El Mirage Mayor Michele Kern isn't seeking re-election, but she hopes that whoever replaces will focus on the residents and make decisions that are in their best interest.
She has serious reservations about whether Lana Mook, a mayoral candidate in the August 24 election and unapologetic champion of Luke Air Force Base, will make residents the priority.
Kern said she spoke with Mook before she announced her candidacy, and Mook reportedly told her that "you can't put the City of El Mirage before the state."
Kern fired back: "Actually, that's exactly what I'm supposed to do. I'm not a state representative. I'm elected to represent the people of El Mirage."
"She didn't feel that was right," Kern told New Times.
Mook said that she doesn't remember exactly what she told Kern, but said she didn't exactly agree with Kern that the city came first.
El Mirage officials have long had concerns about Luke Air Force Base, the state laws that restrict residential and commercial development around the base, and the potential arrival of the F-35, a fighter jet expected to replace the F-16.
Mook said she simply wants Air Force officials to complete the environmental studies to determine how loud the jet engines will sound to El Mirage residents. She said it was 'foolish' to talk about or makes plans for dealing with jets since military studies on noise levels weren't yet complete.
She has scoffed at questions asked by El Mirage city officials about noise levels of the F-35.
Glendale officials, too, have chastised and ridiculed El Mirage for not simply yielding to the needs of Luke over the needs of their residents.
Military reports indicate the the new jet is louder, but just how much louder remains to be seen. Air Force officials are in the midst of conducting environmental studies to answer those types of questions and help them decide which military bases will be the best fit for the jets.
"Of course, I'm hoping there is not such a huge issue with the noise," Mook said. "I really think that people need to stop worrying about whether or not it's going to be way too loud. We need to wait until the studies are complete and quit overreacting."
Good point ... but the truth is that both sides are guilty of overreacting.
It started with El Mirage officials, including the city manager, flying to Washington, D.C. to let federal lawmakers to cut them a check for about $400 million to offset the economic sacrifices the community was making.
That trip set off the alarms for residents like Mook, who formed People of El Mirage, a group that held community meetings to debunk the idea that the F-35 was louder. That is, until Air Force officials themselves said publicly that the jets would be louder.
Elected officials in Glendale, Goodyear, Litchfield Park and other West Valley cities also started assailing El Mirage. They have mocked the city, poked fun at the community at public events and criticized its economic development plans. They were repulsed that anyone would dare say that Luke Air Force Base was anything less than a revered state treasure.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
West Valley officials were convinced that if anyone in Arizona said anything negative -- or even asked a question that could be perceived as negative -- about Luke Air Force Base or the F-35, Air Force officials would shut down the base. Or withhold the F-35.
Kern said that Mook told her that she has a family family member in the Air Force training to be a pilot and said it was important that Luke be a top-notch training facility.
Kern, who has juggled a full-time job and her seat on the El Mirage City Council for 8 years, said she was ready to pass the gavel to someone else. But what might become of the city and its residents weighs heavily on her mind.
Mook's "philosophy gives them a license to do whatever they want in El Mirage without any concern about the residents," Kern said. "The focus of a mayor should be the long-term health and future of the community."