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Scott Bartle City Council
InMaricopa owner Scott Bartle addresses City Council about his ethics complaint against Councilmember Julia Gusse at its May 19 meeting. (Source: City of Maricopa, via YouTube)

At its May 19 meeting, the Maricopa City Council addressed an ethics complaint I filed against Councilmember Julia Gusse. Here is the story from my perspective.

The history

In a nutshell, Article VIII of the City Code (Code of Ethics) states, “The Mayor and the City Council shall maintain the utmost standards of personal integrity, truthfulness, honesty and fairness in carrying out their public duties.” I believe a council member, Julia Gusse, violated the spirit and the letter of this Code, many times over.

If you disagree, and at least one Mesa lawyer did, that’s OK. Apparently, things like personal integrity, truthfulness, honesty and fairness are quite subjective.

You can form your own opinion, but here are a few of the reasons I thought violations occurred:

  • Gusse insisted on meddling in my business’ hiring practices “before our City moves forward with any advertising.”
  • Gusse demeaned and threatened a local job-creator, writing “I suppose that with this email you have mansplained my council job to me and have put me in my place? Am I to scurry away now with your permission? As you are well aware, the pen is mightier than the sword!”
  • Gusse doubled down, professing she (i.e. city government) is entitled to a say on who and how my business recruits and hires talent: “When you hire an individual that is to report on anything from kids sports to a local crime scene, who you hire is 100% my concern!”

For over a year, I hesitated to file a complaint in hopes I could avoid doing so altogether. Given Gusse’s decision to run for re-election, I felt compelled to give the council the opportunity to prove its mettle and the public an opportunity to see how one of their elected officials actually treats local businesses. (As it turns out, we got to know what six of the seven council members think is appropriate relative to how to treat local businesses and their rights to interfere with them.)

[Note: After submitting my complaint, a public records request revealed Gusse emailed the mayor, “My recommendation is to NOT advertise one dime of our City’s advertising budget in this publication” and that she “will fight for the discontinued financial support of his organization.” She backs that up in 2019, spitefully telling local businesses owners to cancel their advertising agreements with InMaricopa.]

The meeting

Gusse did a good job of moving the narrative away from her actions. The council fell in lockstep, receiving the gift of a flawed investigative conclusion to complement the strategy of claiming a non-conforming process.

I am bemused as to how the City’s outside investigator came to his conclusion. I can only surmise we have very different standards of right and wrong, or he understands where his bread is buttered. Maybe potential legal liability for the City was a consideration. Somehow, the investigating attorney did not even find Gusse’s behavior to be unprofessional.

But I don’t think the report mattered. Gusse had eight minutes of victory speeches already prepared – and it seems unlikely she could have written those on the one-floor elevator ride from the executive session meeting room to the regular meeting in the Council Chambers. Price, Smith and Vitiello all could have pointed to the report findings and had all the political cover they needed, then quietly amended the Code to prevent those pesky constituents from being able to accuse them of any wrongdoing in the future. But they couldn’t resist following through on the “process” strategy on which they committed to hanging their hat. Conspiracy theory? Yes, but a very plausible one.

Pre-planned or not, council focused on issues that had nothing to do with the ethics violations. In fact, not one question was asked about the appropriateness of her emails. Not one member expressed concern with her meddling in a private business, nor her disrespectful communication, nor her threat to a local employer to withhold city purchasing.

Her modus operandi of grandstanding, playing the victim and accusing people (possibly me) of being dim-witted, racist, misogynist and anti-veteran predictably held true. (see YouTube video, 14:02)

Like Gusse, Councilmember Vitiello accused me of taking advantage of the City code by having the nerve to even file a complaint. He addressed his fear someone would file a meritless complaint against him for political purposes, though that would be in conflict of current policy which states a complaint would only be placed on a council agenda for action “if there is reasonable cause to believe a violation occurred.”

Vitiello seemingly exonerated Gusse to protect himself from facing the same fate: “This could be a free-for-all, for anybody to come against anyone of us councilmembers for whatever reasoning they choose to during an election year. And that really worries me.”

Oblivious to the facts in the complaint, Vitello said, “Process is the most important thing here. … I struggle with even starting to read (the report) because, again, the process to me, I feel was not followed.”

Vitiello also questioned me on the timing of my filing, despite my previously having made a public statement explaining my reason. (Tell me again why I am on trial here?)

Mayor Christian Price and Vice Mayor Nancy Smith continued the effort to cast doubt on the process itself. Throughout, the mayor never asked the city attorney for clarification of whether the process was properly followed, as is his common practice.

Council should have taken its beef with how the process transpired to the mayor and city attorney. Turning the tables and blaming the Complainant is a page out of Gusse’s book.

Like Vitiello, Price and Smith failed to address, much less condemn, Gusse’s actions.

Councilmember Marvin Brown said nothing.

Councilmember Henry Wade focused on personalities instead of facts. Somewhat confused, he made the motion to exonerate Gusse to “move forward.”

And so it goes. The council had an opportunity to hold a colleague accountable – the intent of the Code of Ethics – and instead tried to shoot the messenger. I told them they had only two choices – condemn or condone her behavior. They chose to condone.

The future

Despite Gusse’s strategy of making the complaint about my business and me, it wasn’t. The council’s decision to let her off is of little consequence to me. If anything, the profoundly poor judgment by six council members makes me realize, in spite of COVID-19, InMaricopa should be paying closer attention to the decisions our elected officials make. And we will.

One unknown is the impact on economic development of the City’s acceptance of its officials trying to dictate policies and procedures of private businesses. Is government overreach a factor in companies’ decisions of where to plant their businesses? Maybe.

What is certain is Gusse will graduate from emboldened to bullet-proof, and her disdain for the Code of Ethics will turn into blatant disregard.

My goals Tuesday were to (a) give council an opportunity to set a high standard by condemning Gusse’s behavior and (b) prevent Gusse from using her position to attack other Maricopa businesses like she does mine. I accomplished one of the two and will, like Wade, move forward.

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller

Editor’s Note: InMaricopa.com is publishing the author’s letter to city councilmembers, and copied to local media, in the interest of transparency. As we prepared to publish the letter Wednesday afternoon, the author let us know he did not want it published as an opinion article. We respected his request. He subsequently talked to another media outlet about the letter, so we feel compelled to publish now to show InMaricopa is being transparent on the issue.

Hi Councilmembers,

I am writing to you in response to Councilmember Vincent Manfredi’s post on Facebook. He is supporting the idea of opening up the city’s amenities, even while the Governor still has a Stay at Home order active. He is further urging members on Facebook to email this address, perhaps in hopes of creating public pressure on you to open up these activities again.

I am disgusted.

I am a homeowner in a large community, whose amenities have been closed during this pandemic. I fully support this closure and the closure of the city’s amenities to ensure that the public remains safe (or as safe as can be). It is simply a false choice to suggest that “If you don’t think that they should NOT be open my suggestion would be, don’t use them” as he suggests in his statement. The false choice is that if you do not agree with him, that opening public amenities during a pandemic and active Stay at Home order is a fine thing to do, that you just don’t participate.

According to demographic numbers, approximately 30% of our City’s population is over the age of 50. This puts our city more at risk than Tempe, Chandler, and Gilbert due to the amount of adults that are at a higher risk to contract serious health issues from COVID19. This does not even include those members outside this range who are at a higher risk due to preexisting health conditions (of which, my family has several). City residents look to it’s leadership in times of crisis. I think we all agree here that we are in unprecedented times. I could cite other state Governors opening up their states in what some would call a “premature” fashion. But these are not other states. This is Arizona.

The fact is that Governor Ducey still has an active Stay at Home order, with restrictions starting to ease slowly over the coming weeks. Councilmember Manfredi, in his attached statement, is using a Political, Public page. One might argue due to the title and names he uses that it is his Official Councilmember profile. If so, I find it extremely disheartening that a representative from the City of Maricopa would use their Official Councilmember page to advocate for the direct violation of an Executive Order that is designed to protect its inhabitants during a health crisis.

I am not saying that there is not a time or place for getting some fresh air; of course there is. In my neighborhood one can drive around the block and see plenty of people who are running or exercising. Unlike using many of the city’s amenities, there are areas to naturally stay away from others. The fear of many is that by opening up the city amenities, you create an opportunity for a petri dish of disease. I know that Maricopa does not want to be seen as having an outbreak occur because of something entirely preventable. One example of this mistake would be in New Orleans, LA; where that city was inundated by sick residents flooding their hospitals after gatherings occurred. This is an extreme example of course, because there was also a parade involved. But we can’t handle even a fraction of a percentage of that rush in our local Banner clinic.

In closing, I support the continued closure of the city of Maricopa’s amenities. Should the Council act with caution, history will judge your actions kindly. Should the Council act with haste, there is a short term gain, with the possibility of a longer, larger term loss.

Feel free to reach out with any followup concerns or questions. I have lived in this great city since 2006. While that may not be as long as many residents, I do not want Maricopa to be the example – for all the wrong reasons.

Sincerely,

Andrew Miller

Maricopa Resident

Full disclosure: Councilmember Vincent Manfredi is minority owner of InMaricopa.

U.S. Rep. Tom O'Halleran
U.S. Rep. Tom O'Halleran
U.S. Rep. Tom O’Halleran

By U.S. Rep. Tom O’Halleran

In December 2019, I voted to pass the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a new North American trade deal that will improve international trade with our neighbors to the north and south, protect our workers and environment, and create enforcement provisions to ensure all that trading partners are held accountable.

Last month, I was pleased to see the agreement move through the Senate and to the president’s desk for a signature.

Over the last year, I have sat down with businesses of all sizes across our state to hear about the changes they needed to see in order to succeed and continue to offer services and jobs to Arizona families. I also personally met with Ambassador Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative, on several occasions to negotiate provisions within this important agreement.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2018, Arizona had $20.4 billion in total trade with potential USMCA markets, and, according to the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, between 1994 and 2017, Arizona’s exports to Mexico grew from $2.4 billion per year to $7.7. billion — a 311% increase.

Currently, over 200,000 jobs in Arizona alone depend on trade with Mexico and Canada. A study from the International Trade Commission found that the USMCA, if ratified, would add an estimated $68.2 billion to the economy and create 176,000 new jobs.

When it comes to our state’s growing economy, creating good-quality jobs that support a family is a key priority of mine. According to a recent study by the University of Arizona, our state is attracting new residents at one of the highest rates in the entire country. Arizona’s economy is not only growing at a pace that exceeds that of our thriving national economy, but is also diversifying away from one main sector—construction and real estate—to include other industries like education, transportation, and manufacturing.

The USMCA will ensure that new jobs in these industries are preserved and that new economic sectors can continue to expand and spur the creation of more employment for Arizona families.

Although Arizona’s job market expanded under NAFTA, the newly renegotiated USMCA is a bigger win for not only our economy, but also our workers and our environment. This agreement improves upon NAFTA by bolstering protections for our hardworking labor community, preserving important environmental standards, and enhancing compliance monitoring. I worked with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure that these essential provisions were included in the final agreement language.

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement is a win for Arizona workers, rural communities, agriculture producers, and small and large businesses throughout the state. It is an example of legislating done right—thoughtful negotiations, consideration of input from stakeholders and experts, and bipartisan, bicameral support. I was proud to vote to ratify the USCMA and look forward to seeing all the good it will do for our Arizona, our rural communities, and our nation.

Tom O’Halleran is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives representing Arizona’s First Congressional District. A Democrat, he lives in the Village of Oak Creek.

Jiselle Diaz
Jiselle Diaz

By Jiselle Diaz

Teenagers find it difficult to feel empowered.

According to one study, 57 percent of teens have experienced persistent feelings of sadness, rage and hopelessness. This adds to a misconception I notice among teens of this generation; some think being angry about an issue means they are empowered.

This mindset is saying anger is power, and that is not true. It can seem quite difficult to grow as a teen in such a time like this. However, it’s not impossible.

Let’s get personal. My name is Jiselle Diaz and I am Miss City of Maricopa’s Outstanding Teen 2019. I recently became a member of Be Awesome Youth Coalition. My platform is “Be the Lighthouse: Teen Empowerment,” which is about empowering teens through leadership, service and kindness.

During my first two years of high school my family was going through extensive changes, causing me to behave in a reclusive, depressive way due to similar feelings of rage and sadness. I did not want to make new friends or try new things, and I experienced constant anxiety attacks.

I was invited to join Link Crew, where I learned mentorship skills and I helped prepare and guide 16 freshmen for high school. This program gave me the inspiration to develop my platform. I partnered with Be Awesome because everything they stand for fits with my cause perfectly.

Leadership is a skill all teens should learn. Serving others and being kind is always the right thing to do. It is so important to be involved in your community because of how empowering it is. Fortunately, it’s easy to do that in Maricopa.

My favorite ways of getting involved in the community have been musically performing and being a titleholder in the Miss City of Maricopa Scholarship Organization where I’m given the opportunity to serve my community. I highly encourage you to get involved.

Stay connected. Stay positive. As teens, we need to develop relationships and friendships. We should get involved, meet new people, and have fun with it! Life’s too short to not have fun. Shine your light, be empowered, and be awesome, teens.

Jiselle Diaz is the reigning Miss City of Maricopa Outstanding Teen.

 

5 Ways to Get Involved
1) Get an internship. They provide great experience and look awesome on college resumes.
2) Join a church youth group. Get to know other people just like you and make lifelong friends.
3) Volunteer at your local food bank, host a clothing drive, etc. Help those in need and make a difference.|
4) Get involved in an organization in your community/school. (Hint, hint: Be Awesome!)
5) Start your own organization or club. This is an amazing way to spread a message and gather others around something you believe in.


This column appears in the May issue of InMaricopa.

Bernadette Russoniello

Upcoming College and Career Ready Events at MHS
Dollars for Scholars Scholarship Bootcamp, May 28-29, 8 a.m.-noon at MHS Library
Standing out in the Admissions Process, June 4-5, 8 a.m.-noon at MHS Library
Events are appropriate for all high school students, grades 9-12. For more information, contact Bernadette Russoniello at brussoniello@musd20.org.

By Bernadette Russoniello

Bernadette Russoniello

Applying for scholarships could be a full-time job for high school students. Yet most students are unaware and unprepared for the work required.

Daily, I hear comments from students such as, “Miss, I spent like four hours working on applying, and I found nothing,” “It’s only a thousand dollars, it’s not worth the work” and “I wish I would’ve started sooner!”

Simply by earning all A’s and B’s, students manage to earn at least $27 for every hour they are in high school through university academic scholarships. Students need to invest time up front in building a scholarship application portfolio and a researched action plan to maximize their chances at earning monies.

What’s a scholarship portfolio? I encourage students to start a digital portfolio of all elements typically required for applications. At MHS, we use Google Apps for Education, so starting a folder in their Google Drive is the first step. Gather and develop basic elements required for most scholarships: three letters of recommendation, an updated resume, a list of awards and honors, personal statements including reflections on your career and college goals, a personal narrative describing yourself and an updated high school transcript.

Tips on letters of recommendation. Ask well before you need one. I have students asking regularly for letters the day before they are due. Ask in advance, and make sure to give a five- to 10-day window. After the first week, gentle reminders are appreciated to ensure you receive your letter on time. Additionally, providing your recommender your resume and personal narrative helps them include points about you they may not know. And most importantly, pick people who are strong writers and know you well – specific examples and personal anecdotes are what readers look for, not a regurgitation of the resume.

Standing out. Admissions and scholarship readers read literally hundreds, if not thousands, of applications. The applicant must stand out in the process, either through their voice, their story or their accomplishments. Accomplishments are the toughest; all students applying are in clubs, get great grades and serve as campus leaders. What do you do that makes you different?

Where to start? I’m a fan of Scholarships.com – but not the “Free Search” (unless you love spam and third-party emails). I show students how to use the “Directory” feature to search by category and due date. Students need to develop an action plan that allows them to list scholarships, links, application needs and due dates.


 

This column appears in the May issue of InMaricopa.

Murray Siegel
Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

What was your reaction when you learned about the scandal involving wealthy parents spending obscene money to secure their child’s admission into an elite university? Were you outraged that this was so unfair, especially if you have a child nearing college age? Perhaps you saw this as another example of the arrogance of the affluent.

My response was despite their wealth these folks are stupid, since these elite universities really do not offer a better undergraduate education, so why spend the money? Yes, Harvard, Yale and Stanford are fine colleges to obtain graduate or professional degrees, but my experience indicates for undergraduates there are much better schools.

What gives me the right to make this statement? For many years during my teaching career, I taught and coached at various high schools and became involved in hundreds of college searches. I generally followed up with my students to get feedback about their college experiences. Of greater importance, from 1985 through 1998, I conducted summer teacher workshops on college campuses from Boston to Honolulu. At each college, I would search out students and faculty to gain an assessment of that school as a possible college for my high school students.

During the summer of 1987, I conducted a workshop at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. My contacts with students and faculty demonstrated that TU offers a fabulous undergraduate environment. Upon my recommendation, five of my former students received degrees from TU. One is a Slavic linguist for the Defense Language Institute, one leads a city’s drama program, one is a urologist, one holds two doctorate degrees and is a professor at The Sorbonne in Paris, and the fifth is a bilingual economist working for a nonprofit. All reported great academic and social experiences at this college.

Based on my research, I can recommend several private universities in lieu of elite schools. Emory and Agnes Scott (Decatur, Georgia), Furman (Greenville, South Carolina) Davidson (Davidson, North Carolina), Rice (Houston, Texas) and Harvey Mudd (Claremont, California). Some state universities I recommend are Georgia Tech (Atlanta), Clemson (Clemson, South Carolina), University of Virginia (Charlottesville, Virginia), Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, Virginia), Auburn (Auburn, Alabama) and Texas A&M (College Station, Texas) These are not the only quality colleges out there; they are ones which I have the most familiarity.

I did not mention in-state schools since I always prefer students go out-of-state if at all possible. Staying in Arizona, U of A, ASU and NAU each offers exceptional academic programs.

If you are experiencing or approaching the college search, please disregard the elites and focus on a school that meets your child’s needs.

Murray Siegel, Ph.D., has 44 years of experience teaching mathematics. He is in his fourth year as a volunteer at Butterfield E.S.


This column appears in the May issue of InMaricopa.

 

For the past few years, InMaricopa, the Maricopa Monitor and the Chamber of Commerce sponsored candidate forums together.

This year, we opted to break away from a confining partnership and present our own debates, as is the prerogative of any media outlet. We came to this conclusion for a variety of reasons, which the Monitor’s uninformed response forces us to outline publicly.

Past candidate forums were too comfortable and too politically safe for the candidates, and seemed purposely designed that way. We want a Town Hall format that would be more enlightening for voters with more latitude to challenge the candidates about their positions. We want to markedly reduce the role of the moderator and let citizens get the answers to questions they want to ask. We want a format that would allow candidates to more fully engage with each other on the issues.

What we don’t want is for the Town Hall to be a showpiece for the media, including us. All media are welcome to cover, but voters are the focus.

The Chamber of Commerce was invited to be a presenting sponsor. However, the Monitor chose to interpret InMaricopa’s move to separate itself as “stealing” the debates, virtually eloping with the Chamber.

The Monitor posted an attack on InMaricopa filled with unsupported conspiracy theories stated as fact. The commentary, for some reason written by a reporter rather than an editor, is evidence of the lack of leadership apparent at the Monitor for some time.

The decision-making process in story coverage, leaning to sensationalization and pandering to base curiosity, is not something we wish to identify ourselves with further. Stories about the investigations into a child-molestation case and a murder case, just recently, were needlessly detailed for gross-out impact with the effect of exploiting victims very shortly after tragic events.

Monitor staff and contractors have made it a habit to use social media to cast shade on InMaricopa when their own ethics are questioned by their own readers. It has been a ridiculous deflection formed by bad judgment and has irrevocably damaged what could be friendly competition. Another reason we wish to disassociate ourselves.

Vincent Manfredi is a minority owner in InMaricopa. He is also a member of the city council. He is also running for re-election. Whatever the personal politics of its owners, InMaricopa has never picked political sides and has never endorsed any candidate for office. Our aim is to let all sides speak when they are willing to talk, and let the voters decide.

Much of the Monitor’s attack on InMaricopa had little to do with the debates but personal grudgingness over media competition and hypothetical access. Neither the Chamber nor InMaricopa has approached the debates to “make a buck,” a silly accusation over an event that financially profits no one.

InMaricopa established itself as a hyper-local news source, concentrating its objective coverage on all things Maricopa and issues that impact Maricopa. That is how we are approaching and presenting this Town Hall.


Raquel Hendrickson is the editor of InMaricopa.

Anthony Smith

By Anthony Smith

On May 11, 2016, I was notified by the Pinal County Deputies Association that they are endorsing my candidacy for re-election as County Supervisor.

The letter from Benjamin Cook, President of Pinal County Deputies Association, reads as follows:

“Following extensive research by the Executive Board of the Pinal County Deputies Association, PCDA is proud to announce our endorsement for your candidacy for Supervisor of District 4.

Your support for public safety issues and employees is deeply appreciated. Your honest and upfront beliefs and convictions concerning the role of the County Supervisor’s in our community are much needed and refreshing.

PCDA believes that you will strive towards an improved alignment between the office of the Sheriff and the Board of Supervisors, eliminating some of the politics within this system and reaffirming the needs of the citizens in your district.”

I am both honored and grateful to the men and women who are the front line forces of public safety for this very important endorsement. It reinforces the commitment we both have for working together to reduce crime, improve working conditions and manage resources within tight budgets.

During my next four years in office, I’ll continue to be as committed to the ideas put forward by the Pinal County Deputies Association as I have in my first term.


Anthony Smith is running for re-election to the Pinal County Board of Supervisors.