for a mayor elected during the state’s sluggish economic recovery? “We have to take care of what we have,” explained Nabours, pointing to roads, sidewalks and crumbling brick inlays throughout Flagstaff’s Historic Downtown. “That has got to be our first focus, getting what we have in good shape.” The new mayor says it would be impractical for a business owner to focus on a long-range plan if it meant ignoring the customers of today. As an example, Nabours points to a recent decision to hire a consultant to evaluate city parks, saying the monies should have been spent on a few park improvements. “If something is broken or deteriorated, families are not really worrying about what the parks are going to be like in 20 years, they want it to be good today. That has got to be our first job, to make sure we have all our ducks in a row and then we’ll worry about the plan for tomorrow,” he added.
Nabours says he will be looking for creative ways to help the city move forward. One idea is to have a private contractor build the much-needed city courthouse; the city could pay for the building over time, eventually owning it. “My position has been I would not vote for any increase in taxes and I would not vote for any increase in taxes through bonding unless first of all I am absolutely satisfied that there is no way we can cut any expenditures in the current budget,” he said. “I’d have to be convinced that we are at as bare bones as we can be.”
In addition to scrutinizing the city’s operations and the overall budget, the incoming mayor says he plans to address Flagstaff’s unfriendly-to-business reputation. “I want to give a voice to the business community. I realize I am one vote but we there might be at least four votes that are more receptive to the business point of view than in the past,” Nabours said.
Small business owner Jeff Oravits is also new to the political scene, joining incumbents Coral Evans and Karla Brewster as winners in last month’s election. Oravits tells Flagstaff Business News he campaigned on creating a better business environment. “I’ve been a business owner for a long time and know lots of other business owners and it’s really important when we are creating policies to make sure these policies aren’t hurting businesses and residents with excessive fees or regulations,” said Oravits. As a city councilman, he wants to look at streamlining processes and fees, in part by increasing efficiencies at Flagstaff City Hall. Oravits says as the newest city council member, he would vote against raising property taxes.
While new leadership at City Hall is big news in any municipality, the recent election may not reflect desire for major change among the constituency, says Fred Solop. The Northern Arizona University professor of politics and international affairs has studied the political process for more than three decades. “Our winner-take-all election system rewards one side and punishes the other. Reality, actually, differs from this popular viewpoint,” Solop explained. “People are more similar in their ideas and beliefs than different, and elections rarely reflect a mandate for large-scale change.” Solop says this is evidenced by the other three elected positions on the council. “The two incumbent city council members running for reelection received the highest number of votes in a crowded field of six candidates. The voting public appears to have supported consistency rather than change.”
His biggest concern was the voter turnout, which was almost 18 percent lower than the 2010 mayoral election. “On the surface, fewer voters suggest that people were simply not connecting with the election process. The candidates put forward and the issues being discussed did not resonate with many people in the community,” said Solop.
But Jerry Nabours’s 5,312 votes have launched him into a new career path, one he plans to take seriously. After earning more votes than Paul Kulpinski and Paul Reilly in the primary election, Nabours and fellow mayoral contender Al White ran a civil campaign. “We joked that we should answer the [debate] questions with the other person’s platform because we knew each other’s answers so well,” said Nabours, laughing.
He plans to continue the civility after assuming his new role June 19. “The mayor’s job is making sure everyone has the chance to express their opinions and everyone has their questions answered. I’m really looking forward to being able to facilitate that. I think I can run a good and fair meeting and still move things along,” added Nabours.
Because he has spent his adult life heading to the office each workday, Nabours says he will continue that tradition with his new mayoral office at Flagstaff City Hall. FBN