As Thanksgiving approaches, whether you realize it or not, Cave Creek has a lot to be thankful for. Since Mike Durkin, Charles Spitzer, Reg Monachino and myself took office on June 3, 2013, Cave Creek’s Town Hall has seen unprecedented advancements in fiscal responsibility, transparency, accessibility, accountability, and economic development, all while simultaneously working to preserve and protect our unique frontier lifestyle. Unfortunately, because this new majority’s detractors control the dominant local propaganda machine, some of these achievements may remain unknown to many of Cave Creek’s residents. Let’s be clear, the detractors hated our “slate” even before we took office. Why? Because we sought to, and in fact have been successful at, mounting a civil revolution to overthrow their tyrannical regime and return our local government to the people.
It is widely felt that Usama Abujbarah (former Town Manager) and Don Sorchych (propagandist publisher of the Sonoran News) long operated as two heads of the same dragon, motivated by self-interest and control. It seems that to the detriment of Cave Creek, truth has never been an obstacle for them. In an effort to set the record straight, I wanted to write and highlight some of the monumental achievements this Council has made in just five short months. I don’t ask you to agree with everything we have done, in hindsight we might have been able to do a few things better. We are working hard for you, and learning from our experiences so we can work even harder and smarter going forward. If you want to support a recall, so be it, but do so based on objective verifiable fact, not the hatred and negativity propagated by the Sonoran News.
For more than a decade, Abujbarah and Sorchych manipulated the Council by using fear of public opinion to control the Town’s agenda. If a Council person did not support Sorchych or his friend Abujbarah, a “hit piece” would run in the Sonoran News. Need proof? See the poison published about Councilwomen Grace Meeth and Kim Brennan when they were critical of Abujbarah’s practices. Google what’s been published about Gil Lopez, myself and other people who dared to question Sorchych’s control of the town. It’s not a new pattern. The Phoenix New Times did an exposÃ© about it way back in 2001. Despite the certainty of prolonged public disparagement, however, the new council stood strong and made good on our campaign promise to change the leadership in Town Hall. A promise publicly recognized by Sorchych in his “paper” on several occasions in the months before the election.
Firing Abujbarah was way past due and absolutely necessary to return control of the Town to its citizens, paving the way for the progress that is being made. Even former members of the old guard agree. Last week, I had coffee with former Councilman Dick Esser, and he confirmed that Abujbarah’s firing was long overdue for a litany of reasons (too bad he never had the courage to say it publicly). Mayor Francia’s actions in the post-Abujbarah era speak louder than any words. Finally he is free to serve as Mayor to the best of his ability, and it has benefited the Town.
For the first time in more than a decade, Town Hall is working for Cave Creek’s residents. The Mayor and I have initiated office hours which are held every Thursday morning at 8:00 am to hear from residents and area stakeholders in a casual atmosphere. These meetings have ensured that water pressure issues in the Black Mountain Shadows subdivision will be addressed in the water infrastructure assessment, have led to specific maintenance projects to ensure road safety, and have helped usher along agenda items to serve the public interest.
By overthrowing the Sorchych/Abujbarah regime, many elements in my campaign platform have come to fruition in a few short months. We are delivering on fiscal responsibility in a number of ways. Previously, there had been no comprehensive maintenance or capital improvement plans for the Town’s infrastructure, the modus operandi was simply “if it’s broken fix it.” In my estimation, it was pure malfeasance to have tens of millions of dollars worth of assets without knowing how to maintain them. Within the next few weeks the results of the studies commissioned by this Council will be released, and the Town will have a water master plan, road maintenance plan, and water and wastewater infrastructure assessments and capital improvement plans. Perhaps even more momentous, we have merged our municipal court with the Town of Carefree’s court, thereby saving the town several thousand dollars a month while maintaining the convenience of a court co-located with our Town Hall.
We have taken steps to improve efficiency in Town Hall and reduce waste and redundancy by empowering department heads to make their own purchasing decisions on low-level expenses. Furthermore, at the new Council’s direction and without cost to the taxpayer, a thorough management audit is being performed by the ASU School of Public Administration to be unveiled next month.
With regard to transparency and accountability, the new Council has made meaningful progress. An independent audit of the Town’s finances has been ordered and will be delivered before the year is out. If any irregularities are found, it will spur a forensic audit to ensure any misuse of Town finances is identified. In the meantime, we uncovered an off the books tab Abujbarah had running with the Town’s attorney, and have settled it for pennies on the dollar. Additionally, now posted online is the Town’s check register, so citizens can see how and where their monies are spent in real time, and a portal has been created at town hall for citizens to see and review town communications. The new council has also initiated standardized electronic public records requests, so that they are serviced in a first-come first-serve fashion. To top it off, the new Council has even re-initiated the Town-wide newsletter each quarter to keep residents in the know. Sorchych complains about the cost of the newsletter, funny how we never heard such rants when the previous administration would pay him to run their announcements in his Sonoran News.
When it comes to preserving the unique attributes of the Town, this Council’s accomplishments are unmatched. One of my first orders of business was to initiate the process to get a Special Use Permit to the Cave Creek Museum, helping it secure its future. The Museum had tried several times to get that clearance and was stonewalled by previous administrations. Since taking office the Council further adopted a notice to be provided to prospective property owners when they do their due diligence, in order to make sure they know what makes living in Cave Creek so special. In an effort to secure our open space, the Council has initiated discussions with the State Land Department regarding the annexed land on the West side of Town. To be clear, securing the State Trust land will be no small task, but considering previous administrations let five years run on the twenty year clock with no progress at all, this small step has great implications.
Looking towards maintaining our unique lifestyle, I have initiated a change in the criteria for Major General Plan amendments that will go to the Planning Commission before coming to Council in early 2014. If approved, Desert Rural lands will not be able to be re-designated with a minor plan amendment unless the subject property is contiguous to land already having the higher density designation. This will allow existing commercial and higher density residential corridors to expand naturally but help to preserve the feel of the Desert Rural landscape by discouraging speculative piecemeal re-zonings.
In furtherance of promoting our tourism based economy the Council orchestrated the largest public relations campaign Cave Creek has ever seen, and it didn’t cost the taxpayer a single dollar! The Western Town Challenge made the LA Times, USA Today, and the New York Times as well as every local media outlet and it resulted in the most profitable Wild West Days event our businesses have ever had. The positive effects of that press will continue to benefit our merchants and restaurants, attract new businesses to Town, and pump sales tax revenue into our coffers well into the future.
Has everything the new council done been perfect? Probably not. Few people have a perfect track record. We are, however, delivering on our campaign promises in record time, and I am proud of these achievements. It is a stark contrast from the days of old when the entire council could sit in a room, and when asked “what policies have you proposed in your last term?” they would have absolutely nothing to say. The sad part is that they really did do a few notable things. . . they proposed a failing property tax that my PAC led the community against, and they rubber-stamped $60,000,000.00 in debt on the overdevelopment of our infrastructure without bothering to invest in its longevity. The old guard also worked to sweep the previous Town Manager’s mistakes under the rug, forking over millions of taxpayer dollars to Herb Thompson (who was friends with Councilman Esser) when Abujbarah decided to build a water tank encroaching on Thompson’s private land “without the Council’s knowledge.” Taking the appearance of impropriety to the next level, the last Council voted unanimously to accept a deed of gift for a piece of property encumbered by litigation and owned by Sorchych to insulate him from liability. Turns out that was part of a pattern of behavior, as they also voted to abandon a public easement, giving secondary vehicular access to property owned by Abujbarah, increasing his property value while creating traffic safety concerns for neighbors. I think we can all be thankful those days are over.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and . . . destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly . . . and to confuse the true with the false.” Sorchych and his gang of thugs are filled with hate. The openly bigoted propaganda and irrelevant personal attacks published by the Sonoran News are a pathetic subterfuge for its hypocritical assessment of Town affairs. Yet, Sorchych will likely continue to shamelessly publish disparaging comments and false criticisms, painting each step we take away from the days of malfeasance in a false light. But that will not change the fact that our accomplishments are undisputed and the changes that have occurred in Cave Creek are real.
The progress the new Council has made required hard work and dedication, and I aim to keep it up. Sure, we have a long road ahead, but looking back on the last five months, what we have done has been tremendous. Taken together with the fact that the regime of hate is no longer in control, the residents of this community have a lot to be thankful for this year. This Thanksgiving I am thankful for this community’s support of the new Council’s efforts, and for being personally blessed with the opportunity to live and serve in such a wonderfully spirited town.
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