2020 Election

Surprise City Council winners express hopes for future

Voters elect 2 new people to City Council

Posted 8/11/20

Two new City Council winners and three other victorious candidates share their vision for the future of Surprise.

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2020 Election

Surprise City Council winners express hopes for future

Voters elect 2 new people to City Council

City Councilman-elect Jack Hastings greets voters on Primary Election Day Aug. 4 in front of Surprise City Hall.
City Councilman-elect Jack Hastings greets voters on Primary Election Day Aug. 4 in front of Surprise City Hall.
Jason Stone/Independent Newsmedia

Alyson Cline is a party animal.

Immediately after winning a seat on the Surprise City Council to serve residents of District 2, she did what anyone in her position would do after getting the great news.

She left the house — and started collecting her road signs.

“I did something for the community,” she reasoned.

After weeks of driving by them, Surprise motorists surely appreciate the gesture.

But what Surprise residents will really appreciate is if Ms. Cline and Jack Hastings, a first-time winner in District 5, learn their jobs on the fly as the city navigates an unknown time of COVID-19.

“In January, they’re going to be sworn in and they’re going to have to become real students right away,” said Mayor Skip Hall, himself an election winner on primary night Aug. 4. “It’s all about putting their learning hats on for how things get done. The voters are going to expect it.”

It’s a job Ms. Cline and Mr. Hastings said they’re gladly up for — especially after a long campaign fight. The two joined Mr. Hall and incumbent Councilmen Patrick Duffy (District 3) and Ken Remley (District 4) as election night victors.

Mr. Duffy knows what Mr. Hastings is up against as a young newcomer to the council. Mr. Duffy was just in his mid-30s when he was appointed to fill John Williams’s vacant seat in 2017.

“I came in as an unknown,” Mr. Duffy said.

Mr. Hastings, however, is far from unknown although he’s even younger at 26.

Of the two new candidates-elect, Ms. Cline won a seat that will be open, while Mr. Hastings knocked off an incumbent, David Sanders, who had been appointed last year but was going or his first election himself.

Mr Hastings, a Valley Vista High School teacher, made news earlier this year when he was kicked off the Arts and Cultural Advisory Commission, partly because of conflicts with his run for City Council.

“I’ve learned in politics not to take anything personally,” Mr. Hastings said, reflecting back on the month-long drama that he said only emboldened him.

Ironically, Mr. Hastings thinks the incident helped get him votes in the end and provided for the margin that was bigger than many were expecting.

“I’m going to miss Dave Sanders, but we have a job to do,” Mr. Duffy said. “Come January if we still have grudges, it will help no one.”

Four of the members on the current City Council, including the mayor, voted to have Mr. Hastings removed from the commission. The Council then voted for a “resign to run” law, which requires all board and committee members to give up their position once they announce a run for City Council.

“I’d like to sit down at some point and bury the hatchet,” Mr. Hastings said. “And sometimes in elections everybody gets bloodied up.”

Either way, he’s happy to be out of campaign mode.

“It’s time to govern,” Mr. Hastings said. “I’m so excited to say those words.”

Relief of victory

Victory wasn’t as sweet as it could have been for the winning candidates, thanks to the coronavirus. Typically, post-election parties at local restaurants or bars are the norm after the ballots are cast, but that wasn’t a good idea this year.

Mr. Hastings was going to host a bash at State 48 but decided against it. He said he’ll officially celebrate it at a more appropriate time.

But, if anything, win or lose, the election’s passing brought a sense of relief to the candidates.

Mr. Sanders said it “stings” losing, but he’s also relieved the whole process is over.

Ms. Cline said campaigning came “fast at the end, but it was a long-time coming.”

Except for District 5, which was for only a two-year term, the other winning candidates, including the mayor, have four years ahead of them.

Mr. Hall said he feels more validated as mayor now that voters have put their stamp on him. He was appointed mayor when Sharon Wolcott resigned in November 2018.

“I think it adds to my legitimacy,” Mr. Hall said, referring to his dealings with other mayors and political leaders in the area.

Over his next four years he said he envisions a lot of job creation and commercial development

“And one of the challenges we have to stay on is public safety the way we’re growing,” he said. “It’s a concern. It’s going to take a commitment from us financially that we’re ahead of the curve and not play catchup.”

Right now, about 45% of the city’s budget is devoted to funding the police and fire-medical departments. Mr. Hall said that may not be enough.

“It’s probably going to have to be more,” he said. “That’s just the way it is the way we’re growing, especially out north and west.”

COVID-19 has stalled some projects but sparked others, such as the Amazon “last-mile” delivery center the city announced in late July. Neary 2,000 Single-family homes are going to be permitted this year, a increase over last year.

Mr. Hall points to Costco, Ottawa University Arizona and West-MEC as three main selling points for Surprise — not to even mention bringing in a name brand like Amazon.

That facility alone is expected to bring in 300 jobs with as many as 500 jobs possible at the facility, which will go south of Uptown Alley on Litchfield Road, south of Waddell Road.

Mr. Hall said he’d like to see more entertainment options for families, especially for teens. He also wants a furniture store in Surprise (there currently isn’t one) and a main hospital (there also isn’t one of those).

He said three sites are being looked at for a hospital along the Loop 303 corridor, not far from Costco.

Other items on plate

The next City Council will also be responsible for redistricting the city after the 2020 Census is complete.

The process takes about six months and involves citizens in all six districts across the city.

Mr. Hall said he doesn’t envision major changes to the current boundaries but probably there will be some tweaking to the growing areas of Districts 1 and 3, which are in the north and west parts of Surprise, respectively.

Traffic management is also an area Surprise will need to address after current bond roadwork is completed in the west part of the city.

“We’re doing some now, but we have a lot more to do,” Mr. Hall said.

The mayor said relief is needed on Bell Road, which will be helped by the completion of the widening projects on Greenway and Waddell roads.

Mr. Hall said in the north part of the city, there is political support for a 303 interchange at Litchfield.

The state of spring training will be one of the main issues facing the next City Council. Despite the uncertainties of COVID-19, city officials are still planning on a regular spring training with full-capacity fans.

But with all major U.S. sports slowly returning with no fans, there’s no guarantees fans will be allowed at full, or any, capacity next spring.

Major League Baseball could also decide to keep teams at their home and not even risk having a spring training at the usual Cactus and Grapefruit leagues.

Ms. Cline said the city needs to diversify its tax base so all the eggs aren’t in one basket.

“We need to see what we can do to develop the tax base here that isn’t spring training,” Ms. Cline said.

Mr. Hall said he’s staying positive and hopes some reports that a vaccine could be available by November are true.

COVID-19 could be claiming two other big city events, however.

Fiesta Grande, the annual celebration in October, is looking unlikely right now, and the Surprise Party holiday celebration is on life support at the moment.

“We’re going to save the money [by not hosting the events], but it’s a great thing for our residents,” Mr. Hall said. “Just like [canceling] Fourth of July. We tried so hard to do that.”

The annual fall arts and crafts show also appears to be a casualty of the virus.

It’s the economy

City officials continue to monitor the city’s budget with an unstable tax base situation with certain businesses not operating at full capacity or not at all.

“The steps have worked so far,” Mr. Duffy said. “It’s month-by-month right now.”

Ms. Cline said there shouldn’t be cuts to public services, but believes the “needs” and “wants” need to be sorted out.

“If it’s a want, we may be able fund it, but we take care of our needs first,” she said.

If anything, Ms. Cline believes the COVID pandemic will eventually help businesses create better ways of operating for the future.

“They were pushed off the cliff to do something different,” she said. “We can learn to do things maybe even better.”

Mr Hall said the pandemic itself has put the breaks on certain projects, but overall development plans are still full-steam ahead.

Mr. Duffy is ready to tackle the development of the Prasada area for the next four year.

“[Getting] Costco was big step,” he said. “Toll Brothers [Sterling Grove development] was a big step. Now, we need lots of attention west of the 303.”

Mr. Duffy is waiting for Greenway Road’s widening project to really get the 303 development sparked.

He said he’s still hoping for “that Desert Ridge-type area out here.”

In Mr. Remley’s district, which is mostly the Original Town Site, things are already changing. The Heritage at Surprise affordable housing unit is the latest new look in the area.

“In four years, it’s not going to have the same look at all when I first took office,” Mr. Remley said. “It’s going to look amazing.”

A new Gaines baseball field is ready for construction later this year with state-of-the-art lighting and extra parking spaces.

“That’s going to be a heavily used ballpark, I’m pretty sure,” Mr. Remley said.

To help outreach in the area, Mr. Remley has started mailing out his monthly newsletter every other month. He sent out his first batch last month.

“A councilman is the ambassador, the face of the city,” Mr. Remley said. “If we’re not out there being an ambassador, people think badly of us as a city.

“People know that I care.”

Editor’s Note: Jason Stone can be reached at jstone@newszap.com.