Originally Published: October 20, 2017 6 a.m.
Updated as of Friday, October 20, 2017 11:52 AM
The value of life experience, the future of the Big Chino Water Ranch, and party affiliation in a non-partisan election all came up in a candidate forum that allowed candidates to question one another.
Nearly 350 people packed the room at the Hassayampa Inn Wednesday, Oct. 18, to hear the seven remaining Prescott city candidates face off in a forum, leading up to the Nov. 7 general election.
Unique to this week’s forum was the move by organizers to encourage interaction between the candidates. Moderator Brad Fain, the president of the co-sponsoring Central Arizona Partnership, explained at the outset that candidates would be allowed to question one another.
That set off a round of questioning that had candidates challenging one another on issues on which they had obvious differences.
For instance, 20-year-old candidate Alexa Scholl faced two questions from fellow council candidates (Phil Goode, 66, and Steve Blair, 61) about her age and life experience.
“Alexa, I’ve known you to be a very bright and capable young lady,” Goode said. “But there’s concern that the amount of experience you could bring to the council is particularly limited.”
Scholl responded that her time growing up in Prescott had given her insight into the culture and values of the community. “First and foremost, my time in Prescott,” she said. “I grew up here; I’ve literally been here for 20 years now.”
During that time, Scholl said she had been involved in a number of community efforts, such as serving as a member of the board that is working on choosing a courthouse plaza memorial for the 19 fallen Granite Mountain Hotshots.
And in response to Blair’s question on the importance of serving on city boards and commissions prior to running for City Council, Scholl said, “While I haven’t directly been involved with the city, I have been involved with the community.” And regardless of the outcome, she added “I just want people to know that there are young people in this community who are passionate about Prescott and want to get involved.”
The forum also featured a number of back-and-forth exchanges between the two candidates vying for the mayor’s post.
One of candidate Greg Mengarelli’s questions from the panel concerned the Big Chino Water Ranch, and whether the proposed pipeline from northwest of Paulden would be needed in the future to serve Prescott’s growth.
While allowing that “there’s a lot more we can do with water conservation,” Mengarelli maintained that the city must continue with plans for the Big Chino pipeline.
“We’ve got to keep moving down the road on the Big Chino Water Ranch to figure how to get that online and figure out how to pay for it,” he said.
Pointing out that studies are still underway on possible impacts to the Verde River, Mengarelli added: “There’s a lot more questions than answers right now, but I would be in favor of pursuing that step-by-step and making sure we make progress to figure out how to develop that water out of the Big Chino.”
Wilcox opted in to respond to with an opposing view.
“I disagree that we need to be on a fast-moving track to develop the Big Chino,” Wilcox said. While noting that she agreed with Mengarelli that the city could get more aggressive on water conservation, Wilcox added: “I don’t think it’s inevitable that we have to build the Big Chino pipeline. I think there are other alternatives we need to study,” such as buying water rights “that are closer, in the Little Chino Basin.”
Such an option “may be more cost-effective than spending $400 million on a pipeline that we really wouldn’t need were it not for all of the development that is happening north of Prescott,” Wilcox said.
Indeed, development – and especially the plans for the 1,800-acre Deep Well Ranch project in northeast Prescott – was a common theme in the forum.
Sandy Griffis, executive director of the co-sponsoring Yavapai County Contractor’s Association, said the Deep Well project was the most-mentioned issue in the questions that the organizers solicited and received from the public.
Wilcox and Mengarelli both weighed in again on a question for Wilcox about one of her recent campaign blogs that compared the local development scene to “The Game of Thrones” saga – a post that prompted a question from Fain on how Wilcox would deal, as mayor, with developers that Fain said she had described as “irresponsible, heedless and greedy.”
Noting that the blog was a parody on the books and TV series, Wilcox said she had already discussed the matter with some local developers.
Ultimately, she said, “Yes, there is a game played in the development strategy, where the developer buys, or has large tracts of land, and comes into the city council with a pretty picture, asking for twice as much as they think they’re going to get. Then developers come back and say, we can’t do it that way; we have to eliminate the commercial.”
That prompted an opt-in from Mengarelli: “There’s a great process in place,” he said. “I do not see this as a game. When developers come to the city, they legitimately have worked very hard on their development and their master plan. I would never belittle anyone coming to the city. I think we need to be respectful on both sides and listen to each other and come to decisions.”
The two mayoral candidates also sparred on: Mengarelli’s campaign, which emphasizes that he is a Republican (Wilcox pointed out city elections are non-partisan; Mengarelli said his party affiliation gives voters an idea of how he would make decisions at city hall); and on how the city should use the $6 million to $7 million per year in general-fund money that will be freed up by the tax revenue generated through the recently approved Proposition 443 (Wilcox maintained that the city should decide how to allocate the money, which has gone annually to pension costs, on a year-by-year basis, and based on the city’s needs at the time).
Along with the Yavapai County Contractors’ Association and the Central Arizona Partnership, the Prescott Chamber of Commerce also co-sponsored the forum.