Home Rule Hits the Road

Note: For more information on this issue, see Home Rule – No Change Back from Your Billion Dollars under “Articles.”

Some stimulants might be in order. Meth is probably the best, but not very cool these days. So, that leaves Coke, coffee, or – if you have a boy in public school – Ritalin. I chose to eat a couple of candy bars before I went to a Town Hall Meeting hosted by Vice–Mayor Kathleen Dunbar, concerning the issue of Home Rule.

Home Rule, in this case, refers to an alternative to the spending limits on municipalities imposed by the constitution of the State of Arizona, whereby local determination of spending limits can be substituted for a period of four years in place of the state imposed limits if said plan is approved by voters…pause here and wait for the stimulants to kick in before you nod out.

In short, the Arizona Constitution was amended to limit the discretionary spending by municipalities so they couldn’t go hog-wild with property tax rates (like they did in California). A baseline was set, with automatic increases to cover inflation and population growth. Naturally, the legislation included provisions that would allow everything from tweaking the baseline, to bailing on the whole dang thing. Specifically, there are four ways to escape: 1, the City council, through a supermajority vote, enacting a one-time override; 2, the voters approving a one-time override; 3, permanently adjusting the baseline (Tucson did this in 1983 and 1987); 4, Home Rule – bailing on the whole dang thing for four years. The Tucson City Government wants to pick door number four, but they need our blessing in November to do it.

So it was, with briefcase in hand, a belly full of Snickers, and a spring in my step, that I approached the meeting room at the Ward III office on Grant road. At first, I was a little reticent to enter. I peered through the window and saw half a dozen people sitting in silence with heads bowed. There was a man in a suit at the front of the room sitting in a chair. I stepped back and looked at the building to make sure I was not crashing some Thursday evening church service. I held my breath and entered, taking a seat near the back.

I felt better after Mrs. Dunbar’s staff began to arrive. Through a side door, and looking very relaxed, City Manager Mike Hein entered the room. He walked slowly to the front, stopping to shake hands as he went. He wore a smile so broad that his eyes winced closed – I don’t think he’s running for anything…is he? He joined the man at the front of the room – City Budget Director, Jim Cameron.

It was clear who worked for whom. Mr. Cameron sat upright, dressed in a suit with white shirt and tie; Mr. Hein slouched back in his chair with one arm on the table, he wore a blue blazer with an open button-down collar shirt – no tie.

Mrs. Dunbar entered, smiling and energetic, greeting people individually before sitting in the audience. At the appropriate time, Mrs. Dunbar introduced the speakers. Actually, Mr. Hein did most of the talking , while Mr. Cameron ran the Power Point. His “laid-back” demeanor aside, Mr. Hein appeared quite the astute professional. He has experience in the governments of other municipalities in Arizona, including Nogales, and it shows. He displayed both a wealth of technical knowledge, and an understanding of the governmental processes.

He seems to have a clever angle on marketing this thing as well. Instead of the fear mongering approach used by Phoenix, Mr. Hein uses the subtle approach of asking for an approving vote so that the City can spend the projected nine million dollars of extra revenue that will exceed the spending limit in the fiscal year 2007. Without the “yes” vote, the money will just sit, unspent, in a bank account! *gasp* If that does not put the Fear of the Almighty in you, the projection for fiscal year 2008 is twenty-five million dollars! Idle! Not buying votes, or enlarging fiefdoms!

Anyway, Mr. Hein proceeded to explain Home Rule in an informal, conversational style. Mr. Cameron dutifully followed Mr. Hein’s conversation with the appropriate Power Point slides.

There was a Q and A at the end. There were a few questions from the floor including a question about trash fees. The best question, however, came from the skinny guy with long hair and the type of tan rarely seen on people outside traffic medians. He started off complaining about the lack of central planning and “open space”, then, at some point, he was talking about the potential of laser computers. I must admit, the candy bars were wearing off so I was fading fast and not terribly attentive. What fascinated me though, was the rapt attention paid to the man by both Mr. Hein and Mr. Cameron – better men than I are they! Fortunately, before he had a chance to discuss flying saucers, Mr. Dunbar gently “redirected” his attention back into the room and the business at hand.

After the guests fielded all the questions, Mrs. Dunbar thanked everyone for coming, and thanked the guests for the presentation. There was brief applause.

It was really an informative show, and the informal style was appealing. Mr. Hein is “The Man” on this issue, and is capable of answering any and all questions. If you have not attended one of these presentations, please consider doing so. This will be on the November ballot. Voting is not important, informed voting is.