Apache Junction council, mayor candidates explain why they are best for the job

By Richard Dyer
Twitter: @RHDyer
Posted 7/28/20

Experiences varying from volunteering to working as an employee for a municipality and serving in elected office will help the community prepare for its future, candidates for Apache Junction City …

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Apache Junction council, mayor candidates explain why they are best for the job


Experiences varying from volunteering to working as an employee for a municipality and serving in elected office will help the community prepare for its future, candidates for Apache Junction City Council and mayor said.

Five Apache Junction residents have qualified to run for mayor and five others for three seats on City Council.

Running for mayor are Charles Austin, Robin Barker, Jeff Barlett, John Insalaco and Chip Wilson. Vying for council are Braden Biggs, Darryl Cross, Kelly Gremmel, Tess Nesser and Jeff Struble.

The mayor and the seats of three members of council --- Vice Mayor Wilson and Councilmembers Barker and Struble --- all who were elected in November 2016, are up for re-election. Incumbent Mayor Jeff Serdy is not running as he is seeking office on the Pinal County Board of Supervisors.

Independent Newsmedia reached out to each mayoral and council candidate seeking answers to a variety of questions, which can be read at yourvalley.net/apache-junction-independent.

Below are their answers on what makes them different from the other candidates and how will they make a difference on the City Council.

Council candidate Jeff Struble

Mr. Struble, 57, will use experience, knowledge and connections to make a difference, he said.

“It is the citizen’s job to determine how each of the candidates are different. I will use my experience, knowledge and connections to continue to create and build relationships in our community, our region, the state and nation,” Mr. Struble said.

Mr. Struble owns both Padgett Business Services and Fatmans Pizza.

He is on Facebook at Jeff Struble for Apache Junction City Council and has a website, letsbuildourfuture.com. He can be reached at jeff@rhinodreams.com and 480-694-5100.

Council candidate Tess Nesser

Two decades of volunteering for the City of Apache Junction show Ms. Nesser, 71, is dedicated to the community, she said.

“First, I am not a politician. I am an AJ citizen who is passionate about my community. I believe that my 20-plus years of volunteer work with the city shows that I am dedicated and that my heart belongs to the City of AJ,” she said. “My father was career military --- since I was 3 years old. I never had a ‘hometown.’ I was from wherever I was living. Since I came to AJ, I came home and the AJ community is my passion.”

She has three promises if elected, ranging from being an advocate to citizens, preserving the rural lifestyle and being prepared for the issues at City Council meetings.

“My promise to everyone who lives in AJ is that I will fully and actively be your representative on the Apache Junction City Council: be an advocate for all Apache Junction citizens --- I promise to be available seven days a week to all members of our community, to assist you with your issues; protect and preserve our heritage --- Apache Junction is and always has been a rural horse community (and) I will do all that I can to ensure that all properties within the present and future AJ city limits do not infringe on this lifestyle; (and) be prepared --- I promise to always be prepared for City Council meetings, to have educated myself about items on the agenda so that I can discuss issues and make educated decisions that will be for the benefit of our entire community,” Ms. Nesser said.

She retired from the Pinal County Attorney’s Office as a unit supervisor in Florence, where she worked 1986-2010. Part-time employment includes:

  • Apache Junction Unified School District, sub-para --- 2017 to present;
  • Goldfield Ghost Town Museum, --- 2019 to present;
  • Arizona Renaissance Festival entertainer --- 1999 to present; and
  • Pinal County Elections Department, as a poll worker.

Ms. Nesser is on Facebook at Tess Nesser – Apache Junction City Council. She can be reached at TessNesser-AJCityCouncil@yahoo.com and 480-540-9680.

Council candidate Kelly Gremmel

Employment at the City of Phoenix has prepared Ms. Gremmel to understand the inner-workings of a municipality, she said.

“Having worked for the City of Phoenix for nearly 30 years, it provided me with an understanding of the inner-workings of a city, knowing the role of each department and being able to easily determine where to go for answers,” she said.

“While working as manager for many years, I learned how to work and communicate with all types of people in various situations. I additionally had the opportunity to work with the Phoenix City Council as the assistant to the city attorney. These experiences, I believe, will be invaluable as a City Council member,” Ms. Gremmel said.

She is a retired administrator for the City of Phoenix Prosecutor’s Office, a licensed real estate agent and co-owner of Successful Options.

Ms. Gremmel can be reached at kellygremmel114@gmail.com.

Council candidate Darryl Cross

Mr. Cross, 55, said he is best-suited because he will help the city grow in a fiscally conservative way and not forget its small-town past.

“For starters, I am not a career politician. I will bring fresh ideas to the table and listen to what our constituents want or need,” he said.

“I am a rural ‘small-town-feel’ type of person that will continue to promote the rural lifestyle so many of us moved to Apache Junction for. I do not want us to become a Scottsdale. I will make a difference by helping Apache Junction grow in a fiscally conservative way and not forget its ‘small-town’ ways and past,” Mr. Cross said.

He has worked at Summit Fire Protection since August 2018 to present; and for Nu-Way Fire Protection --- 1998-2018.

He is on Facebook at Darryl Cross. He can be reached at CrossforAJcouncil@gmail.com and 602-820-9583.

Council candidate Braden Biggs

Mr. Biggs, 27, said he will provide a new, younger perspective to help form Apache Junction’s future.

“I believe that all of the current candidates for the City Council want what is best for Apache Junction. I will not disparage any of the candidates for that very reason,” he said.

“What I bring is a new, younger perspective and I can reach a large audience range. I also bring the voice of Apache Junction’s future and I know that this is my home for the next 60-plus years of my life --- if I lived to be 87-88. So I am invested in the Apache Junction of yesterday, today and tomorrow,” Mr. Biggs said.

He is director of communications and program development at Empowerment Systems Inc., an Apache Junction nonprofit organization.

He is on Twitter @BradenBiggs, Facebook @Biggs4AJCityCouncil and has a website at Bradenbiggs.com. He can be reached at Biggs4AJ@gmail.com and 573-586-8787.

Mayor candidate Chip Wilson

Mr. Wilson, 72, said he will use his years of experience to represent the residents of the community.

“I have lived in many different areas of our nation as well as different countries around the world. This allows me to use my multiple experiences into play when addressing issues that we encounter,” he said.

“I also have the ability to look at both sides of an issue and/or rule and have addressed all aspects of a proposed issue and/or rule. I have represented the residents of this community and want to continue to represent everyone as we move forward,” Mr. Wilson said.

He retired from Boeing as a calibration and repair of electronic test equipment technician, and retired from the military after more than 22 years of service.

He is on Facebook at Chip Wilson for City Mayor. He can be reached at walterchip@aol.com or 602 361-6135.

Mayor candidate John Insalaco

Mr. Insalaco, 82, said he has years of experience as mayor of Apache Junction.

“Have been mayor before and have seen what has been done and what needs to be done,” he said.

Mr. Insalaco retired from Insalaco’s Music and Upholstery in December 2013 after 42 years ownership and now plays in the four-piece band “Country Soul.”

He can be reached at jsinsalaco@gmail.com and 480-323-6752.

Mayor candidate Jeff Barlett

Mr. Barlett, 24, will voice strong opinions to issues before the council even if they are unpopular, he said.

“I would say that I am the type of candidate who is going to have a strong opinion on things and is going to tell you directly how I feel even when something is unpopular,” Mr. Barlett said. “I am very conservative and have strong conservative views but there are times I will lean right or left depending on the issue but most of the time I have conservative views.”

He works as a call-center representative and has experience working as a correctional officer, as a semi-truck driver and has also worked in security and other occupations, he said.

Mr. Barlett is on Twitter @barlettjeff and Facebook @Barlett4Mayor2020. He can be reached at vote4jeffbarlett@gmail.com.

Mayor candidate Robin Barker

Ms. Barker, 77, will be drawing on 20 years of experience on the City Council and leadership skills, she said.

“I have lived in Apache Junction for almost 50 years. I have raised a family here, worked here, played here and owned a business here. I have been a vocal advocate for the residents of our community for years,” she said.

Projects she has started on her own have blossomed and now help the community, Ms. Barker said.

“When I saw people struggling to get by in the heat of the summer, I instituted the ‘Water for Living’ project, which is now under the excellent care of United Way. When I saw our residents walking or riding their bikes on the busy streets, I worked with my fellow council members to mandate bike paths and sidewalks or paths as part of any major road construction, in addition to securing grant funding for upgrades to existing streets,” she said.

“When I saw non-profits struggling to meet the needs of some of the most unfortunate folks in our community, I led in creating the health and human services funding mechanism to help. When I realized there was a need for more information on how the city works, I helped create the Citizens’ Leadership Institute and when I was approached about the need for a dog park, I started the ball rolling with former Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Bell. The park has been approved and the project is set to begin in the near future,” Ms. Barker said.

She will work to create a strong team of individuals on the seven-person City Council, she said.

“A mayor has but one vote on the council, but I am a team player and feel I can be instrumental in creating a strong, transparent team that works for the benefit of all of the residents of our community. I am accessible and having served on the council for 20 years, I have the experience and leadership skills to continue to guide the city toward smart growth and a successful future,” she said.

Ms. Barker is a retired English teacher (21 years); and was owner of the AJ News.

She is on Facebook at Robin Barker for Mayor 2020. She can be reached at barkerr43@yahoo.com and 480-980-0880.

Mayor candidate Charles Austin

Leadership and knowledge are hallmarks Mr. Austin, 58, will bring to head up the City Council, he said.

“I’m the new Republican man, ready to make changes in AJ. Also making Apache Junction great,” he said.

“I will help to guide the AJ City Council with my leadership and knowledge,” Mr. Austin said.

Mr. Austin has worked with a lawn service, with various employment assignments; Botta’s Concrete Construction; and for D Bradshaw and other contractors.

He can be reached at ctecaustin@msn.com or 602-309-8226.