All four candidates for three open seats on the Litchfield Park City Council agreed during virtual candidates’ forum Thursday, July 31 that protecting the city’s small-town charm and unique character is paramount.
Incumbents Ron Clair, Ann Donahue and John Romack were joined by challenger Kerry Murphy Giangobbe in the Zoom forum hosted by the Southwest Valley Chamber of Commerce and West Valley View. Paul Barton, founder of Phoenix Public Speaking, served as moderator.
After opening statements, candidates answered a series of questions, then gave closing statements. The chamber recorded the forum, which can be viewed in full here or at the chamber’s website, southwestvalleychamber.org. Candidates answered the questions in no particular order; Barton asked each to raise their hands when they were ready to answer after each question was posed.
The first question asked the candidates what they believe is the single greatest issue facing the city. Ms. Giangobbe said safety, adding she would like to see more police. Mr. Clair said planning for the future and making sure the city’s financial base remains solid. Mr. Romack said working with owners of the Wigwam Resort and ensuring that 15 acres at Litchfield Road and Wigwam Boulevard is properly zoned to enhance the 30-acre City Center project. Ms. Donahue said creating a plan for reopening city facilities, helping schools reopen and assisting businesses as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
Asked how they would receive input from citizens if elected, the incumbents said they would continue their current methods of receiving input by cell phone, email, in person as they’re out in the community. “It behooves residents to come forward and ask the questions,” Mr. Romack said. Ms. Giangobbe said she would reach out to residents, and said social media is a tool the city should use more frequently to engage with residents.
The third question posed focused on the candidates’ views of Sun Health Corporation’s plans for about 300 acres it owns on the northwest corner Litchfield and Camelback Roads. The land, part of the Paul W. Litchfield estate, and was donated by his heirs to Sun Health with the stipulation that it be used for health and wellness. Sun Health operates the La Loma Village independent living community on the site.
All four candidates called Sun Health a major partner with the city and said both entities need to maintain strong, open dialogue to ensure that whatever Sun Health builds on the site is the result of a joint vision.
Asked to name what accomplishment has most prepared the candidates to serve on the council, Mr. Clair said building his own businesses, which require attention to detail, setting standards, having compassion and being able to make decisions, even if they’re difficult. Ms. Giangobbe cited her work with numerous homeowner’s associations in the city have helped prepare her to serve and work to bring younger families to the community. Ms. Donahue said marketing skills perfected during her years in the private sector workforce and as Litchfield Elementary School District’s first liaison will assist in marking the city to developers and visitors. Mr. Romack said that serving for free on the council for the past 12 years is his way of giving back to the community that has been so good to him over the years. Litchfield Park councilmembers receive no monetary compensation.
In response to a resident who said that the West Valley is becoming a hot spot for warehouses and cross-dock facilities and asked what candidates would do to ensure upscale dining and retail in the proposed City Center, Mr. Romack said there is only so much the city can do and there has to be an anchor developer downtown to draw those types of businesses. Ms. Donahue said the council has to take its time and work with a partner that will also partner with the Wigwam and existing businesses. Mr. Clair said getting the City Center together with more restaurant and retail is planned. Ms. Giangobbe said she wanted to address warehouses and would fight to stop them all to protect Litchfield Park.
In response to a question that the city’s demographic is getting older and how the candidates would make the city more attractive to a younger generation, Mr. Clair, whose wife is a Realtor, said there are new families moving to Litchfield Park but there’s limited space since people who move to Litchfield Park like it here and don’t want to leave. Ms. Donahue and Mr. Romack said they echoed Mr. Clair sentiments. Ms. Giangobbe said that developing more of the Sun Health property would provide a place for older residents and open up homes to new families, and the city needs to highlight its great schools, great churches and great people.
Answering a question about what is the greatest misconception about the power city council members have, Mr. Clair said people must understand the council must follow processes in place. “It’s not just a snap your fingers and we’re done,” he said. Mr. Romack said the wheels of government turn very slowly, and people need to realize the council has no control over facilities built in the county and in other communities, regardless of how close they are to Litchfield Park. Ms. Donahue said there are seven people on the council, and a majority must agree for something to be approved. Ms. Giangobbe said she would work to convey residents’ wishes regardless of politics.
In response to a question about what they would cut first from the budget should cuts be required, Ms. Donahue said Litchfield Park has been lucky that its budget hasn’t hurt too badly by the pandemic due to the number of essential businesses in the city, but if something did have to be cut, she would look at something on the capital project list. Mr. Romack said the city subsidizes the recreation center by about $500,000 a year to keep it viable, so he would look at what could be cut there. Mr. Clair said the city recently moved numerous projects into a contingency state instead of going forward to ensure fiscal solvency so cuts already have been made. Ms. Giangobbe said she would go through all the city’s financials to see where cuts could be made, adding she wouldn’t cut rec center funding, but would look at its management to ensure the right people are running the facility.
Kelly O’Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com or 760-963-1697.