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July 14, 2011

Host: Ted Simons

Economic Growth: New WESTMARC CEO

  |   Video
  • Michelle Rider, formally a Senior Vice President of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, is the new President and CEO of WESTMARC, an organization that promotes growth and development in the west Valley. Rider will discuss the opportunities and challenges she faces in her new role.
  • Michelle Rider - WESTMARC President & CEO
Category: Business/Economy   |   Keywords: growth, maricopa county,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: "Horizon's" continuing focus on economic growth looks tonight at western Maricopa County. WESTMARC is a coalition of west valley communities and businesses that promote the region and advocate on its behalf. On July 1st, former GPEC vice-president Michelle Rider began serving as WESTMARC’s president and CEO. She replaces long time CEO Jack Lunsford who retired this year due to health issues. Joining me to talk about the challenges and opportunities she faces in her new role is WESTMARC President and CEO, Michelle Rider. Good to have you here.

Michelle Rider: Thank you. Glad to be here.

Ted Simons: What is WESTMARC?

Michelle Rider: WESTMARC is Maricopa coalition is what it stands for. As you said, it is a group of three groups, which is basically the 15 municipalities that are west of the I-17, and including Phoenix, that part sits west of I-17, also the private sector business interests and the education community, and really it was created as a convening point for those groups, get those groups together, talk about issues of the day, and see if they can come to a conclusion with one voice, therefore being a stronger voice.

Ted Simons: Compare to East Valley partnership, compare to GPEC. It seems like we're all in the same field.

Michelle Rider: We're in the same field, but we do very different things. GPEC is what I'm most familiar with. What WESTMARC's role is, we don't deal directly with the companies. That's a GPEC or Arizona Commerce Authority function. So what our role is to really make sure that the west valley is getting the best marketing to those groups so then they can go out and really communicate with the companies. So it's making sure we have our assets highlighted, that we are really having our best face forward.

Ted Simons: So you got branding. You are getting branding, I'm hearing branding going on.
Michelle Rider: Yeah. That’s exactly what it is.
Ted Simons: You got cities, businesses, and you've got educators, and you've got a brand you've got to figure on. Are folks in the same book, if not on the same page?

Michelle Rider: They are. I'm in day 10, but, yeah, one of the things I've been really excited about the job is that people really are on the same page. And I don't think that gets highlighted much. I think more of the problems get highlighted, and the good things go away, but the bad things stay in the news. But I really think that the private sector interests and the public sector interests are on the same page. They just want the west valley to prosper. And that's what WESTMARC's job is, is to promote the west valley. That's really what our job is. Change the perception in the market, we need to enhance that, and really get those good news stories out there.

Ted Simons: What is the perception in the market? Cuz I can tell you I've spoken to people who are in a official capacity and not in official capacity, but I always get this sense there's an undercurrent of, the east side thinks we're this, and central Phoenix thinks we're that, and the big boys aren't taking us seriously yet. That seems to be an internal perception.

Michelle Rider: Yeah. I've heard undercurrents of that too. I think everybody is getting on the same page where we just have to change that. We're making it -- we're doing a self-fulfilling prophecy and saying we get treated poorly, or the east valley gets this or that, and we don’t -- I think that's really changing. We realize we're growing up and we have to really get out there and put our best face forward, so that's -- having that feeling is interfering with that.

Ted Simons: How do you get the best foot forward, the best face board, the best branding forward when something like a West Gate happens, and folks go, it's -- they tried to do too much too soon and look what happens.

Michelle Rider: That's -- it stays in the news, and that's too bad. It's a function or product of the economy. We've got really strong leaders in the west valley that I think are doing everything they can to turn those things around. But really, what we don't hear about are all of those assets that are out there in the west valley. All of the things that are going really well. For example, the solar industry. We've had some really great recent ones in the solar industry in the west valley, especially surprise and Goodyear. Those communities have had some great manufacturing companies come out there. Those are great jobs, also headquarter operations. We need to be highlighting that, and also making sure that we're prepared to help capture some of that supply chain that will come after that. That's something that's really good that's happening there. We don't hear about that much in the market.

Ted Simons: You mentioned renewable products, solar energy, as being something going on right now. Is there an industry or are there industries that you think the west valley is really poised and should make a run for to give that region an identity? Because I think most folks don't see a cohesive identity out there.

Michelle Rider: Right. And that's an issue. Everything, the two strongest industries out there with the most potential are probably solar and health care. There's a huge health care need, health care services, there's health care assets upon up all over the place out there. All the time, Phoenix Children's Hospital is looking at preparing for an Avondale campus, that's just one of the things going out there. But it's really -- those are the two industries we have an opportunity to dominate. And that's because of the abundance of land, and also the need out there for the services.

Ted Simons: As far as dealing with the legislature, how much are you going to do that, and what are you going to tell them, and why haven't we seen -- again, it seems like there's a little disconnect going on. Is that a perception?

Michelle Rider: A disconnect with the legislature? Or…?

Ted Simons: Yes. With -- like getting things going out there and the legislature focusing on what's happening in the west valley.

Michelle Rider: Right. And that's what WESTMARC's role with the legislature really is. Making sure that the legislators, they're very busy, they have tons of things going on, we need to go to them and tell them, look, here's what's going on in your district, come join us, learn what we're doing out there, learn what's in your communities, and really be able to highlight them with us in the community and outside. That's the main role. And in terms of public policy, and getting involved there, it's not the main role of WESTMARC, the board pretty much takes those -- is getting involved in that seriously, and if there's opportunities for us to do that we can be helpful and it makes sense. We will move forward with approving something in that way.

Ted Simons: Last question, real quickly, it seems like the west valley is always poised to be an economic dynamo. We're always hearing it's just around the corner. Its just about to happen. How come it hasn't happened?
Michelle Rider: Well, I think -- I'm not sure why. But I know -- what I know right now is that we have an opportunity where we know that the west valley is going to be the growth corridor for the next 10 years. I think MAG estimated some of those communities will grow 500% in the next 10 years. So we have to make it work, because if we don't, and we don't get the jobs out there that the residents need, we're going to be all housing and we really can't have that. There will be no services for the residents. So we need to make it work to be successful.

Ted Simons: All right. Very good. Michelle, thank you for joining us.

Michelle Rider: Thank you. I really appreciate it. Thanks.

Political Turmoil in Quartzsite, Arizona

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  • Arizona Republic Columnist Doug MacEachern discusses the political battle between the mayor and town council of Quartzsite, Arizona that’s been in the national spotlight ever since a video of a woman being arrested at a Council meeting was posted to YouTube.
  • Doug MacEachern - Arizona Republic
Category: Government   |   Keywords: violence, youtube, law,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons.

Ted Simons: Chaos in Quartzsite. Some residents claim their town is under martial law. That after a woman who had been disruptive at prior council meetings was arrested and this video of the arrest went viral on YouTube. The woman is a political ally of the mayor, who was not permitted to attend a council meeting over the weekend, which the mayor claims violated open meeting laws. Council members disagree and say the city is not under martial law. Here now to try to sort out this mess is "Arizona Republic" columnist Doug MacEachern. Thanks for being here.
Doug MacEachern: Glad to be here.
Ted Simons: Doug, this is quite a story. Who are the players here?
Doug MacEachern: As you mentioned, the mayor is central to it, Mayor Foster is on one side, he's aligned against most of the council on the other side, as well as the police chief and the town manager. And both of whom I -- the latter two are pretty central to this whole drama. But the big issue is you're talking about a small town, people with a lot of time on their hands, and they're very politically aware and politically active, they've divided into two sides, and ever since the shootings in Tucson, things have gotten very tense because some of the officials in Quartzsite view the intense political activism on the part of their opponents as being something that might lead up to something dangerous like what happened in Tucson.

Ted Simons: And I know the mayor has talked about something along the lines of some council members, not necessarily council -- maybe there was council members, but some folks in government lining their pockets, that checks were being mailed out to folks that no one could figure out who the folks were or where the checks were going. That's one of the charges?

Doug MacEachern: Correct, it is. In fairness to these officials, these are things that people in small towns like Quartzsite fight over a lot. They find conspiracies under rocks and in file cabinets and overheard conversations all the time. Those are allegations, they may or may not be true, but they're still just allegations. That's what's dividing these people. That’s what started the fight.

Ted Simons: And that’s what started the fight. So then we had an ally of the mayor, she tries to speak at a council meeting and this has gotten everyone's attention.

Doug MacEachern: This is what has made this a national story. It's a fact that Jennifer Jade Jones, a local activist, now she's started her own little online newspaper, was speaking before the council, she was speaking critically, she had been recognized bite council, she had the microphone, she wasn't up there very long before someone on the council said you're done. And she started to argue she had been recognized and she deserved her time and that's when someone else, some other council member said take it away from her, two police officers came up, took the microphone away from her after a struggle, and ended up arresting her.

Ted Simons: Where does the police chief come into all this? It sounds like the police chief is obviously some of his officers are involved, and now the mayor is saying, along with this woman, that officers -- sounds like he's being arrested almost on a daily basis in Quartzsite.

Doug MacEachern: As the political factions go, the police chief appears to be aligned with the members of the council that are opposed to the mayor. And there are some serious allegations that the police chief has been using his power, police powers to -- against the other factions. A lot of these people I've talked to over the past week, another reporter at the "Arizona Republic" has talked to even more of them, have said very casually I get arrested am the time. The mayor himself has been arrested, all for disturbing the peace. And some of these arrests are on video, and these people don't appear to be disturbing much peace, and -- but the crux of it is it's not only the activists making these allegations, 10 of the 14 sworn officers on the Quartzsite police department have signed a letter saying that they think that the -- their chief is overstepping his powers and using his police powers for bad end.

Ted Simons: Those officers were saying they've been ordered to stop and cite and arrest political opponents and the chief protects his friends from being served. Granted, Quartzsite is a small town, 160 some-odd miles, everyone passes through it on the way to Los Angeles; there is Jim Show, Jim and Mineral Show out there, which is a big deal. But that's serious business. I can't have a police department arresting political opponents.

Doug MacEachern: That is a serious business. As a matter of fact, there's another video in which the police chief is addressing the council, and this is one of the eerier videos, and he's expressing his concerns that Quartzsite is going to end up like Tucson, like what happened in Tucson, alluding to the fact there could be shootings. It was a video, a speech he made to the council just a few days after the Tucson shootings. And so it gave a really eerie sense that maybe he will take steps beyond his usual police powers to see to it that peace is maintained.

Ted Simons: This sounds like an intervention is needed here Doug. Someone has to do something. Who is going to do it. The mayor says he's been trying to get the governor's office and attorney general's office involved and all they do is ignore him.

Doug MacEachern: There is a real run-around going on. I have spoken -- I spoke to DPS, they acknowledge they were investigating the police chief for the allegations laid on him by his officers, but they said that there is no chance the DPS itself is going to take action and step in and take over keeping the peace in Quartzsite. The next higher government organization is the La Paz County, I spoke to a couple people -- supervisors today and they said it's not in their authority to step in and keep the peace in Quartzsite. So that is a real open question. It may be that the La Paz County sheriff will be able to do something, but failing that, I think it really is at the governor's feet.

Ted Simons: It will be interesting. You guys are continuing your coverage on that, correct?

Doug MacEachern: Yes. As a matter of fact, our reporter Dennis Wagner is covering it very intensely.

Ted Simons: Very good Doug, thanks for joining us.

Doug MacEachern: You bet.

Private Prisons

  |   Video
  • Arizona’s prison population has leveled off, yet more contracts for private prisons will be awarded soon. Representative Cecil Ash says considering the tight economic times, more prisons are not needed now. He will talk about the issue along with Representative John Kavanagh, who supports more prisons.
  • Cecil Ash - Representative
  • John Kavanagh - Representative
Keywords: inmates,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: The State Department of Correction assists in the process of awarding new contracts for more private prisons in Arizona. It comes at a time when prison populations are leveling off and lawmakers look for places to cut the budget. Representative Cecil Ash says now may not be the time to add more prisons. Representative John Kavanagh thinks the beds are needed, and that’s tonight's debate. Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us.

Cecil Ash: Nice to be here.

John Kavanagh: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Let's start with just the idea of Arizona expanding private prisons. Is it good for the state?

Cecil Ash: Well, as you mentioned the population in the Department of Corrections has been decreasing. I think at the end of 2009 they had 40,544, so the last report I got we're down to 40,200. So population is decreasing. I think there are many things that private industry can do well, but incarceration is a core government function, and I think it's a mistake to go in that direction.

Ted Simons: Ok, couple of ideas before get to both of them.
Cecil Ash: Sure.
Ted Simons: First of all, in general, is expanding now, private prisons, good for Arizona?

John Kavanagh: Yes. We need to. We have overcrowded prisons. We have a 1400-bed shortfall. We have prisoners that are being housed in areas that were not meant for prisoners. And this causes overcrowding, dissatisfaction, if you track from rehabilitation efforts, and the shortfall is projected to increase between now and 2015 to 5,000 beds. There is a slight dip now, but you've got a population dip with the recession. But as the economy recovers and people come back, we'll be on course for needing 5,000 beds in 2015. And the private option besides saving us in operating costs spares us the initial large capital construction costs.

Ted Simons: The idea that things are leveling off now, does end necessarily mean things will be leveled off in the future. How do you respond to that?

Cecil Ash: Well, as I've said before, the state of Washington has roughly the same population as Arizona, 6.5 million. They have 18,000 inmates. We have 40,000. Almost 2½ times the number of inmates. So I think there are other changes we can do. The APEC, the prosecuting attorney's council did a study, and even their own researchers said there are probably 5,000 people, 5,000 inmates who don't represent a threat to the public. We could start revising some of the ways we incarcerate people and employ other avenues like home arrest, and ankle bracelets, we can reduce that population if the legislature would move forward and allow for these changes to happen.

John Kavanagh: That goes down to what you consider the purpose of incarceration. Is it purely to isolate somebody so they can't victimize other people, or is there a certain retribution and punishment aspect to it? Or a deterrence aspect? And we need more than nine minutes to discuss those issues.

Ted Simons: Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, they've all cut their inmate counts; they've all cut their crime rates as well. Is that something Arizona should look at, sentencing reform?

John Kavanagh: We certainly can look at it, but we have very little hard scientific data that applies to Arizona. You have to have statisticians to find out what number of people that you currently have in can be safely released. And no one has done that yet. We say certain states have done it, so do it here, but you need more facts than that.

Cecil Ash: On the line though, I think before we want to entrust inmates to private prisons, let's have some studies that show that it's cost effective. The last study I saw finished in 2007 by the MAXIMUS group, it studied Arizona private prisons versus Department of Corrections, and what they found out is that there was no difference in cost. And yet the Department of Corrections is performing certain tasks. The private prisons cherry picked the prisoners, they take the minimum security, the Department of Corrections still has to do all the background checks, and they have to handle all the escapes and other problems that come up. And we need some studies to verify that private prisons are cost effective and that they're as safe as Arizona's Department of Corrections.

John Kavanagh: Studies that say that private prisons are the same cost as public prisons generally don't take into account certain services that a public prison gets that they don't put into the mix. Like legal services for the attorney general. Procurement from the department of administration, etc. In addition, a whole new factor is the unfunded tensions that all public employees, especially public safety employees have. Which may be in the area of literally half of what we have to give out in pensions.

Ted Simons: It seems all budget issues led to pensions these days. How do you respond to that?

Cecil Ash: Our first concern is public safety. Incarceration is a core function of government. And the purpose of a private prison is to make a profit. The purpose of the government is to rehabilitate people, reform people, there may be some retribution, but you don't want a private company engaged in retribution either. To place inmates in private prisons, it makes prisoners a commodity.

Ted Simons: The idea that -- I think there are four bidders right now as far as process has gone, each one of these bidders has had a problem or two down the pike, including – I mean one of the bidders that the state is looking to is the Kingman prison, we had this huge problem last year. We've had -- every single one has had escapes in the last few years, they've had some escapes leading to murders. Again, is this something -- is this right for Arizona?

John Kavanagh: First of all, there have been escapes in Arizona prisons, we had a major hostile situation in Perryville, not that long ago. So if the rationale is, if an escape or hostage situation occurs in a prison, you stop that type of imprisonment, we would have ended public prison as long time ago. You have to look at them individually. And there is nothing inherently better or worse other than the cost savings between private and public prisons.

Cecil Ash: Then let's have some study that demonstrates there is a cost savings. And that there is no difference in the safety. Because the reports I've seen suggest that private prisons are not as good as disciplining the people, controlling prisoner on officer attacks, and that sort of thing. Let's study this before we commit a huge amount of money.

John Kavanagh: I want to go back to this Kingman situation. A follow-up study showed that place was a mess and there were a lot of problems up there, inside and out. Why are we even looking at them for more business in Arizona?

John Kavanagh: The Department of Corrections people are the ones who included them in the mix. But the idea -- let me go to Kingman, because as chairman of appropriations I was privy to some meetings about what happened there. And it speaks to the whole public-private dichotomy. Most of the people running the Kingman prison were retired Arizona state correctional wardens and assistant wardens, are most -- our most experienced and our best state corrections officials were the people who were running the Kingman operation. We had on-site in Kingman, currently employed Department of Corrections inspectors who were supposed to be documenting and making sure that things ran right. Kingman was as much a failure of public corrections as private corrections.

Cecil Ash: You go back to the -- this is the problem I have. The primary goal of a private company is profit. And this is a place -- you can have public companies build great roads, but the users of those roads are the public. And in prisons, the users of the private prison are the inmates who have no voice. And so as long as they please everybody else, we don't know whether they're getting the job done to rehabilitate these people and give them opportunities to improve their lives.

John Kavanagh: First of all, health services, food service, electricity, all vital functions that almost exclusively are provided by the private sector. There's nothing that says the private sector can efficiently give you services that you need.

Ted Simons: I want to go back to something mentioned earlier, the idea that prison inmate population may be leveling off right now. But it will increase in the future, more than likely, and even now it would ease overcrowding. There certainly is an overcrowding problem in Arizona prisons, until sentencing reform, something like that happens, why not get more beds to ease the overcrowding?

Cecil Ash: All we can do is follow the line of decreasing prison population. Even since the first of the year, it's continuing to go down, and I believe if we make some reasonable reforms in our criminal justice system. We live in a world of new technology, we have ankle bracelets, GPS systems, we have monitors that can determine whether someone has had alcohol or drugs in their system. All they have to do is wear a bracelet. These changes, we need to move on them and our prison population will decrease.

Ted Simons: Allright. We need to stop it there. Gentlemen, good discussion.

Ted Simons: Tomorrow on "The Journalists' Round Table," the governor sets a date for the recall election of senate president Russell Pearce, and the round table includes a reporter who saw a lawmaker point a loaded gun at his chest and live to tell about it. "The Journalists' Round Table," Friday at 7:00 on "Horizon."

Ted Simons: That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.