El Mirage Officials Want $8.5 Million Bond to Pass, No Matter What the Cost

As communities across Arizona -- across the country -- are desperately trying to attract new businesses and corporations to boost local economies, El Mirage is creating a headache for the city's only gas station.

We recently wrote about El Mirage city officials yanking their business from the Shell gas station on El Mirage and Cactus roads because the store owner is opposed to their proposed property tax increase.

A boycott apparently wasn't enough to suit city officials. They dispatched cops when a business owner took down political signs placed on his property.

Over the weekend, political signs in support of a $8.5 million bond election (which will increase property taxes) went up along El Mirage Road, right next to the Shell gas station owned by Joe David.

David, who owns about 9 acres of land on that corner, pulled them down on Monday afternoon.

On Tuesday morning, two marked patrol cars from the El Mirage Police Department, arrived at David's station and questioned the station manager as to the whereabout of the signs.

One of the police officers asked the store manager to get David, who wasn't at the gas station, on the phone.

"They asked me where the signs were, and I told them I took them down. They didn't ask for my permission," he tells New Times. "I told them that I put them in the dumpster where they belong."

It wasn't long before Laurie Carnal and her husband showed up at the gas station. Carnal is the chairman of "Committee for Yes on Question 1," the political action committee that paid for the signs.

The signs came out of the dumpster.

But it wasn't over just yet.  

On Wednesday, Lance Calvert, the city's engineer, arrived at the gas station to talk to David about the right-of-way -- a strip of public land in which the political signs could be placed.

But David wasn't there.

Calvert showed up again this morning, this time with Jorge Gastelum, an assistant city engineer, looking for David. Again, he wasn't at his store.

"You've gotta be kidding me," David says. "They've got a lot of time on their hands."

Now, the signs are back up.

Calvert tells New Times that he just dropped off his card "to touch base with" David.

"There was a question about the right-of-way lines," he says. "But campaign signs? I'd run those questions through the City Manager's Office. I don't know any of the details, I was just asked to stop by."

Repeat visits by police and city officials? Over a couple political signs?

It might seem a little over the top, but not surprising considering that El Mirage Mayor Lana Mook is part of the political action committee supporting the $8.5 million bond that will pay for part of a YMCA and a new station for the El Mirage Police Department.

Suffice to say that city officials want this bond to pass. Badly.

How bad?

First, the over-enthusiastic El Mirage City Council violated Open Meeting Laws on July 14 when its members got together after a meeting and signed a letter in support of the bond. All of them, except Councilman Jim McPhetres signed the letter.

Apparently pointed out the violation, and the elected officials had a do-over, this time putting their intention to sign the letter on the August 25 agenda.

State law prohibits a majority of elected officials getting together to discuss or act on city business unless the public is given at least 24 hour notice.

They did it over, according to the agenda, "to demonstrate the Council's desire for transparency ..."


Second, some person/group created a website (El Mirage Vote Yes) touting the benefits of the bond, complete with quotes from all but one of the elected officials about why residents should vote yes. McPhetres voted against taking the measure to voters.

But there are none of the obligatory "paid for by" disclaimers on the website.

State law requires that a political committee that spends money on "any literature or advertisement to support or oppose a ballot proposition ... shall ... include on the literature or advertisement the words 'paid for by', followed by the name of the committee that appears on its statement of organization."

The public deserves to know who is bankrolling efforts to push the bond through.

Also, the El Mirage City Council voted on August 25 to give every single employee a week of paid vacation. It came through a vote in which they decided to shut down the city from December 27 through December 30  -- and still pay employees as though they were on the job.

For police officers, firefighters and other essential personnel who have to be at work, well, they also get the same amount of extra days off they can bank and take throughout the year.

That might simply seem like a nice gesture given that City Manager Spencer Isom told elected officials that he was proposing the paid-time off in lieu of pay raises.

But as they say, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

A few weeks after that, on September 29, the El Mirage City Council voted to repeal a city law that prohibits El Mirage employees from getting involved in municipal elections. The repeal conveniently comes in time for all city workers to go forth and preach their support for the $8.5 million bond election on November 8.

It all smack of improper influence

Neither El Mirage Assistant City Manager Bill Pupo and Sgt. Robert Peoples, a spokesman for the El Mirage Police Department, have yet returned New Times calls for comment.

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Monica Alonzo
Contact: Monica Alonzo