November rapidly approaches and with it comes general elections. This year promises a momentous showdown between presidential candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden, but local residents also find themselves facing the decision of who to elect as their mayor. This year’s race is between former city council candidate Paul Deasy and current Flagstaff councilmember Charlie Odegaard.
Paul Deasy was a candidate for city council in 2016 and failed to secure the votes necessary to gain a seat. He is an academic, a statistician and a father. During his interview, he was impressively able to field questions while simultaneously pacifying the needs of his four children. He was also raised in Flagstaff and remains involved with the community. Deasy was a former board member of Coconino County Advocates for Human Services, which provides services to the elderly, and he also serves as the president of Bridging Flagstaff, a local labor rights organization.
As a research analyst at NAU, Deasy explained that his job is to assess policy within the school and determine its merit on the grounds of reaching success in predetermined goals. This work experience seems to translate to a critical viewpoint of policy that is evidenced by the issues mentioned on his website. These concepts are wide-ranging and extensively explained: student housing, government transparency, minimum wage, affordable housing and the relationship between Black people, Indigenous folk and other minorities with the police.
To mitigate the rising cost of housing, Deasy suggested an analysis of policies which have been in place since 2010. He asserted these policies were ineffective in lowering the cost of housing, and he aims to create a singular, unified Affordable Housing Plan rather than “lots of documents with lots of goals.”
More specifically, Deasy recommended an incentive program that expedites permitting processes for housing developments that include affordable housing, saying “that seems like a win-win.” He eventually added, “That takes a lot of input from a lot of experts in the field.”
While claiming Flagstaff is navigating a “housing crisis,” Deasy voiced his intent to refuse rezoning requests by development companies seeking to build more student housing. He suggested that because of declining enrollment at NAU — and colleges across the nation — the city does not need more student housing.
“What is missing from the housing market, that we need in Flagstaff … is workforce housing and affordable housing,” Deasy said.
Earlier this year, the City of Flagstaff announced a climate emergency and set a carbon neutrality date of 2030. In order for the city to achieve this goal, it will have to be ambitious and proactive to limit the carbon footprint. Like Odegaard, this issue was not referenced on Deasy’s campaign website.
When considering his course of action in this regard, Deasy explained his vision of coordinating efforts with other municipalities in Arizona to collectively bargain with the state’s corporation commission, which regulates utility companies. In addition, he supports working with NAU in reaching toward carbon neutrality.
Another emphasis of Deasy’s campaign is government transparency and accountability. He said councilmembers should be required to disclose communication and negotiation with business interests. He explained his plans to advocate for new transparency and disclosure rules, as well as the adoption of a City Council Code of Ethics.
To strive for the cause of good governance, Deasy shared his opinion that the city should develop new modes of communicating with the public. He mentioned an overreliance on Facebook, while also suggesting the government use more media outlets and a monthly subscription-based email news service from the mayor to keep the public apprised of developments within the city’s government.
“The public is the boss and … without communicating what’s going on I think in some ways is a dereliction of duty,” Deasy said.
Finally, on the subject of minimum wage, Deasy seemed to be more optimistic about the impacts of the wage increase than his opponent. Taking a research analyst’s approach to the issue, he said the way to measure the policy’s success is to look at whether or not it has achieved its desired goal, which was “to help the workforce … It is working toward its intended goal to help the working poor.”
Odegaard is a longtime Flagstaff resident and the third-generation owner of a local business, Odegaard’s Sewing Center. Elected in 2016, he sat on the city council for four years and garnered a long list of achievements. He also holds an extensive array of involvement within the community. Odegaard is a board member at both The Arboretum and Northern Arizona Veteran Memorial Cemetery Foundation, and he volunteers at the Flagstaff Family Food Center in addition to The Pantry.
Though he has lived in Flagstaff his whole life, his voice seems to evoke a kind midwestern accent, and at just about any prompt he will dive into speech that conveys a simple, business-like approach to the issues of governing. Among the issues prioritized on his campaign’s website are housing, COVID-19 and economic recovery.
For instance, take his strategy for reducing housing costs. It is essentially a promotion of accessory dwelling units, which are secondary living quarters built on the same lot as standard houses. Odegaard explained that by renting out these units, homeowners can make a bit of money to offset the cost of their mortgage. Regarding the tendency for these units to be rented out through Airbnb and thereby undercutting the local rental market, Odegaard raised concerns and began talking about registering these properties in order for noise and upkeep complaints to receive police citations. Odegaard mentioned that at “least 24% … of housing units [in Flagstaff] … are tied up in Airbnb. And another quarter … could be second homes. So actually, only about half of our current housing stock is used by full-time residents.”
One of his more progressive policy proposals is the expansion of city-owned and managed housing. This is federally subsidized housing that provides opportunities for low-income individuals and people with disabilities to receive affordable places to live.
In Flagstaff specifically, Odegaard said the waitlist for spots in these communities can sometimes be years long. As a potential solution to this problem, Odegaard has been working on expanding an existing public housing community near North Fanning Drive and East Lockett Road, and he recently submitted a proposal request for construction.
After constructing new high-density public housing, Odegaard’s plan is to go through old public housing units and reconstruct them to achieve similarly high densities. According to Flagstaff City Housing Director Sarah Darr, this proposition could “at least double” the amount of city-owned and managed units.
Following this idea, Odegaard said, “It’s bold. It’s something the city’s never done before … well, since this housing was built in the ’60s.”
Regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, his position is that mask mandates must be upheld and enforced. He added that some people have been lax in regulating mask use in businesses and around town, but that, “we need to stay the course on facial coverings.”
Flagstaff City Manager Greg Clifton said the city is experiencing a 5 to 6% loss of revenue due to COVID-19. However, citing an uncollected bill from the state of Arizona and an overall attitude of fiscal responsibility within the city council, Odegaard expressed optimism about the financial state of Flagstaff.
However, Odegaard showed concern over the upcoming transition to a $15 per hour minimum wage. Due to state legislation, the City of Flagstaff is responsible for paying the wage difference between state employees and those that they contract within the city. Odegaard said this obligation, along with the 6% revenue loss, will likely put undue financial burden on the city and could lead to less services for the community.
He supports a partnership with the Hopi Tribe to build a solar farm on Hopi land that would provide carbon-free power to Flagstaff. In order to make this proposal a reality, Odegaard said the city should work with Arizona Public Service, which owns all of the power transmission infrastructure. In his time on city council, he also supported initiatives to improve Flagstaff’s recycling habits.
The deadline to register to vote in Arizona is Oct. 5. The deadline to request a mail-in ballot is Oct. 23, and they must be received by Nov 3.