Tensions In The Phoenix City Council Continue To Bubble

By Mark Brodie, Annika Cline
Published: Monday, January 14, 2019 - 1:27pm
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Christina Estes/KJZZ
Phoenix City Council at their meeting on Dec. 12, 2018.

The Phoenix City Council has had to face big choices in the past year, but the debates in meetings have been about more than just the issues. Tension between council members has bubbled up to the surface, like an exchange between Mayor Thelda Williams and Councilmember Sal DiCiccio during an October council meeting.

Williams took over as interim mayor after former Mayor Greg Stanton left to run for Congress in May. Williams now serves as both mayor and the council member for district 1, leaving the council with just eight members instead of the usual nine.

Stanton’s absence has had a ripple effect — council members Kate Gallego and Daniel Valenzuela also left their posts to run for the open mayoral seat. Two new council members — Vania Guevara and Felicita Mendoza — have been appointed to fill those seats. The mayoral run-off and races for those two council seats are all in March.

Meanwhile, the altercations continue. Last month, DiCiccio publicly called out city management staff over what he calls a “host of blunders” and says there is a lack of trust in the decision-making of the team.

Mayor Williams and council members Laura Pastor and Debra Stark responded with their own public statement criticizing DiCiccio’s comments, writing, “His scorched-earth tactics and bullying have become a cancer at City Hall.”

DiCiccio told The Show he’s trying to prevent back-room deals without public input.

"We don’t agree on a whole lot of issues," he said. "But the most important thing is, as long as they’re transparent, as long as they do what they say they’re going to do — then we can have a disagreement there. When we run into problems is when things are done behind closed doors. When they’re done in a way that I believe to be contrary to the voters."

The rancor continued in last week’s meeting, in which the council approved a water rate hike 5-3. DiCiccio, who voted no, once again called city leadership untrustworthy.

The tension in City Hall saddens Claude Mattox. He served on the Phoenix City Council for more than a decade; he’s now with the firm Molera Alvarez.

"We’ll know who the new mayor will be, as well as which direction they’d like the council to go after the March 12 run-off election," he said. "That’s also the date for the special election for the two council seats in districts five and eight, once again shaking up the dynamic on the city council."

Both mayoral candidates recognize the discord on the council, and that they’ll have to work to do something to move past it.

Daniel Valenzuela says it’s OK for council members to disagree, but they shouldn’t be disagreeable while they’re doing it.

"I have always respectfully challenged my colleagues as well that if you are going to disagree, then come up with an idea, come up with a solution," he said.

Kate Gallego says the city needs a strong leader who is willing to call out officials who are dishonest or disagreeable.

"When there are elected officials or candidates who won’t take stands, that’s something that can create a vacuum, and I do think we need strong leadership at the elected official level," she said.

The council has four more meetings between now and election day.

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