Mayor Greg Mengarelli of Prescott, Arizona was recently elected in November of 2017. Being elected as mayor, Mengarelli will be coming face to face with some tough issues affecting the city of Prescott. First impressions are usually reliable, and my introduction to Mayor Greg Mengarelli proved true to my experience. Mengarelli is a somewhat bashful Mayor, seemingly insecure about the idea of an open-ended interview process. I had to remind myself; he is a politician, they are all suspicious of scrutiny.
While the mayor has a lot to take on, he seems confident that he will be able to make multiple improvements while still maintaining the historic charm that Prescott offers. Once the interview began, it was clear to me that Mengarelli had strong leadership qualities which undoubtedly motivated the citizens of Prescott, Arizona to elect him. Mayor Mengarelli believes that he will be able to create unique and innovative solutions to the problems facing our town.
CLEANING UP PRESCOTT’S HISTORY OF BAD POLICY AND SPENDING
Prescott has had a history of interesting and controversial Mayors, including the famous Sam Steiger, a man known for his reckless approach to governing. Mengarelli is no Steiger and does not give the impression of recklessness or controversy. His temperament is almost that of a political novice, one who is very cautious about policy statements and definitive answers.
This was especially noticeable when we asked him “What is the true total amount currently outstanding and payable by the City of Prescott to the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System (“PSPRS”)?” Mayor Mengarelli was hesitant and slowly answered, “$86,000,000” There was a moment of noticeable silence in the room. It’s a big number for a little town. See the update to the Mayor’s estimate at the end of this article (**).
No one can fault the Mayor for the debt that demanded Prescott institute a .75% sales tax increase and a projected 10-year timetable for the payoff. Greg Mengarelli is a Mayor who, like many others, inherited the results of unchecked, reckless and overly generous, big government spending. The debt looms large over Prescott’s 42,500 residents (2016), with each new baby born owing about $2,024, and that doesn’t include the national per capita debt of about $60,000 per citizen. This is one of the most significant problems facing the people of Prescott. However, Mayor Mengarelli does have a few indefinite solutions in mind.
It seems that Prescott, like much of government, got caught up in the game of government living above its means. In the end, Prescott did what all debt-ridden governments do, it raised taxes.
BRINGING IN NEW MONEY
Prescott is a community with limited opportunities and huge per-capita debt. To stave off more deficits, the Mayor claims his focus is on “the economy, jobs, and young people.” but could not offer a definitive model for growth other than the Prescott airport redevelopment concept, something now under discussion.
The Mayor indicated his strong interest in bringing new money into Prescott in the form of new businesses with higher than average numbers of employees. He also discussed the idea of expanding the central downtown area of Prescott, allowing for more growth, new businesses, and job opportunities.
The Mayor did emphasize the importance of maintaining some of the key characteristics of our downtown area. He stated, “You can grow and add more development while keeping that historic charm and friendly nature of our city.”
Although Mengarelli seemed tuned in to the idea of Public-Private-Partnerships (“PPP”), the City of Prescott has become cash-strapped, limiting its options for creativity. The most recent and notable venture into PPP was in 2012 when the City used funds for the acquisition of property to bring Trader Joe’s to the market. Few can argue that the venture helped create new jobs during a market downturn, and the City is now fully reimbursed with interest.
The fact is, the City has real issues attracting industry and new ventures, and there is little appetite for providing incentives such as the old tax credit models, now banned in Arizona. Yet, without inducements of some sort, Prescott may have a difficult time attracting new businesses.
When I asked the Mayor to identify one issue he would like to see improved by the City of Prescott other than the PSPRS debt; he quickly responded, “Better relationships with our citizens.” I recommended the City consider summer internships for qualified high school students and the Mayor was enthusiastic towards the idea. After a few minutes of brainstorming, we agreed that having young people working in government would by its nature involve citizen support in the form of parents.
THE CONSERVATIVE PRECEPTS
My questions moved into the area of why the City should be using taxpayer funds for a library; the Mayor indicated, some people don’t have access to books and computers. I suggested forming use and learning alliances with Yavapai Community College, the Prescott Unified School District, and Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. When I asked, “Why do we need several publicly funded libraries that represent a duplication of taxpayer costs?” Mayor Mengarelli indicated, “I am open to privatization.”
The Mayor is currently completing a term on the Prescott Unified School District (“PUSD”) Board of Directors, where he has also served as President. It made sense for me to ask, “What is your position on school choice, homeschooling and private and Charter schools in Prescott?” “I think competition is a good thing…students need different experiences and parents need choices.” When pressed about the rights of parents to control their child’s education, Mayor Mengarelli acknowledged the right.
When asked about which part of the Bill of Rights was under the most attack today, Mengarelli struggled to recall which specific rights were listed. I reminded him of the recent controversy regarding our 2nd amendment rights and the problems going on with free speech on campuses. Upon prompting, he sheepishly agreed that there were threats. He did add, however, that while the 2nd amendment is under attack at a national level, we have little to worry about here in Arizona. “In our state, I don’t see the 2nd amendment as threatened,” Mengarelli assured me.
FINALLY, WHO IS GREG MENGARELLI?
Mengarelli is not a man known for his reckless approach to governing. Mengarelli is no Steiger and does not give the impression of recklessness or controversy. His temperament is almost that of a political novice, one who is very cautious about policy statements and definitive answers.
Mengarelli seemed a thoughtful man, careful with his words and even-keeled in demeanor. He revealed that his faith was the driving force in his life and leadership. When I asked him, what are the three most important things to you as a person, he quietly replied while looking into the air,
“I would have to say my faith, family, and service.”
Mayor Mengarelli’s desire to make Prescott a better place seemed to be genuine. Mr. Mengarelli gave the impression that he draws strength primarily from his family, faith, and roots. He is not a politician with an ego but instead came across as humble and personable. I asked Mengarelli whether he viewed himself as a conservative and he hesitated to accept the label. I further explained that I view conservatism as a “philosophy” or “way of life,” and Mengarelli agreed. He finally stated that he believes himself to be conservative, but some critics view him as fake due to his support of taxes and Proposition 443. He defended himself, saying, “In my mind, I am conservative, but I’m also reasonable,” as if to convey the idea that conservatives are not always reasonable.
Overall, Mengarelli recognizes the problems Prescott faces, and he wants to involve more people in the creation of long-term solutions. His laid-back style should not be confused with weakness. His reluctance is the way he acknowledges his inexperience. And, although he is inexperienced, he is not incapable.
At the moment, Mayor Mengarelli is in over his head, and a bit confused about how to set his agenda. In time, I have no doubt he will grow in his ability to help direct the City of Prescott into a brighter future.
My sense is, Greg Mengarelli is a servant leader and one who undoubtedly could have a future in the State House or even someday, in Washington.
I wish Greg Mengarelli all the best as Prescott’s new Mayor.
*Note: Mayor Mengarelli indicated he would have someone get back to me regarding the PSPRS debt and its anticipated payoff timetable. at the time of publication, I had not heard from anyone.
**Update: Mark Woodfill, Director of Finance for the City of Prescott call iVoteArizona at 4:35 pm on 3/21/18 to update us with accurate PSPRS numbers. According to Mr. Woodfill, the total amount of outstanding PSPRS debt as of 2017 was $86,432,608, with an estimated pay down of 19 years. He indicated that with the new .75% tax the pay down would be 10 years. These numbers are based on what Mr. Woodfill called the “actuaries” used for the calculations.