The Lobby

Written by Editorial Staff Category: Valley News Issue: November 2017
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Things we love and loathe this month

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Makers’ Mesa
Huge drums made from car tires. A giant canvas that projects on-the-spot portraits and provides shade. Undulating “noodles” that curve to create a fun walkway through an underutilized alley. These are a few examples of the 20 interactive projects that will be on display for the City of Mesa’s first Main Street Prototyping Festival on November 17 and 18, funded by a $75,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Based in part on similar events like San Francisco’s Market Street Prototyping Festival, the free Mesa fair “is designed to enable community participation in thinking about and experimenting with ways to enhance public space… for a more vibrant downtown,” says City of Mesa director of arts and culture Cindy Ornstein. Prototyping is a way to test out ideas and concepts, and receive community feedback, before making anything permanent, Ornstein says. After the festival, about three prototypes will be slated to become permanent downtown Mesa fixtures in the next few years. mesaartscenter.com/mesaprototyping
— Lauren Loftus

 

 

Dear Doug, Send Money
Each fall, state agencies from the Arizona Department of Health Services to the Attorney General’s Office send the governor’s office their budget wish lists for the following year – kind of a political letter to Santa, if you will. Some of their requests will end up in Governor Doug Ducey’s executive budget come January, but for the most part they get the equivalent of coal (aka bupkis). Here are some of the larger – and, shall we say, intriguing – requests being made, according to the Arizona Capitol Times:

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Tom O’Halleran

by Craig Outhier
Illustration by Mirelle Inglefield

Moderate lawmakers often talk of “reaching across the aisle” to work with the other side, but Tom O’Halleran did them one better: He actually walked across the dang thing. The genial ex-cop represented Yavapai County as a Republican in the Arizona State Legislature from 2001 to 2009, but found his stances on education and resource management slightly out of step with his GOP colleagues. In 2016, he switched teams, running for and winning a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat representing Arizona’s rangy 1st District, which extends all the way from Maricopa County to the Utah border. It was quite the second – or fourth? – act for the 71-year-old lawmaker, who says his varied background as a Chicago homicide detective and securities trader was “great training” for politics. “You need to go into situations where you can’t be intimidated… and deal with people with high anxiety and high stress and bring that level down. And, of course, the late-night phone calls.” Mindful, we called him during business hours.

You’re a 71-year-old freshman congressman. Does that make you feel a little like Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School?
Well, I’m kind of a young 71, as energy level goes. Most of my staff feels that I need to slow down a little bit. This time around, I’m the oldest [freshman lawmaker] by two years… we looked it up, and the record is 78.

District 1 is such a massive, sprawling district. Does that make it challenging to represent?
It’s bigger than Pennsylvania! But getting around the district is fun… you meet new people and see if you can help them out. I’m usually in D.C. during the week – land Tuesday, do one or two votes, then committee hearings and meetings with constituents and other folks in the office, then [come back] Thursday. And that’s when I do my district work: one week the southern part, then central another, or the northern part.

The cliché is that men become more conservative as they get older. But that’s not you, is it?
I don’t think anyone would have called me conservative when I was Republican, and I don’t think anyone would call me progressive now. I’ve always been more socially minded than some of my Republican colleagues… and more conservative with public funding than my Democratic colleagues.

What are your three favorite political movies?
1. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington has to be one of them.
2. Lincoln. That was a tremendous movie. Really well researched and well done… I’ve read about eight books on Lincoln.
3. Anything about Teddy Roosevelt. He changed the entire dialogue on labor issues. Such a dynamic executive.

Name the most encouraging and disenchanting things about D.C. so far.
The good thing: signing on early with the Problem Solvers Caucus… that’s a caucus of Republican and Democrats that finds common ground on issues that America faces. We came up with a bipartisan health care fix that the Senate health committee is [looking at].
The worst thing: the way we come together as a body. Our orientation began as freshmen by having separate Democrat and Republican dinners the first night. And I just think you can’t bring people together if there’s a wall.

Universal school vouchers: Yea or nay?
Based on my history, I do not agree with them. You need to appropriately fund education throughout the state. The math is not complex: Students have done well where education is well-funded, and struggled in [Native American] reservations and poor areas that [lack] a tax base. I don’t believe a ZIP code should define child’s future.

District 1 is one of Arizona’s “competitive” districts, which means the GOP will probably fight hard for it in 2018. Can you ever stop campaigning?
The two-year [term] is problematic mostly because of fundraising… but I’m out there in the public as much as I can anyway because that’s the job. You have to be out there with your constituents.

 

Watching the Watchpeople

As this publication noted last month, the Great Phoenix Pepper Spraying of 2017 was no Kent State (The Lobby, Oct. 2017). Protestors were livid, yes. Phoenix police may have acted hastily and heavy-handedly, yes. But when Chief Jeri Williams’ officers used pepper spray, smoke pellets and flash bangs against a small number of demonstrators who lingered after President Donald Trump’s Downtown rally on August 22, it wasn’t exactly a civil rights atrocity for the ages.

However, it may yet alter the way Phoenix governs its 4,200-strong police force.

In the wake of the incident, Phoenix City Manager Ed Zuercher proposed hiring an outside firm to investigate whether the police acted without provocation, as some protestors claim. This was scuttled by two factions on the City Council: one that felt an independent investigation was unnecessary because police behavior was above reproach, the other that doubted the independence of the group that would investigate.

It was an opportunity lost, in my opinion. As someone who’s served as both a police officer and a demonstrator, both decades ago in Baltimore, I find limited civilian oversight to be a generally positive – if admittedly contentious – thing for police departments.

“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” as the Roman poet Juvenal mused. Who will watch the watchmen? Police departments have always hated independent investigations, arguing that, as professionals, they should be able to investigate themselves like other professions. Most professions, however, have spotty records of self-regulation. To take but one example, I’ve personally held closed-door meetings with groups of physicians who, in private, admitted to doing an inadequate job of policing themselves. “Protecting one’s own” is a natural human instinct.

Today, more than 200 civilian oversight entities are attached to police departments around the country, though their powers to punish or investigate vary greatly. And while that figure of 200 sounds like a lot, consider there are approximately 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S.

Such boards are usually empowered only after acrimonious negotiations with police unions, which usually distrust them. New York City, for example, has a 13-member civilian oversight board, and it was a famously hard-fought battle to get it started. In the 1960s, New York City Mayor John Lindsay proposed founding a review board after a wave of complaints of police abuse by minorities. Voters rejected the idea, however, and it took more than two decades before civilian oversight was instituted in New York.

Let me stipulate: The police have to walk a fine line between “too much” or “too little” force. Overall, Phoenix PD did an exemplary job keeping the two groups apart before, during and immediately after the Trump rally in a contentious environment. Remember, this was just days after Charlottesville, where the police were criticized for not providing adequate protection as white supremacists clashed with counter protestors.

Still, there are unanswered questions. If there was a provoking assault on the police, as the Phoenix PD claims, how many were involved? Is there evidence that the police issued clear warnings to disperse? The police maintain that tear gas was thrown at them before they fired pepper spray pellets. If they retrieved a single non-Phoenix-police-issue CS canister, it would be a significant piece of supporting evidence.

All could have been answered with an independent investigation, which is why the city manager’s recommendation was sound. Williams – who has promised an internal review – ultimately is the person in the hot seat here. With the departure of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, she’s become the de facto face of law enforcement in the Valley, and must weigh the loyalty and support of her officers against the public’s thirst for accountability, during a terrifically tense American moment.

I’m not saying the Phoenix PD needs a permanent civilian oversight board. My sense is that the department stacks up well against most of its peers. But no one should fear a one-time independent review, and clarification of some departmental use of force policies would seem to be in order. That might save the city from an expensive lawsuit someday. The tab for the recently departed sheriff shows how expensive the alternative can be.

Mike O’Neil is a sociologist and pollster who hosts the public affairs program, The Think Tank, on KTAR-FM 92.3.

 

FROM THE HIP

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“I was on my way back from an early morning garden shoot in Carefree and saw this disassembled cell tower/cactus. It reminded me of that commercial, you know? The one where the guy always says, ‘Can you hear me now?’”

— Michael Woodall
Phoenix-based international photographer and regular PHOENIX contributor