El Mirage Officials Hire Political Pals; Refuse to Answer Questions

When El Mirage's current slate of elected officials campaigned for office, they promised residents change and transparency -- a politically popular word these days.

In some ways, El Mirage Mayor Lana Mook and her cohorts on the City Council have delivered -- they increased the water and sewer rates by about 10 percent, laid off employees and yet handed jobs to their political buddies.

Consider that City Manager Spencer Isom -- who refuses to answer any of New Times questions about why El Mirage inexplicably booted its artist-in-residence earlier this year -- was the assistant city manager before getting laid off by the former City Manager B.J. Cornwall.

Longtime residents tell New Times that during his time away from the city, the unemployed Isom spent time with Mook and her slate of political pals, meeting in his El Mirage home and attending council meetings and fundraisers with them, and meeting them for dinner at the Riff Raff Bar and Grill in El Mirage.

El Mirage officials did not return repeated calls from New Times. 

Once elected, Mook and company laid off Interim City Manager Rick Flaaen, the city attorney who was temporarily wearing the manager's hat. While city officials went through the motions of finding a new city manager, and even got some assistance from the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, the word is that they didn't actually interview any other candidates.

They handed the job to Isom.
Of course, El Mirage needed a city attorney since they dismissed Flaaen (also without explanation). The job wasn't advertised, but they agreed to bring in Robert M. Hall, an estate planning attorney from New Mexico.  That is, his office is physically located in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

One might wonder why would El Mirage officials have to go as far as New Mexico to find an attorney? And even then, why would they choose one that specializes in estate planning and probate cases?

Hall, it turns out, is also the attorney for Snowflake, Arizona ... the town where Isom served as city manager before coming to El Mirage.

The sweet deal that Hall has with El Mirage is this: He attends the city's regularly scheduled City Council meetings on the second and fourth Thursday each month and works Wednesday and Friday mornings of those meeting weeks -- essentially four days of work a month for a minimum of $7,000.

That doesn't include Hall's $160 per hour rate or his "reasonable out of pocket costs," according to his single page agreement with city.

Another interesting El Mirage hire is Leah Hubbard.

She and Phil Hubbard (relationship unknown), who used to work with Summit Consulting Group, ran the political campaigns for Mook and councilmen Joe Ramirez, Jim McPhetres, John Palladino and Lynn Selby.
Leah Hubbard's ex-husband, Shawn Hubbard, of Lihue, Hawaii, designed mailers for the political crew and set up their websites.

After their victorious election, Leah Hubbard was hired as an interim assistant to the city manager -- a newly created position, formed in December 2010.

The job was advertised and at least three people were interviewed for the post, including Hubbard. Although another candidate received a higher score -- 90 out of 100 possible points -- Hubbard, who scored a 70, was handed the job.

And then there is Bill Pupo, a familiar figure in the West Valley who served as former City Manager of Surprise.

While she was campaigning, Mook was telling folks that if she was elected, she was going to bring in someone to conduct a forensic audit. Apparently, that person was Pupo.

In a single-page memo dated January 5, El Mirage agreed to hire Pupo as a Special Assistant to the City Manager and pay him $38 per hour for up to 19 hours per week, without benefits.

Since those are the only terms outlined in the agreement, it's unclear how much the city shelled out to Pupo and exactly what he produced during the unspecified time. However, it may be a moot point since Pupo has since been hired full-time as Deputy City Manager. 

Pupo could not be reached for comment.

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Monica Alonzo
Contact: Monica Alonzo