The forum staged to provide citizens an opportunity to hear candidates for Fountain Hills Town Council ended abruptly Thursday evening, June 30, following an outburst by members of the audience.
Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Betsy LaVoie asked Maricopa County Sheriff’s deputies to clear the room following angry comments from the public. LaVoie had previously told those attending that there would be zero tolerance for outbursts. The Chamber was the event sponsor.
At almost 90 minutes into the forum candidates were addressing a question regarding partisanship and how they would work to unify the council. Allen Skillicorn responded to the question by saying all of the candidates are partisan, however, he claimed that one of the candidates was not being honest or telling the truth about her partisanship. The comment was directed at Cindy Couture and resulted in an outburst by Couture’s supporters in the audience.
The audience was cleared relatively quickly, and the forum continued in the empty ballroom with closing comments from the candidates.
Earlier in the discussion Couture had described herself as an ideological moderate, but a proud Democrat.
Three of the candidates, Skillicorn, Hannah Toth and Brenda Kalivianakis, are all members of the Republican Party and running as a slate. The group aimed negative comments toward Couture all evening. Toth used her opening statement, a time intended to introduce herself, to begin the attacks on Couture. She said she did not like doing it, but she could not stand by without commenting on what she perceived as Couture’s dishonesty.
Regarding the discussion related to the issues, the candidates did display general agreement on the key concerns citizens have.
Couture offered the most positive view of Town operations. She cited a community-wide survey released early this year that found citizen satisfaction in the high 90% range. She did acknowledge issues with street conditions, particularly neighborhood streets. Couture said the council should evaluate the recommendations of the citizen committee examining the issue and work from there on the solution.
The other three candidates also emphasized street conditions as an important issue but seemed to point to mismanagement by Town Hall for failing to keep up with maintenance. They also stated that funding for street maintenance may be found with better budget management.
Kalivianakis stated on more than one occasion, “it’s not that hard,” referring to solving fiscal issues.
Decisions related to the Town budget also seemed to be an issue for the conservative block.
The Town needs to end big spending priorities and focus on what is important, Skillicorn said. The big spending is an inflation driver and hurts the middle class, he added.
“We need to set aside a little more every budget year to catch up on neglected road repairs,” Skillicorn said.
“We see things through different filters,” Couture said. “What staff has done the past few years on a shoestring budget is nothing short of amazing.”
She said she supports efforts by economic development staff to reach out to businesses to see what they need and how to achieve their goals.
“(Staff) also does a great job finding grants to help fund projects,” Couture said.
Toth said Fountain Hills has a reputation of not being business friendly. She cited particularly the sign regulations put in place this past year, specifically those aimed at temporary business signs. Toth, Skillicorn and Kalivianakis all said a repeal of those regulations would be high on their list.
The candidates were also asked to respond to specific questions about themselves that have come up in the campaign.
Skillicorn was asked about his service and departure from the Illinois Legislature.
“I took on the most powerful and corrupt political interests in the nation,” Skillicorn said. “Some (are) under criminal indictment right now because of my work. Of course, they tried to attack me. This was a political attack, that’s it.”
He also cited the comments from the Illinois Inspector General on the issue, which called the voting concern a “common practice,” and “found no evidence of malicious intent.” The investigation was closed without a complaint, Skillicorn said.
Couture was asked about the “leftist” label attached to her.
“I’m not even sure how ‘leftist’ is defined,” she said. “I am an easygoing moderate, the easiest person to get along with you will ever find.”
Kalivianakis responded to negative comments about her service with the Coast Guard Auxiliary. She said she is proud of that service and, as it turns out, the person who wrote the letter to The Times regarding her service used a false name. The Times has addressed that and there is a further explanation in today’s edition on the letters page.
Toth was asked about her youth and inexperience.
“What is a girl in her 20s doing up here? I get that,” she said. “The council needs a more youthful perspective to bring younger people to Town.”