Daily Sun and KAFF News host forum for Flagstaff mayoral, council candidates | Local

The Arizona Daily Sun and KAFF News hosted a candidate forum Thursday evening for Flagstaff’s mayoral and city council candidates.

A variety of Flagstaff residents gathered in the Orpheum Theater to hear candidates speak on topics such as housing, policing, and the city’s response to recent fires and floods.

The deadline for voter registration is Oct. 11 and early voting begins Oct. 12. The official day of the general election will be Nov. 8.

Mayoral candidates

There are two candidates for mayor of Flagstaff: incumbent Paul Deasy and the former vice mayor, Becky Daggett.

Flagstaff mayoral candidate Becky Daggett answers a question Thursday night on the stage of the Orpheum Theater during a candidate forum hosted by KAFF Radio and the Arizona Daily Sun.

Daggett has been in community leadership roles for 25 years, including work in city business retention and expansion efforts, nonprofit organizations (such as Friends of Flagstaff’s Future), FALA and the Flagstaff Arts Council. She resigned from her position as vice mayor in April to run for the mayoral office, citing requests from councilmembers and the community that she do so.

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“I’m running for mayor because I have the experience and skills to help lead Flagstaff through the challenges ahead. All of the leadership roles that I’ve taken on in this community have led me to this point, and I’m eager for the next challenge,” she said.

Some accomplishments she listed in her introduction included involvement in efforts to purchase land on Observatory Mesa, Rogers Lake and Picture Canyon, as well as helping to build the amphitheater at Fort Tuthill County Park and expanding the Flagstaff Urban Trails System.

As vice mayor, she led the housing commission and helped create the 10-year housing plan. She said affordable housing is her “top issue.”

“I lead by, first, listening,” she said. “When it’s time to make a decision, it’s important to me that my colleagues and I can have vigorous discussions and debate, and that we leave the dais with respect for one another.”

Deasy has been Flagstaff’s mayor since 2020. He grew up in Flagstaff and is raising four kids here with his wife.

Candidate Forum

Incumbent Flagstaff Mayor Paul Deasy answers a question Thursday night on the stage at the Orpheum Theater during a candidate forum hosted by KAFF Radio and the Arizona Daily Sun.

“Flagstaff has been facing an unprecedented situation in the last year, and what it takes for us to tackle our city’s challenges as mayor with one foot inside and one foot outside the government, doing what is necessary to protect our community, even when our bureaucracy has barriers to doing things quickly,” he said. 

Some efforts Deasy highlighted in his introduction included pandemic efforts such as distributing free masks and coordinating wastewater testing in schools. He also mentioned natural disaster response efforts that he both organized and participated in, including community preparation for 2021’s Rafael Fire, and sandbag filling and placement for this year’s flooding from the Pipeline Fire scar.

Accomplishments he listed over the past year included capturing Museum Fire scar debris, Sunnyside infrastructure improvements and partnering with Flagstaff Unified School District officials to create detention basins at Killip Elementary.

“I don’t just sit at the dais making decisions, like authorizing funds for sandbags. I’m out there slinging them myself, clearing debris and rallying volunteers to help,” he said. “ … We need action. It’s the mayor’s job to not just listen to the public, but to create innovative solutions and mobilize to address the problems we face in our community.”

Questions for both the mayoral and council candidates came from submissions made by Flagstaff residents ahead of the forum. Each section also included a few from audience members, covering topics that included traffic flow, the city’s camping ban and funding for flood response.

Both candidates said improving affordable housing in Flagstaff would require multiple strategies to address, referencing the housing bond also on November’s ballot (Proposition 442) as one path.

Daggett noted the almost 60 strategies listed in the city’s 10-year housing plan. Proposition 442 is the first step before moving on to the other strategies listed in the plan, she said.

In addition to Proposition 442, efforts Deasy mentioned as being currently underway were deregulating low-income housing tax credits and short-term rental licensing.

Fires were also up for discussion.

“The Forest Service’s old way of determining when the forests get closed is outdated,” Daggett said in response to a question about forest closures. “We’re in new times now and we need to see that our forest management is taking climate change into account.”

She said she supported shutting down the forests to motorized and overnight vehicles earlier in dry seasons, yet still allowing pedestrian day use. During these times, “it’s too risky” to have people making campfires in the forest near Flagstaff.

Deasy referenced the city’s approach to water restrictions, which have remained in Stage 1 due to ongoing drought and other concerns. He thought the city should take a similar approach to fire restrictions and stay at Stage 1 yearround and that it should be lobbying for the Forest Service to change its closure metrics, as well as for more authority from the state on creating restrictions in city limits.

Neither said they supported defunding the police, though they were supportive of additional programs and services such as the recently created CARE team.

Deasy said he thought creating CARE was the right kind of approach, using available resources to reduce the amount police need to respond to.

“Do I want to defund the police? Not necessarily,” he said. “I’d rather find the funds to be able to provide some support and to be able to create new mechanisms that allow the police to focus on what they’re trained to do — dealing with criminal activity — while taking off the load to deal with cases of mental health, substance-use issues that other professionals are better trained to do.”

Daggett’s answer was similar, saying she did not want to defund the police, instead wanting to see an increased focus on mental health and having police respond to “crimes against the health and safety of our residents.”

She said the team addressed part of the issue of “treating all members of our community with more dignity and with more respect, and providing them with exactly what they need, rather than fully uniformed police turning out for every call — which we know that we don’t have the resources to do that anyway.”

Candidate Forum

Flagstaff City Council candidates answer questions Thursday night on the stage at the Orpheum Theater during a candidate forum hosted by KAFF Radio and the Arizona Daily Sun. Starting third from left, they are: Kevin Dobbe, Deb Harris, Lori Matthews, Khara House, Austin Aslan and Regina Salas.

Council candidates

Six candidates are running for the four open seats this year: Kevin Dobbe, Deb Harris, Lori Matthews, Khara House, Austin Aslan and Regina Salas. Only two — Matthews and Aslan — collected enough signatures to get their names on the ballot. The rest are officially recognized write-in candidates, meaning that their names can be written on November’s ballot.

Sean Golliher was not able to attend the event, and Thea Karlin and Sydney Shevat withdrew from consideration.

Any combination of the six can be elected to fill the openings. Three four-year seats are vacant, as is the two-year seat vacated by Daggett. The three candidates with the most votes will be in the four-year seats, and the fourth will take the remaining seat.

Dobbe moved here from Wisconsin in 1991. In addition to his 23 years as an engineer and paramedic with Highlands Fire Department, he worked 20 years at Flagstaff Medical Center, through Guardian Medical Transport (12 years) and the emergency department (over eight years). He said his time as a union official made him “well-versed in compromise.’’

“I’ve spent a lot of my time compromising, making things work for the majority of people, and that’s what I want to do for you guys,” he said. “I want Flagstaff to be the Flagstaff I knew 30 years ago, when we were all neighbors. Everyone likes each other, everyone works together.”

Harris moved to Flagstaff from Wisconsin in 1993 with her son, who was 14 at the time. She spent almost 40 years working in higher education and spent six years each on the United Way board and Flagstaff Unified School District boards, serving as president of the latter for two years.

Housing, neighborhoods and community engagement were some of the priorities she listed if elected.

“I want all of the members of our community to feel like this is their community and that they have a say in what goes on, because right now, frankly, a lot of folks don’t think that their voices are being heard,” she said.

Matthews has spent 35 years in banking as a personal lender and started her own consulting business. She also began a nonprofit, ANEW Living, based on her experience as interim director of Flagstaff Shelter Services.

She said she would bring this experience to the city council if she were elected.

“That also has given me a lot of insight and a lot of experience in what is needed out there with our unsheltered and unhoused community,” she said. “ … I speak to them a lot about what their challenges are and what their needs are, and I hope to bring that into the council chamber as well.”

House came from Pennsylvania for graduate school in 2009. She has been on the city council since May, when she was appointed to fill Daggett’s former seat, and said service was one of her priorities for the role.

“I love the unique character of this community; I love the people of this community,” she said. “ … In any work that I do, whether it’s in education, my current role in multi-family housing, the various boards and organizations that I serve and volunteer with, my goal is to be of service. I want people to feel heard, I want people to feel valued and I want people to feel seen.”

Aslan has been a councilmember since 2018. He has a master’s in conservation and biology, and a bachelor’s in wildlife and resource management. He said he’s had family here for decades and he has been in and out of the city for 20 years with his wife and two kids.

He said he hoped to bring “continuity and stability” to the council.

“The decisions we make carry weight, and it matters a lot to the future of Flagstaff and the trajectory we’re on,” he said. “ … These are long-term problems that need a bit of institutional memory to get them across the finish line eventually.”

Salas has also been on the council since 2018. She moved to Flagstaff from the Philippines in 2006 with her family and raised two sons here. In her time on the council, she has served on the parks and recreation, tourism and airport commissions, and is the city council liaison to the Economic Collaborative of Northern Arizona. She is also on the Metro Plan board, which is in the process of updating its regional transportation plan.

“I want to earn your vote again to continue with the work that I have been doing,” she said, mentioning her goal of opening a trade apprenticeship center in Flagstaff to serve northern Arizona.

When asked what issue deserves more attention in Flagstaff, most candidates mentioned housing.

Harris said the city should be looking at all available resources and people to find solutions to Flagstaff’s housing problems.

“I think that sometimes looking outside of the box, thinking outside the box, coming together with unlikely partnerships, that’s the key to resolving a lot of issues,” she said. “If we don’t get this housing issue under control and get it figured out, the climate, the jobs, all of that stuff is for naught, because there’s not gonna be anywhere for all those folks to live.”

Matthews said in addition to building more affordable and workforce housing, the city should focus on bringing competitive jobs and companies into the area to raise resident wages.

“We need to be attracting more industry and we need to be bringing in more jobs and competitive jobs so employers are competing for good workers and good employees at every job level, so we can raise that median income,” she said.

Salas also focused on economics in her response, saying the city should be working to promote “job success, job growth and business growth.” She said this will require addressing three challenges: workforce housing, transportation access and childcare.

“If we address all those needs, plus provide the skills and trainings that are needed by the industries now and in the future, we will succeed in growing jobs and pursuing business success and creating a robust, resilient economy,” she said. “But that will require work from the entire community, private partnership, and bringing state and federal dollars to workforce training and industry development to our community.”

Dobbe similarly said the city should be bringing in companies to create more jobs — which it can achieve through local higher education options such as Northern Arizona University and Coconino Community College.

In addition to housing, House said the city needed additional engagement with its residents, especially those less likely to have their voices heard.

“I think one of the things that we can struggle with as a city is hearing the voices of those who go unseen in our community,” she said. “Community engagement is so important, whether it’s serving, whether it’s hitting the streets and actually meeting the people who live in the neighborhoods that we’re looking to serve. Being part of those conversations is not just solving issues, but it’s actually seeing the issues.”

While he also mentioned housing, Aslan’s response focused on climate change, which he said needed more effort on both short- and long-term solutions. Part of why he’s running for reelection, he said, is to see the city’s carbon neutrality plan through.

“The issues with climate extend to our very neighborhoods and street corners, in the form of sandbags, in the form of culverts that should have been built correctly 20 years ago and now we have an $8 million problem we don’t know how to fund and fix,” he said. “I think it’s very important we keep our eye on the ball. … Any future council could deprioritize the actions that were taken and we need to maintain a laser focus on these issues.”

More about the candidates and elections in Flagstaff can be found at flagstaff.az.gov/2105/Elections. 

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