Councilman Sal DiCiccio, Nearly Two Dozen Phoenix Insiders Gathering For Secret Meetings; Want Change in Phoenix Government

Categories: City Hall
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An influential group of individuals -- including three elected Phoenix officials, members of the Goldwater Institute and the firefighters' union boss -- have been quietly meeting over the past month and developing strategies on how to change city government.

It's unclear what will ultimately emerge from this group, but its members have so far tossed out a hodgepodge of the usual. Job creation. Smaller government. Reduced employee salaries. Better customer service for developers and businesses. Less red tape. More public access. Improved transparency. And Councilman Sal DiCiccio's favorite topic: Outsourcing.

"We believe the city is in a crisis," DiCiccio said. "We have to collectively come up with ideas allows us to be competitive."

One committee member said that the City Council district system might be part of the problem, since individuals are elected based on how they serve one area, not on their ability to grapple with crisis facing the city.

It is ironic that improving transparency is one of the goals of this hushed round-table gathering, and yet the three elected officials who are members -- DiCiccio, Councilman Bill Gates and Councilwoman Thelda Williams -- are using their private e-mail accounts to share info with the group.

That is the perfect example of how NOT to be transparent since elected officials' private e-mail accounts aren't subject to Arizona Public Records Law -- unless someone knows the accounts are being used for city business. It is too easy to conceal sensitive or controversial issues from the public.

(DiCiccio's staffers used their City of Phoenix e-mail accounts to send notes to group members, which is how New Times obtained the detailed minutes from the first meetings.)

The group may be talking about the usual issues, but the difference seems to be in how they plan to execute change - not necessarily through the City Council, but through the state legislature, voter initiatives or City Charter amendments.

Pete Gorraiz, current president of United Phoenix Fire Fighters Association, said that this committee is about a "real transformation." DiCiciccio said at its October 1 meeting that the group could bring about "recreated government," which would be unprecedented.

He told New Times that the committee was a diverse group of people "just getting together" and talking. And that while they "have an agenda going in," they do not have an ending expectation.

We asked DiCiccio why the meetings were kept secret. He said that they weren't publicized because, from a political standpoint, they would look foolish if they made some public announcement about the group and then nothing came out of it.

It may not be a city-sanctioned committee, but the council members are, in their official capacities, discussing potential changes to how Phoenix does business and serves the community.

Should residents at least know that these discussions are taking place? How the ideas are being developed? About the motivation, agenda or vested interest of each individual invited to sit at the table?

They don't seem to think so, but it's not a bad idea given the roster of members and the political pull many have over the City Council.

Members at the table include Gorraiz, Billy Shields, a lobbyists and former president of the firefighters' union; Paul Johnson, a developer and former Phoenix mayor; Alex Tauber and David Tierney, community activists; Joe Villaseñor, Shield's brother-in-law and former aid to Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon; Ray Bladine, a retired Phoenix Deputy City Manager; Todd Sanders, president and CEO of the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce and Industry; Senior Vice President of SCF Arizona Rick DeGraw; Glen Hamer, president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce; the Goldwater Institutes' Nick Dranias and Byron Schlomach; and David Bodney, an attorney with Steptoe and Johnson who represents the Arizona Republic.

DiCiccio said that he and Gorraiz handpicked members for this private committee. According to minute notes, Shields also helped create the list of who would be involved.

The group is planning to meet again this month and in December at either the Goldwater Institute offices, at the Biltmore or at the Phoenix firefighters' union hall. They expect to wrap up discussions and come up with concrete ideas by January, just in time for the next legislative session.

DiCiccio told group members that "they could look at potential language that would instruct the city to only be involved in certain functions." Dranias of the Goldwater Institute said that the only things the city should be involved with are those related to life-safety issues.

One idea, for example, came after Johnson and others discussed how working with the Planning and Development Department was terrible, and so slow that it hinders economic development. Dranias told the group about a Minnesota law under which development plans are automatically approved if city officials do not approve or deny them within 60 days, with one 60-day extension allowed.

New Times asked DiCiccio why he formed this private group to solve problems in Phoenix instead of working with the city's existing Innovation and Efficiency Task Force, which reports to the City Council's Finance, Efficiency and Innovation subcommittee. (Gates is the chair of that subcommittee, and Williams is a member.)

DiCiccio said that change has to come from the outside, otherwise, it would have already happened. He said that city employees, and long-time administrators, don't recognize the need for change because they are part of the system and are comfortable with it.

It was a point that several members echoed during the meetings.

Tauber said that "they have a government and political structure where there is inertia," there has been an "absence of policy from the council," which mostly reacts to city administration, and that "everyone at the top ... [has] all worked at the city for 10 or 15 years at least, so it's no wonder that Phoenix is not responding to change."

It is funny that DiCiccio considers this group "the outside" since many of them helped establish the political structure in Phoenix over the decades.

You've got Williams and DiCiccio, revived council members from the 1990s. Tauber is a member of the Phoenix Board of Adjustment and co-chaired a 2007 campaign to increase sales taxes for public safety. Shields and Gorraiz have ties to Phoenix's most powerful labor union. So does Villaseñor -- his sister is married to Shields and she served as DiCiccio's chief of staff. And DeGraw, he has served as a consultant for the firefighter's union and they named him an honorary firefighter. Johnson served as mayor in the 90's and is best pals with Gordon. And Bladine, he came out of retirement to work on Gordon's staff.


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11 comments
Me Neither
Me Neither

How can DiCiccio associate himself with Billy Shields after his daughter embezzled all that money? Daddy O Shields paid it back for his sweet princess and thought no one would know. He is as dumb as a rock and DiCiccio looks like a crook. Let's have the Fireman's Union investigated. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Monica Alonzo
Monica Alonzo

One: First, you can't have it both ways. If you believe that individual comments are lies, please give me specifics and I'll be happy to look into it. But, just as you are defending this group's right to meet (and they do have every right to meet), individuals here have a right to post their comments. We don't have to agree with everyone.

Also, I am sure that the individuals at the table want something better for Phoenix. And I do not suggest that "productive conversations in search of meaningful solutions is a crime." My article simply pointed out that they were gathering -- quietly -- and noted some of the solutions they are proposing.

I believe that the public has a right to know that a group of very influential individuals are talking -- quietly -- about changes that would affect, not just people in Phoenix, but across the state.

And, I feel it is my obligation to point out the inconsistencies, such as this not being a group of outsiders, but one that is very politically connected. And that elected officials can not be completely in favor of transparency if they are using their private e-mail accounts to discuss city business.

One
One

Monica, as a reporter you have an obligation to keep people from using the public forum provided by the new time to spread lies, rumor and inuendo. If you cannot take that responsiblity seriously then you shouldn't allow the forum for comments.

All of the people listed as members of the "secret group" have spent most of their lives working to make the city and state a better place to live and work. It should come as no surprise that they would want to be involved in an effort to help the city. Do we now live in a state where productive conversations in search of meaningful solutions is a crime? I don't think so.

JesterJackson
JesterJackson

Well the cockroaches are back at it with their schemes and plans. That is such an incestuos group and up to no good. But will Arizona pay attention? Nope. They expect a different result from the same set of morons. How long has the Phoenix New Times sound the warning on Arpaio before anyone started to give a shit? We get what we settle for.

Tbenson1952
Tbenson1952

Let's remember history. DiCiccio was on the council before, and he is a developer. The only reason he is back on the council is because there is no development going on now. As soon as the economy recovers he will be ready to sell the land he owns and reap a HUGE profit with the South Mountain freeway is built. The guy is slime.

It is also interesting that Billy Shields and Joe Villasenor were Gordons goons, now they are on DiCiccio's team. WOW. Also, remember Villasenor is an abuser, he beat up his wife at Billy Shields house. Wake up Phonecians, remember our history. These folks are only setting themselves up for the future windfalls for outsourcing.

Dustysmith1119
Dustysmith1119

Sounds like Sal D. has his own agenda! This is his way of getting him there, otherwise he would bring his ideas to the committee. Everyone should see through him and get him out, he will do more harm than good. The public wants their services and employees that will take pride in maintaining them. Contractors will not always take pride in doing work for the city because the city only takes low bid. They will get in and get out as quickly as possible, so that they can make a profit. Sal is never quick to mention that employees have already taken pay cuts and furlough days to help balance the budget and save jobs. He doesn't want the public to know that!

Guest
Guest

I have a problem with any secret govt agency.

Verita
Verita

Why doesn't DiCiccio talk about outsourcing the fire dept? City of Scottsdale had private fire (Rural Metro) until a few years ago when they decided to form their own fire department. DiCiccio keeps attacking the city workers pay but the firefighters and cops are the ones who make the most money. Could it be that they have DiCiccio in their pocket? Hmmm.

Tommy Collins
Tommy Collins

When developers are involved any outcome will only be intended to benefit them, not the government agency. Planning and development teams work slowly on purpose, otherwise developers will overrun the agency to get what they want. Just a word to the wise...

Ross
Ross

Outsource the Fire Department? Great idea!

Chiefharris
Chiefharris

Same crappy people, different day. What they are planning is who is going to run for Mayor and win, and who is going to help get Sal get him there.

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