By Matt Roy, Independent Newsmedia
Surprise City Council voted last week to appoint Nancy Hayden to fill the vacant District 2 seat for the rest of the year.
But some residents and board members questioned the panel’s motives and methods in selecting Ms. Hayden to take over the seat left vacant when her husband, Councilman Jim Hayden, died in December.
After some wrangling, the council chose Ms. Hayden at their Feb. 6 regular meeting at City Hall, 16000 N. Civic Center Plaza, selecting her from among three nominees and six total applicants.
Those candidates displayed a substantial disparity in educational achievement, professional experience and community involvement – as evidenced by their applications and interviews for the position at the Jan. 23 special council meeting (“Meet your candidates: City Council to choose District 2 fill-in at Feb. 6 meeting,” Surprise Today, Jan. 31, 2018).
Despite Ms. Hayden’s stated lack of relevant experience or community service, District 6 Councilman Todd Tande justified nominating her based on continuity and relationship.
“I went to look at, how do we best honor the voters here? Councilman [Jim] Hayden had some unfinished business and I really think I want to give a chance to the person that spoke the most about that,” Mr. Tande explained.
District 1 Councilman Roland Winters Jr. said he based his recommendation on public service and nominated Alyson Cline to the position.
“Reflecting on what we do up here, we are servants. We are servants of the people in our city. So, I have to go back and look at how a person who wants this position has served the city of Surprise and even their district very well. And I had to just come to one conclusion,” he said.
Mr. Winters cited Ms. Cline’s numerous contributions to the community during 16 years of volunteering, including serving as a commission member, coaching and officiating for city youth sports programs, as well as chairing organizational efforts for the American Cancer Society and Relay for Life and serving as a member of the Surprise Regional Chamber of Commerce among other accomplishments.
District 2 Councilman Patrick Duffy, himself a recent appointee (“Council fills vacant seat: Duffy selected to represent District 3,” Surprise Today, Sep. 27, 2017), suggested leadership as a top criterion in his nomination of Glenn Stark.
“With the way I looked at it, this is a leadership position. So, I looked at some of the things the applicants have done to show that quality,” Mr. Duffy said.
He noted Mr. Stark’s prior experience running a small business, as well as career military service and leadership roles in fire and public safety, disaster preparedness and service to veterans.
“There was just a lot of things, that person had that quality. So, I’m going to nominate Glenn Stark,” Mr. Duffy said.
But before the panel could vote, former Councilwoman Rachel Villanueva took to the podium to issue her criticism and admonition to the council. She said some members of the council are more concerned with doing what their told rather than doing what’s right for residents.
“My concern is that it’s true this council has majority vote and that’s not right,” Ms. Villanueva said. “I’m asking the council that when you vote and approve a person for this position, to vote for somebody that you know has a mind of their own. And vote for somebody that cares for this city, not cares for who you’re connected to.”
She suggested the panel’s apparent unanimity is a disservice to the community and strong, independent voices are needed.
“It doesn’t matter what the subject is. It seems like this council always votes as a pack. And that’s not a council. That’s not a working council,” Ms. Villanueva said. “We need people that speak for themselves and think about, what can I do for Surprise? Not, what can I do for the show?”
She also asserted the council has a history of passing over highly qualified candidates in favor of hand-picked supporters.
“It’s very obvious what’s going on. In the past there have been very qualified people that have applied for this job and they have been bypassed,” Ms. Villanueva said. “There’s also council people that have been here for a long time and have been very good council and they have been bypassed for the vice mayor. And I’m not blaming the mayor, I’m blaming the council. That you don’t have a vote for yourselves. You need to be individual and need to care … I don’t want to say that you’re supporting the mayor, but that’s the way it looks.”
Ms. Villanueva was herself previously appointed to the city council to serve out the remainder of the term of her husband, Roy Villanueva, when he died in 2013. He had served the community for more than three decades as mayor, vice mayor and councilman. Ms. Villanueva, who had served on the Dysart Unified School district for 10 years, filled the District 4 seat until her defeat in the 2016 election.
Asked to comment on Ms. Villanueva’s allegations following the meeting, Mayor Sharon Wolcott declined to respond directly to her assertions, but issued a written statement suggesting voters approve of the council’s efforts.
“The people of Surprise overwhelmingly believe the city is heading in the right direction. So much so, they were willing to trust us with a bond package that will enhance our ability to drive even more economic opportunities for our residents thru investments in infrastructure and public safety. We are growing Ottawa University, West-MEC Career Training Campus, thousands of new jobs for our residents, millions in foreign direct investment thru our international programs at our Techcelerator, and are currently partnering with the Government of Canada on a cross border healthcare initiative, that could one day be the single largest revenue generator in Surprise,” the mayor stated.
But Planning & Zoning Commissioner Eric Cultum offered candid criticism of the council’s selection of Ms. Hayden in an email statement after the meeting.
“The selection of the most inexperienced person, Nancy Hayden, to fill the seat made vacant by her husband was a decision to squash leadership,” Mr. Cultum stated. “With such a valuable pool of applicants to select from, I am disappointed the mayor and Todd Tande continue to surround themselves with inexperienced ‘yes’ people. This is a demonstration of weak and incompetent leadership for Surprise.”
Mr. Cultum praised councilmen Skip Hall and Winters for supporting Alyson Cline, who he characterized as far more qualified to lead. And he said the need for independent leadership is why he chose to challenge Mr. Tande for the District 6 seat in the August primary election.
“Our city, represented by seniors, families and children, expects a higher level of competence than is being demonstrated in Surprise,” Mr. Cultum stated. “Exemplary and vibrant leadership is required to see the potential of our city and guarantee our community the best use of their tax dollars and ensure the public good.”
The council proceeded with a hand-written vote for the three candidates with the following result: Mr. Tande, Ms. Wolcott and District 4 Councilman Ken Remley voted for Ms. Hayden; Mr. Winters and District 5 Councilman Skip Hall voted for Alyson Cline; and Mr. Duffy voted for Mr. Stark.
City Clerk Sherry Aguilar moved immediately to the swearing-in ceremony for Ms. Hayden, but was interrupted by City Attorney Robert Wingo, who pointed out the rules require a majority vote – four or more – to seat the replacement.
Council then voted a second-round between Ms. Hayden and Ms. Cline. The council voted 4-2 in favor of Ms. Hayden – Mr. Duffy, though he’d stated leadership experience as his key criterion in nominating Mr. Stark, nonetheless shifted his support to Ms. Hayden in the runoff.
Gisele Norberg, another planning commissioner who last week filed papers to run against Mr. Duffy for the District 3 council seat in the fall, criticized his actions at the meeting in an email statement.
“Since his appointment to council in September 2017, Patrick Duffy has had several opportunities to show District 3 he is a servant leader representing our voice, the citizens of District 3 and the city of Surprise as a whole,” Ms. Norberg stated. “At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Mr. Duffy in his own words stated that he was looking for an applicant for District 2 that had qualities of leadership and service. Instead of voting for Alyson Cline, who fit those qualifications and more, he chose to support Nancy Hayden, who has no history of volunteer work, no history of work experience, no affiliation with any organizations in the city of Surprise or elsewhere, and no contact with small businesses or the Chamber of Commerce.”
Mr. Duffy defended his nomination of Mr. Stark in an email statement after the meeting.
“My nomination of Glenn Stark was 100 percent made in good faith and for anyone to imply otherwise would discredit who he is and what he had to offer our city,” Mr. Duffy stated. “His service to our country, his continued service to veterans, the city of Surprise and the Surprise Regional Chamber of Commerce reinforces his leadership skills and his passion to serve the public. For these reasons, I nominated him believing he was the best candidate.”
Mr. Duffy, despite a separate request for clarification, declined to offer any explanation for supporting Ms. Hayden over Ms. Cline in the runoff vote. After the vote, Ms. Hayden was sworn in and took her seat on the panel.
The District 2 seat is among five total seats up for grabs in the Tuesday, Aug. 28 primary election. The persons elected to District 2 and District 3 will fill out the remainder of a term set to expire in 2020.
Sixteen candidates have so far applied to run for council in the fall. Among those running are Ms. Hayden and four others who sought the District 2 appointment, including Ms. Cline, Susan de Jong, Wendell Fountain and Mr. Stark.