Robert “Bob” Jackson:
Mayor of Casa Grande, Arizona
Interview by Rock Earle – Fall 2015
GC LIVING: Tell us a little about yourself – introduce us to bob jackson
MAYOR JACKSON: I have lived in Casa Grande since 1991 having moved here from Reno, Nevada. I had been a partner in a mid-sized engineering company based in Sacramento and serving primarily northern Nevada and Northern California. I had decided that I wanted to move to a smaller community and was hired as the City’s Public Works Director. I retired from the City in 2002 and started a one-person engineering business helping local communities with their engineering issues.
I have a degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Nevada, Reno and prior to working in Reno worked in the San Francisco Bay Area and Albany, Oregon. I am a registered professional engineer in California and Arizona.
In every community I have lived I have always been involved in trying to make it a better place to live. Over the years I have been involved in Community Strategic Plans, multiple non Profit boards and countless special events.
GC LIVING: Why did you run for mayor originally? And then re-up three times?
MAYOR JACKSON: After retiring and seeing some of the things our neighboring communities were doing I became increasing concerned about where we were headed as a City and felt new leadership was needed. In 2007 I was lucky enough to be elected to my first term as Mayor. After my first two years, I recognized that many of the initiatives I wanted to see move forward were still in the development stage and ran the second and third times to assure many of the initiatives were implemented.
I really ran for my last term after talking to my wife, City Manager Jim Thompson and several other friends that encouraged me to run a final time to continue trying to move the City forward. We had several big projects that were not yet complete that I wanted to be a part of finishing.
GC LIVING: What do you think were your major accomplishments?
MAYOR JACKSON: I ran the first time on a platform of creating jobs for the community, improving our quality of life and providing the citizens better information on city issues and achievements.
Some of the more significant things include completing almost $200 million dollars in infrastructure and city facilities during the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression.
Completing the work during this time allowed us to get good bid prices using some of the more veteran construction teams. We also were able to increase our Bond Rating three times during this period, lowering our interest rates and allowing us to have smaller annual debt payments. The biggest of these projects was the Water Reclamation Facility. This expansion has allow us to attract Ehrmann Dairy (the yogurt manufacturer), Franklin Foods (the Cream Cheese Company) and Tractor Supply Company’s Distribution Center.
One the quality of life front we completed a significant trail system on Casa Grande Mountain. For years it had been used by hikers without marked trails and no trail heads. Today it has over 10 miles of marked trails for all skill levels and two trail heads to start from. The project was completed by volunteers and the use of Americorps teams at no cost to the local taxpayers.
A second program that has gained some national recognition is our Let Move initiative part of a program implemented by Michelle Obama to address childhood obesity and health. We have received national awards for our program and have successfully partnered with the private sector to move the program forward.
Sometimes being in the right place at the right time is a good thing. During my initial campaign I talked about using 21st century tools to help better inform our citizens. Working with City staff and a talented webmaster, we revamped the City’s website and public information programs. Today we receive over 20 million visits to our website, send out numerous news blasts to our citizens and are now televising our Council meetings as well as streaming them on our website.
GC LIVING: What do you consider to be unfulfilled items of your terms?
MAYOR JACKSON: The biggest unfulfilled issue is the proposed community center and a final disposition of the old high school auditorium. The voters approved the construction of the Community Center in a bond election in 2006. It was always intended to be the last project to be completed after the new Public Safety Building, Fire Station, a second library and several other smaller projects. Over the years several things changed and the Council is just now moving forward with this project. The community center needs to be completed to allow us to deal with the old Auditorium because our Community Services Department occupies part of the building.
GC LIVING: What is the worst thing that happened to – or worst failure of – the city government process while you were mayor?
MAYOR JACKSON: One of the challenges with being on any board is it takes a majority to do anything.
So while you may have a good idea and think this is what we need to do, if you can’t drag three other people along with you it isn’t going to be done. And it’s compounded when it’s a controversial issue and you have people who are diametrically opposed on the other side. And, certainly as you look at some of the things that we’ve voted on over the years, I think the council generally gets along really well with each other or really good about not holding no votes against each other . And I can only think of one time when I was on the short end of a four-two vote and I frankly don’t even remember what it was. But, oh I do it was a land use issue. And it was a weird set up where they needed a super majority of the council, and it ended up being a four two vote and they needed five people, and the seventh person wasn’t … I mean it was …
GC LIVING: Was that the car crusher by any chance?
MAYOR JACKSON: No, no the car crusher never made it to us. They kind of fell apart before they got there, you know? But, super frustrating, and while it’s a good mix of council … I mean we’ve got young viewpoints, we’ve got old viewpoints, we’ve got conservative people, we’ve got liberal people, we’ve got women for the first time in a long time, we’ve got small business people, we’ve got a non-profit person.
We’re going through an issue right now on this employee PTO [Personal Time Off] thing. Oh my God, you know we have spent hours talking about PTO. And I’ve managed people before so I understand that if you manage a lot of people you’re not going to keep all of them happy all the time, that’s just the way it works. So you have to do what you think is right for the most people at work in that organization.
We have a small group of people that have gotten to a couple of council people who have said, “This PTO plan is the worst thing in the world.” You talk to most people under the age of forty, they would much rather work under a PTO program than the kind of program that we have. We had a traditional, government-operated plan where you get eight hours of vacation and eight hours of sick leave a month. You can only use sick leave if you’re sick and everything else you have to use vacation.
And the younger generation looks at total time off. We had a police officer last night who got up and spoke to the issue and he said, “I’ve been with the department nine years. I’m a huge supporter of the PTO program; I’ve got four kids at home. My worst nightmare is if something happens to me and I don’t have enough sick leave to be able to recover from whatever the problem is…” And he said, “Not only that, when they’re sick I have to take a day of vacation when it’s my turn to watch them.”
So I think that the vast majority of the employees want it. The industry is going to PTO, but we’ve had a couple of council people that are just out of it, that they don’t like PTO. I think one of them doesn’t fully understand the difference, and I think the other one is really catering to that small group of employees that are saying, “We don’t like this as a plan.” And I think at least in my case, we have fifty thousand residents that we’re responsible to. We have four hundred city employees who we try to do the best job we can for, and overwhelmingly, our employees said, “We like this PTO program, would you like to do this PTO program?” We had a handful of people that said, “We don’t like it, we want more.” And that’s what was up for two months, just frustrating.
GC LIVING: Okay, perfect set up for this question. On any controversial issue that ever comes before the council, invariably there was one council member who gets press. The newspaper runs a story with his opinion, his picture, his name, pull quotes, highlighted elsewhere in the article, continuations, and yet I don’t see any of the other council members ever being quoted in the paper nor the mayor. Why is that and do you think that would help?
MAYOR JACKSON: I can’t speak to why the story doesn’t quote everybody; you know I don’t own the newspaper. So I don’t know what makes them tick. My style as a mayor is that I let all of the council members ask their questions first. And if I had the same question, I’m not going to ask it again. So consequently, a lot of the time when we’re having a discussion, my questions have been answered. It’s time to vote, if I need to be persuasive about an argument I’ll engage at that point. So that’s probably one of the reasons why you don’t see me quoted in the papers as often as others.
GC LIVING: So the faction that looks to the public like it’s the one that gets more press doesn’t really prevail very often. But the reasonable part generally sets the directions, but never, ever gets any press?
MAYOR JACKSON: Yeah, let me tell you though… one of the things I’ve learned about being the mayor: four votes wins.
If I’m pretty sure that there are three votes that are in favor of the way I think I want to go, I want to call for the vote and do it, because if you continue to discuss it you run the risk of having that four-three vote become a three-four vote. And, you know people ask all the time, you know, what’s different? There is no difference between being the mayor and being a council member. The only difference is you get to run the meeting. And so, if you see that the issue is, we’re done talking about it, and you know it’s a four-three vote, why continue to talk about it? Vote it and move on. We don’t have a lot of four-three votes but we do have them occasionally.
GC LIVING: In your opinion what’s the worst vote … the worst issue they’ve voted on? I mean the worst outcome, in your opinion?
MAYOR JACKSON: Wow. You know I can’t think of one. I’m sure there’s plenty. But I’ll tell you one of my problems is, and I have this problem when I do my State of the City address every year. I’m not really good at looking back. You know? And so when people say, well, ‘what did you do last year’, I was like, “Eh, I don’t know.” I’m coming up on my final fifteen months in office.
GC LIVING: You’re not running for anything else?!
MAYOR JACKSON: I have a State of the City address that I usually do in March and it will be my last one. So I thought, you know what, it would be kind of fun to look back over the nine years that I’ve been in office and say, “Okay, when I came into office in 2007, where were we, and where are we today, and are we better off?” And like most politicians as I look at that I say to myself, “I really believe we are.” We’ve weathered one of the worst recessions in history, we’ve done a lot of work in the city, we’ve moved the city forward at a time when a lot of cities aren’t doing that.
One of the primary things I ran on was – and I’m guilty of that as anybody else – we kind of try to hide in the shadow of Maricopa County a little bit. You know, we do pretty innovative and wonderful things down here, but we don’t want those people up there to know what we’re doing. And I remember Jim [Thompson, City Manager] and I are having this discussion probably less than two years in to my first term. And we’d said, “You know what, the money’s up there. If we’re going to get any progress in our community, we need to let those guys know what we’re doing down here.”
So we really made an effort to better engage with business leaders and community leaders up in the valley. And I think that’s really helped, because now … you know I was just at a meeting for the guy who’s trying to unveil a brand new project here in town, and, a big project, I have no idea what the cost is but … international scope, huge, eighteen hundred acres, and it’s predominately commercial industrial. And, he got done with the presentation, I went up and introduced myself to him and said, “You know, even though you’re not in this city’s limits you’re in our planning area, so if we can help just feel free to call me.” And he’s out in the valley and he goes, “You know, we came down here because we’re hearing such good things about Casa Grande.
That’s the difference between where we were in 06’ and where we are today. And part of that is just the natural evolution of the city. I think it was kind of the perfect storm. We did some pretty innovative things early, and caught some people’s attention, and that will leverage into good stuff. That didn’t answer your question I got off track I’m sorry.
GC LIVING: That’s fine. You mentioned Jim Thompson. Speaking of Jim, how do you rate his management of the city Casa Grande?
MAYOR JACKSON: I will tell you a funny story about that. When I was running for mayor, there was a rumor running around the city that I was running to get rid of Jim Thompson. And while that rumor wasn’t true, it wasn’t my place to say anything about it. So I get elected and my first day in office I go in to city hall and of course Jim comes in and he wants to talk to me, because we didn’t really know each other that well. And I could tell he was a little tentative about it, you know?
GC LIVING: Hahaha.
MAYOR JACKSON: “Jim,” I said, “I know you’ve heard the rumors, that I was running to get rid of you.” And I said, “I want you to know that’s not why I’m here. And if I get unhappy with you, you’re gonna be the first person to know it. I’m not going to sit here and beat around the bush about it. And over the eight years that we worked together we haven’t always agreed on things, but I think the primary issue we both agree on is one, move the community forward, and two, we want to leave it better than it was when we got here. And I think, you know Jim has had some recent hiccups with things, but we would not be in the financial shape we are today if it had not been for Jim Thompson.
We saw our bond rating rise three times during a recession. That’s almost unheard of. We did two hundred million dollars worth of public infrastructure during that time period. And because the contractors wanted work so badly, we not only got good prices on stuff, we got the A+ workers because they’re trying to keep their good people busy. So we got great bang for the buck, raising the bond rate, while that doesn’t mean a lot to a lot of people, it is a function of the interest rate you pay on it.
So we issued, I don’t know sixty million dollars worth of bonds on the waste water treatment plant over twenty years. The difference between the bond rating we started at and the bond rating we ended at is a difference of about two hundred and forty thousand dollars a year, over twenty years. It’s a big number. Jim has brought in some really good leaders. And cities are like big businesses. You run in cycles, you hire a bunch of people and they’re all the same age and they all leave at the same time. And Jim has been fortunate to be able to hire a lot of the key department heads, and by and large, most of his decisions have been right on. You might not always agree with him, but I think that for what the city needed at the time they came in, they were the right people to put in place. He has also done a really good job I think of mentoring Larry Rains.
Larry could certainly be a city manager anywhere in the country if he chose to be. But I think he would tell you that he stays in Casa Grande for a variety of reasons, one of which is there’s still a challenge here. We’re still doing some innovative things, you could see things that are right on the horizon ready to happen. And I think Larry wants to be a part of those. So when Jim decides to retire, and you know his scheduled retirement date is some time in the next eighteen months, the council is going to have to make a decision on who to replace him with. And I hope they look very favorably at Larry. He has done a great job, he’s a great guy, he knows the community, and I think he has learned a lot from working with Jim.
GC LIVING: Okay. You wouldn’t say what was the worst thing that happened on your watch. What’s the best thing that happened on your watch and this question’s going to lead into the statement or your answer, what do you think your legacy is?
MAYOR JACKSON: You know you and I talked about this earlier, and I think that there are several things that I’m really proud of as I look back over the last eight years. One that I think the jury is still out on is the Grande Sports World. And I know certainly Dick has been really critical about that through the course of the last few months, but here’s the deal; we were going to build soccer fields somewhere in town because we have a youth soccer program that had outgrown the facilities.
Those soccer fields were going to cost us somewhere between twelve and thirteen million dollars, and the city would maintain ‘em, and while we do a great job of maintaining ‘em, they’re not maintained at a professional standard if you will. So, the owner of the Francisco Grande Hotel came in and said “We have this idea that we would like to run by you,” and it was to build the Grande Sports World complex. The actual agreement is about twelve inches thick, but the gist of the agreement is, the city would build the facility, and the Francisco Grande would maintain and operate it for us, and there is a pro- forma where, when it reached a certain income level, the city gets a percentage of those profits.
So we were going to spend thirteen, let’s say, be conservative, we were going to spend twelve million dollars putting in a facility for youth sports anyway, and the other site we looked at was one called the Linden property, which is at the far north end of town, and, we were prepared to spend the money to go do that. The Grande Sports World came in, and said, “Well, if you build the, the, the soccer/football fields and put in a building for us, we’ll operate ‘em and maintain ‘em at no cost to the city. So if we were to build and maintain those soccer fields, we probably are looking at somewhere around three hundred thousand dollars a year. Then Grande Sports World came in, and said, “Well, if you build the soccer/football fields and put in a building for us, we’ll operate them and maintain them at no cost to the city.
It cost twelve million dollars to build the fields and another eight to build the building. All we really pay on that is the debt service on eight million dollars, and I’m not an accountant, but if I had to guess, I would guess that the percentage of the debt service we pay on the whole facility probably equates to about three hundred thousand dollars. So while you say it’s costing the city money, it really isn’t because we’ve avoided the maintenance cost of the fields, and if you’ve been out there, they’re maintained at a much higher level than we would ever hope to maintain them.
And Grande Sports World has really put us on the soccer map. We’re not a soccer state, but, my God … I don’t know if you’ve been out there, walked down the hall in the back … I was out there with the Youth Commission, Saturday, and they have a tradition where all the kids that have been through their academy have a picture, where they’ve gone to college, or the pros because several of them had been drafted by the pros as soon as they came out of the program, and any award that they won while they were there. Last year, their under 16 team, I think was the National Champion at the level that they play at.
GC LIVING: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
MAYOR JACKSON: They bring in tournaments regularly during the soccer season, where we’ll have three to five thousand people in town. There’s a benefit to the city of Casa Grande and restaurants and lodging. Oh, and one of the big arguments about using the Grande versus the Linden property, you use the Linden property … great access, right off the freeway. So if we have people from Phoenix or Tucson that are coming in or a tournament they’re going to pull off the freeway, go to the Linden property and never through town. By going out to the Francisco Grande, it forces people to drive through town, they see what the town has to offer and I think it’s been a huge benefit to the city, but it’s being painted by this brush of, “Well, we’re losing ten million dollars on the deal.”
We’re not really losing ten million dollars on the deal. We had a pro forma that said over twenty years, we hope to make that much money, but the revenue stream hasn’t been there, and, and I know that’s a tough concept to understand for people, but we ended up with world-class soccer/football fields out there for our youth programs. I talked to Matt Lemberg yesterday, there’s seven hundred kids signed up for the soccer program.
GC LIVING: So why don’t I hear that story on the front page of the newspaper? Why don’t I see your pretty face with a sound bite talking about that?
MAYOR JACKSON: Well, because again, we have had multiple conversations with the media trying to, not only here, but also in Phoenix. I mean, you think about these, they’ve got about seventy kids in that program right now. They competed in the national finals game for the soccer at the highest USL soccer level there is in the country … and we did not see a single thing about it in the Arizona Republic.
We’ve tried when we have winter visitors here, we have had several of the major league soccer teams that come out there and train for a couple of weeks at a time, and one of the regular teams is the Seattle Sounders … we get lots of winter visitors here from Seattle. Do you know how they find out what the practice schedule is? They get online, and they read the Seattle newspaper, and they find out that in Casa Grande, Arizona there’s a practice schedule for the Sounders if you’re down there. How sad is that?
Most people have no idea major league soccer teams train out here.
GC LIVING: Great. So since you brought that facility up that’s been criticized for a variety of different financial or location problems. The new police headquarters has been criticized for where it is. We’re now, as a city, looking at a new multi-generational recreational facility. This is your chance to make your statement on why that’s good for the city, and why it should be built.
MAYOR JACKSON: Well, talk about both of those facilities and their locations because people tend to look at the city of Casa Grande, and they look at the urbanized area of Case Grande. The urbanized area is about a half of what the planning area is, and if you look at the planning area boundary, the police station is almost in the exact, dead center of the community, and for response times out of a police station, you want to be in the middle. The community center is a little different issue.
Yeah, we knew we wanted to build one. We’ve looked at multiple sites. We looked at sites in the downtown area, but none of them we have been able to identify are big enough or are in the right location. And by saying that, I mean we looked, for instance, at Carr McNatt Park as a potential location for it … not quite big enough. There’s too much going on there, and we’d have to take out too much of Carr McNatt Park to do it, and then you generate parking problems. You generate evening activity problems in the neighborhood every night.
I mean, if you go by Carr McNatt Park now, there are people out there playing football and soccer, whatever, but they usually are done by 8:00, and it’s not every night, it’s for a period of time during the year. So we started looking outside of the old part of downtown and the Gilbert family came in and said, “We will donate ten acres to the city for this site, just south of Kortsen Road, on the west side of Peart, and we said, “We’ll take it.” The caveat is, and I don’t remember the time limit, I think it might’ve been ten years. We had to have the construction done within that time frame.
The land cost, and its ten acres, in the market today is probably close to a million dollars. You’re in the real estate business, you probably know better than I do. So, number one, you’ve got a free site, infrastructure, for the most part, that’s already there, sewer, water, we’ll need to do some road widening, but the electric is there. Most of the infrastructure is there, so you’re not going to use up a bunch of the budget on infrastructure, and I think that, we’re headed down the road, finally, to make some decisions about the community center. And if you look at the location, it’s kinda like the police station. It’s closer to the center of town than most people think.
We have a lot of population north of Cottonwood Lane in this town. Where are our facilities north of Cottonwood Lane? We really don’t have very many, and that was, at least in my mind, one of the things that helped me drive that decision that we need to provide some services out there, and ninety-nine percent of the people that are going to go there are going to get in a car and drive. So what difference does it make whether you drive from Lemberg and 11th Street or from Villago, you’re going to get in your car and drive anyway.
It’s all about providing a facility for our citizens to go and enjoy, and I know one of the things that we’ve talked a lot about is the fact that so many of our managers choose to live up in the valley, and one of the reasons they choose to do that is that there aren’t family-oriented activities here for them to do, like a community center. So I think one of the things that will be a benefit to that is we may see some of those plant managers decide to locate here when they move in as opposed to living up in the valley. And if they locate here, they get engaged in the community. They’re smart people, they understand the big picture, and I think it will help our community move forward again.
GC LIVING: Well, it simply is a fact that most communities our size have this already.
MAYOR JACKSON: And many smaller.
GC LIVING: Many smaller, indeed. Okay. We’ve been making lots of noise lately about leadership and progress and making it better, and we talked about soccer. We talk about things that site selection committees for industrial companies are looking for; recreation centers are one of them. What about something like bike paths? Is that the next step? Would you support that if it came up?
MAYOR JACKSON: You know, we talk a lot about bike paths, and we actually have some master plans for trail systems that I think if we could do them that’d be great. Problem is, we don’t have any money and we have to have money to do them. I think the one that I would love to see us build is the Santa Cruz Wash bike path, and we’ve come up with a hundred different ideas of how to do that. One of them is we’re going to put a sewer interceptor down along one of the banks, and when we fix it back up again, would turn it into a strip park. Turned out it didn’t make as much sense as we thought it would to run that interceptor down there, but it’s a funding problem, and …
GC LIVING: So, just out of curiosity – and you may not be able to answer this. If our tax rate is ninety-nine cents, if that was right now, how many cents would it be to increase that to build that path system? Two cents?
MAYOR JACKSON: No, it’d probably be more than that.
GC LIVING: Five cents?
MAYOR JACKSON: Yeah, I’ll answer it this way. Our statutory maximum for a tax rate is about a buck ten. That extra ten cents would generate about a half a million dollars I think. With half a million dollars, you could bond about three million dollars worth of work. That’s probably not quite enough, so it would have to be a little bit more than that. Several years ago, a group came together and proposed a three-tenths of a cent sales tax increase for recreation facilities, and that’s how we built the Palm Island Pool, the Paul Mason Sports Complex, and some improvements, I think, at Carr McNatt Park.
I mean, there were several quality of life projects we did with that. And right now, some of that money is going towards the debt service for the Grande Sports World, but it’s going to take that kind of an initiative, I think, as opposed to looking at property taxes. The challenge you have in government, and certainly we have that here, our property tax right now is one of the lowest in Pinal County. It’s on the upper-half of the metro area for Phoenix, so you get issues with, you know, and I’m not picking on anybody but car dealers in particular. If you’re going to spend thirty thousand dollars for a car, and the tax rate here is a penny higher than it is in Mesa, you know, for one percent of thirty thousand dollars, they’ll probably drive to drive to Mesa and buy the car.
GC LIVING: Sales tax?
MAYOR JACKSON: Sales tax, yes. And so the magic number seems to be about nine percent. If you get above that, it’s too much ‘cause state did their little half cent thing a few years ago. Right now, Pinal County’s looking at a half cent sales tax increase for roads, and that’s a whole different issue that annoys me …
MAYOR JACKSON: So the county is looking to have some sales tax for transportation purposes. I’m sure I have the numbers wrong. We currently have a half-cent sales tax for transportation purposes in Pinal County. About 75% of that sales tax money comes out of Casa Grande. When it was passed, the agreement with the county was they would keep half and they would distribute the other half through the cities, based predominantly on population. So we get about, I don’t know, 1.5 dollars a year in road tax revenue. Pinal County gets 5 million dollars.
As we annex areas, the county road mileage decreases, but our amount of money that we get stays the same. And if the county is going to move forward with the plan for another half-cent on top of what we have, we’ll push our tax rate, I think, to just under 9%. I think we’re at 8.4 or 8.6 right now.
GC LIVING: You need Supervisor Miller’s phone number?
MAYOR JACKSON: I have it. Thank you. And Steve and I have had this conversation, you know, that if, if you’re going to go after a county-wide sales tax increase for transportation, you need to be very clear about where you’re gonna spend it. Because if you’re not going to spend any of it in the cities, then why should the people of Casa Grande who are already getting a third of what they should be getting in the half-cent sales tax support something like that? Haven’t got a good answer yet, but certainly, over the next year or so, as the election gets closer, it’s going to become an issue.
GC LIVING: So, what is it? What do you want your legacy to be?
MAYOR JACKSON: I would hope that, that when I walk out of office, number one, and we’ve said this earlier, that people are better off today than they were when we started. I ran on two or three things that I thought were important. One of them is we needed to bring jobs in here, and I think that the economic development business takes three or four years to cultivate. And certainly over the last two or three years, I mean we’ve got a Sam’s Club, we’ve got a yogurt plant, we’ve got a cream cheese plant, we’ve seen expansions of Hexcel, ACO Polymer, Frito-Lay.
We have created a couple thousand jobs, and in a community our size – we’re 50,000 people – so our workforce is probably 21,000, 22,000 people. Think about 10% of them have jobs they didn’t have before. Tractor Supply, we just landed them. We’re talking to prospects today that will increase that job total even more. And I think, first and foremost, that’s what I want to be known for, that we did a good job of bringing new industry into town that helped us diversify our economy and put people back to work.
Second, I ran on a, on a platform of we need to get along with our neighbors better and right now, every other month, the mayors of Maricopa, Eloy, Coolidge, Casa Grande, Florence and Marana, get together and have lunch, in one of the five or six cities. Unscripted, no agenda, just sit down and, and talk about issues. The beauty that that’s created is that when something happens on our borders, I can call up, say, Christian Price on the phone and say, “Hey, Christian, what’s going on with this?” And it’s not the mayor of Casa Grande talking to the mayor of Maricopa; its Christian Price and Bob Jackson talking as friends.
It’s made a huge difference in the relationship between the cities. And that was so important that I thought when I ran that we had pretty much burned our bridges with most of our neighbors that we needed to fix those. I think if we sit here today, one of the conversations that Jim Thompson and I are having, is we’ve come off about 200 million dollars in infrastructure projects. Where do we want to spend the next 200? That will be long after my time in office, but we need to start having those discussions today because it’s going to take that long for them to happen.
Oh, and the third one is Phoenix Mart, and while we could go on a whole long discussion about Phoenix Mart, when that finally happens, it will be a game-changer for our community.
GC LIVING: So, an easy way to look at it is, you’re an engineer …
MAYOR JACKSON: I am.
GC LIVING: … and as mayor you expanded infrastructure, and kept everything on track and on budget and created jobs …
MAYOR JACKSON: Mm-hmm.
GC LIVING: … and accomplished … in a very difficult economic environment, extremely good stewardship.
MAYOR JACKSON: Well, and, and keep in mind that it didn’t happen as one person. It is truly a team effort. We’ve got a great staff and the council, for the most part, understands where we’re trying to go and we all agree on where we want to go. We just don’t all agree on how to get there all the time.
GC LIVING: And that would be more quality of life issues?
MAYOR JACKSON: Yes.
GC LIVING: Performing arts centers, recreation centers.
MAYOR JACKSON: You bet.
GC LIVING: Trail systems.
MAYOR JACKSON: Yup, and we talk about site selectors coming in for new companies. First thing they look at is education. Next thing they look at is availability of land and cost and workforce and those kinds of things. But somewhere in that top five or six on the list is quality of life issues, and if you don’t have the quality of life issues, they may locate their facility here, but their plant manager is gonna live up in the valley. That’s why those quality of life issues are so critical.
GC LIVING: Okay. As you look forward in the next year, there are some political races coming up. What have you heard about who will be running for mayor and/or what are your thoughts on the environment that’s already forming leading up to the next elections?
MAYOR JACKSON: Well, I will say, first of all, I’ve, I’ve heard the same rumors everybody else has, okay, so I’m not trying to be coy about it, but I’m not sure that people want me to put them out of the closet in the magazine about their name.
GC LIVING: Well, give us a scoop.
MAYOR JACKSON: Yeah. Uh …
GC LIVING: Come on.
MAYOR JACKSON: But here is the deal. I think that, if people feel that we made progress in my tenure on the council, then they need to probably replace me with somebody that is like-minded. And if you don’t like where we’ve gone over the last six, or seven, or eight years, then maybe you need a change of outlook. And I think that, and I don’t want to sound self-serving about it, but I really do think we’ve made a lot of progress in the last seven or eight years, and I hope whoever comes in to take my place has a similar mindset about how do we get ourselves from 55,000 people in a regional center into being the center of the megapolitan area of Phoenix and Tucson.
I said a couple of years ago with my State of the City – and I was absolutely serious – we used to be a city that was afraid that we’re gonna get gobbled up by Phoenix or Tucson. And what we need to do and I think we’re well on the way of doing that, is create our own identity, so that when Phoenix and Tucson show up at our doorstep, and you know they will eventually, we can say, “Hey, we’re really glad you’re here. Welcome to our town.” And so, we’re dictating what our future will be, instead of letting them do that.
And I think that, as you look at the mayoral and council candidates that are coming, that will pop up, who has the, the future-looking, or the foresight to say, “Here’s where we need to get to, how are we going to do it?” as opposed to looking backwards and saying, “Well, I remember what Casa Grande looked like 10 years ago, and I was really happy with that. Why are we changing?” Ten years ago, we didn’t have a mall, you know? I mean, 10 years ago, my wife and I, when we wanted to go shopping, we’d end up going up to Phoenix. We didn’t have a … we had a movie theater, but it’s certainly nothing like the movie theater we have today. We have a trail system up on CG Mountain that we didn’t have 10 years ago.
I don’t want to go back where we were 10 years ago. I want to see where we’re going to be 10 years now, and at that point, I’ll be too old to care, so …
GC LIVING: One last question about city manager Jim Thompson.
MAYOR JACKSON: Yeah.
GC LIVING: We think he’s done a pretty good job in a challenging environment, but we hear whispers about his plans. Do you know what’s in his near future?
MAYOR JACKSON: Question is, you know Jim … you’ve said several times that Jim has been a huge asset in helping move the city forward.
GC LIVING: We believe so.
MAYOR JACKSON: Um, you know, you’ve got a, a potential new council, new mayor, what’s in Jim’s future? Jim is a pretty complex guy and he’s had some personal issues that have happened to him. I won’t go into them ‘cause it’s not fair to Jim to do that, but people who know them know what they are, and it’s been hard for him. He teaches a master’s level class at ASU right now part time, does it with full consent of the council. The beauty of that is we get the best and brightest masters in public administration students that want to come down here and work for Jim Thompson for free, or for next to free. So, young minds, good ideas, that’s all Jim Thompson.
In the Arizona retirement system, there’s this magic number called 80 points and it’s a combination of your years of service and your age. Jim is approaching his 80 points and I think that he’s going to have to make a decision. Do I want to retire at 80 points and go to a different state, go to a different city? Do I want to go teach fulltime? And I’ve been lucky enough to have been a guest speaker at some of his classes at, at ASU and I joke with him about that “They’re paying you for this, and you have an outside speaker coming and talk to the class and you just sit there and listen”! But I know he’s a very good teacher. The people he’s hired really liked working for him, liked his management style. And, and I think that it’s, it’s just a matter of time before he does leave and I think that, that we will be far worse for it when it happens.
I would never want to be a city manager and Jim and I have had this conversation multiple times. Early in my working career, I spent six months with an interim city manager, I was never so happy to see somebody come to work in my life and I said to myself, “That is not a, a career path I want to go down.” It is a thankless job and you’ve got seven high-ego people that you’ve got to keep happy. I think Jim has 10 or 12 department heads that he’s got to keep focused moving forward and he does a remarkable job at it. And the game in the city management business is trying to make sure you never get to a point where you have four people that are, um, that want to see you gone because it, it only takes four votes and you’re out.
So, I think that, that we’ve had some pretty difficult issues that have popped up over the last couple of years and while don’t really want to talk a lot about the police chief issue, that was one of them. And we’ve got some issues in the fire department. A huge chunk of the city’s general tax rate goes to fund police and fire and some of the rank and file have been unhappy with Jim for a long time, because he has to tell them no. Ultimately, the decision is the council’s, but we can’t go out there as a responsible council and say, “Hey, yeah, we’ll give you a 20% pay raise,” where’s the money going to come from, you know?
We talked earlier about this whole PTO program. One of the challenges we have is we have 55-hour-a-week employees which are firefighters, because they work a 24-hour shift, and we have 40-hour-a-week employees. You convert from the system we’re in now to a PTO system and you have to look at the maximum accumulation that you will allow people to have because it’s a financial liability. We had a group of the firefighters who came in and we said, “We propose a 780-hour maximum of accumulation a time.” They wanted 1,000. Well, you can’t do that for the 52-hour-a-week employees and not do it for the 40-hour employees also.
So at our meeting last night, we were talking about that. The cost of, of going to the 1,000 hours for firefighters and bumping up the 40-hour employees at the same percentage-wise is gonna cost the city 2.5 million dollars. We don’t have that kind of money and it’s not fair to treat one group one way and everybody else the other way. And, you know, we have a huge percentage of our employees that are saying, “We love this PTO program and we want to go with it.” We have 400 employees and I think firefighters are about 45 of them, plus or minus, and there’s about half of them, I believe, liked the idea of PTO, so why are we having this discussion?
But Jim has had to spend an, you know, inordinate amount of, of goodwill, if you will, with the council trying to get us there and he knows that it is probably the right thing to do because, as the workforce changes, the millennials are looking at PTO issues, not vacation and sick leave issues. And I think sometimes, I don’t think I know. You get tired of fighting the battle, you know? I try to go to city hall every day. I don’t see Jim every day. Sometimes he’s in when I’m not and whatever, but we talk a lot and, and I can see the frustration; accumulation of all those things is taking its toll. And he has a standing job offer with ASU for a full professorship if he wants to take it.
I was joking with him the other day because when I ran for my final term, I told him “Jim, if I agree to run one more time, I want to make damn sure you don’t leave while I’m in it.” And he said “Bob, absolutely. I’ll be here ‘til the end of your term” because I think his target date was sometime in June of ‘17. We were joking around the other day and he says, “Well, you know,” he said, “I could probably retire earlier than that.” I looked at him and said, “Jim?” and he remembered the conversation. I said, “You promised me if I ran one more time, you would stay here until I was done,” and he started laughing. He goes, “I don’t remember that.” “Yeah, you don’t remember that?!”
But I think he’s done a great job for the city and whatever he does, I would wish him the best. I think he’ll do a great job and I think the city of Casa Grande has been better for it and I think we would lose something when he leaves.
GC LIVING: The city just hired a new PIO, right?
MAYOR JACKSON: We did.
GC LIVING: Just a suggestion and just a peripheral observation; every time I sit down with you or Jim or anyone else who knows what’s going on, after the conversation, it turns out that things are in pretty good shape, a pretty good job is being done managing the circus.
MAYOR JACKSON: Mm-hmm.
GC LIVING: And yet, from the standpoint of the man on the street, he reads things and hears things, it’s just an absolute nightmare, it’s a mess – the end of the world – and I just don’t understand why the word doesn’t get out.
MAYOR JACKSON: You know, we’ve had kind of a double whammy, it’s one or the other things, and, I don’t want to talk about me, but when I came into office, one of my frustrations was our electronic footprint was horrible in the community. We had a great webmaster at the time and he took us from there to a point where we’re getting like 22 or 23 million hits a year on our website.
GC LIVING: Wow.
MAYOR JACKSON: And we have website blasts now that you can subscribe to, and I’m sure you guys do that so you get web blasts of things that are going on in the city. And we do press releases to the media all the time, and it’s really up to them whether they want to print them or not. We’re sitting here in August and a great article in the paper yesterday I thought about thepublic works division, kind of the unsung heroes …
GC LIVING: Mm-hmm.
MAYOR JACKSON: … of, of Casa Grande.
GC LIVING: Mm-hmm.
MAYOR JACKSON: Each PIO we’ve had has had different strengths and weaknesses and we have been without a webmaster and without a PIO for about three months. And the website hasn’t had much going on in it. So, we decided because the webmaster works for the PIO, we’d hire her first and then hire the webmaster that will help.
The first webmaster or first PIO I dealt with was a young lady whose strength was print media and she wasn’t there very long after I came in and we replaced her with a guy named David Bridger.
David came out of the electronic media world and he did a great job of getting out in the community and, hyping the city. He had an untimely death and we replaced him with a gentleman named Agustin Avalos. Agustin’s strength was the technical side of the job and at the time he came in that’s exactly what we needed. We wanted to start televising our council meetings; we wanted to beef up our web pages. Agustin did a fabulous job of doing that. He started doing his little TV program called City Scene.
I don’t know a lot about Kayla, the new PIO. Certainly is a ball of energy and I do think that she’s got some really good ideas as to how she can help tell that story. I would love to be able to have the newspaper and local media tell our story for us, but I think we can’t sit here and wait for them to do that. We have to be more aggressive and more proactive about it. So, she’s been on the job for a week, and we’re going to sit down and have some of those conversations about what can we do to better tell our story.
Also, one of my little pet projects is I see all the good things that are happening in our schools, but all I read in the media is all the bad things that are happening at our schools. And so, I’ve suggested to Jim, and I think he’s onboard with that, that maybe we’d see if we can’t use our PIO to help the two school districts better get their story out there. We don’t want our PIO to become their PIO, but I know Frank Davidson does it for the elementary school district and Shannon Goodsell does it for the high school district. If we can help them get that word out better, maybe we do some stuff on our website.
But it is so critical that we get over this hump of people saying, “Oh, our schools in Casa Grande are just not very good.” Schools in Casa Grande are excellent. They’re just getting bad press and that’s what we need to overcome.
GC LIVING: You brought up an issue that I meant to question you earlier about: the council meetings being televised. From the point of view of a cynic, the meetings before televising were dissembling, self-serving and whatever but now they seem to be more about posturing for the camera…there’s a new …
MAYOR JACKSON: A new dynamic.
GC LIVING: Yes, a new dynamic to that and we have wanna-be actors who just want to go on the video record and make their dissembling statements there.
MAYOR JACKSON: You know it’s funny because 99% of the time I don’t even remember we’re being televised. Is there posturing going on, absolutely. Think about who is up for re-election and I’m not going to sit here and say who they are because you can go look. But look and see who is running for re-election …
GC LIVING: … and what they’re saying.
MAYOR JACKSON: And what they’re saying and, and I do think that there is some posturing, and not only is it on TV and it’s on TV multiple times, you can also watch it on the internet now. So if you don’t have Cox Cable you can watch it on the internet live or anytime you want and do I think there’s posturing going on, absolutely there is. You got an audience; I don’t know how many people watch. Maybe you got 5,000 people watching, why not posture a little bit?
GC LIVING: For whoever is watching I think it’s pretty clear, and I don’t think it’s positive…
MAYOR JACKSON: Drives me nuts sometimes but the challenge with being the mayor and I tell everybody this, you have to let people speak their mind but you have to move the meeting along too. And I know I’ve certainly been criticized by a couple of council people, that I cut off the discussion before it’s finished but if you’ve repeated the same thing ten times, I don’t need to hear it an eleventh time. And we talked a little bit about gauging where the council is … if I see that a majority of the council has made up their mind with where they want to go, let’s stop discussing and let’s vote on it and move the meeting along. Otherwise, we’re gonna be here till midnight.
GC LIVING: Okay so what’s next for Bob? Are you going to take up wood carving?
MAYOR JACKSON: You know, I don’t really know, I want to stay focused on what I’m trying to do as a Mayor. As you know, I do have an Engineering degree, and although I haven’t for the last 5 or 6 years, I do project work occasionally for people. I just finished a project manager gig for a domestic violence shelter over in Maricopa. I did it for free ‘cause I don’t need the money but I love doing that kind of work, so I may go back and do some of that type of Engineering work. And I love to play golf! I played 18 holes this year – 9 holes on 2 different days, but don’t have the time, don’t have the schedule. So I would like to spend some time doing that and I would like to spend some time with my wife and family.
It’s an interesting job because you don’t have regular hours. Yesterday – I actually can’t remember what I did yesterday – but we had a council meeting last night. So, I mean I’m working till 8:30-9:00, when I get home. And there are days where I’ll have a meeting in the morning, maybe nothing in the afternoon, and then a night meeting. So, they’re crazy hours, and it would be nice to have some stability, so if we wanted to do some traveling we could do that. I have a son who lives in L.A., if I wanted to see him, I could do that more often. Just spend some me time for awhile and maybe get back the things I like to do with some engineering work.
GC LIVING: So no other office runs?
MAYOR JACKSON: Oh God, no. No. I’ve had a lot of people ask me that question but what would I run for, you know?
GC LIVING: Governor?
MAYOR JACKSON: S*** yeah, no thanks. Number 1; I don’t have the political machine behind me.
GC LIVING: Well, with a face like that you could go almost anywhere.
MAYOR JACKSON: Yeah right. You know it’s funny, about the state Legislature, they get paid horrible. They need to get more money. You couldn’t pay me enough to be a State Legislator. Talk about a thankless job! There are 90 of them up there and it’s bad enough working with a group of 7. I can’t imagine what it would be like working with 90.
When I ran the first time I really did it ‘cause I didn’t like the direction we were headed and just felt like somebody needed to do it. And that’s why I ran the way I ran. It was like look, if you’re happy with the way we are then vote for the incumbent. If you’re not happy for the way you are vote for me. And I was lucky enough to get elected the first time.
GC LIVING: Final words of wisdom?
MAYOR JACKSON: I think Casa Grande is a great place to live and people who know me, know I’ve moved multiple times, I’ve lived in multiple states, in 15 or 16 cities and when we moved here in 1991, I remember my wife and I both felt like this is where we wanted to live. Because it’s close to the metro area, if I want to do something that requires, the big city you can. Judy and I share season tickets to the Diamondbacks, and if we want to go to a pro baseball game it’s only 45 minutes away but you still have the small town feel and I think that more than anything else, moving forward, we need to see, try to achieve keeping that small town feel as we get larger in population and that happens by having ownership in the community. And hopefully the new leadership that comes in will have that same philosophy and will keep that small town feel here until we get to be 100,000; 200,000; 300,000 people.
GC LIVING: Thank you.
MAYOR JACKSON: Okay, thank you.