The forum held to give citizens an opportunity to hear from Fountain Hills City Council candidates came to an abrupt end on Thursday evening, June 30, following an outburst from audience members.
Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Betsy LaVoie asked Maricopa County sheriff’s deputies to clear the room following furious public comments. LaVoie had previously told attendees that there would be zero tolerance for explosions. The Chamber was the sponsor of the event.
Nearly 90 minutes from the start of the forum, the candidates posed a question regarding partisanship and how they would work to unify the council. Allen Skillicorn responded to the question by saying that all candidates are partisan, however, he claimed that one of the candidates was not being honest or telling the truth about his partisanship. The comment was directed at Cindy Couture and caused an outburst from Couture supporters in the audience.
The audience was evacuated relatively quickly and the forum continued in the empty ballroom with closing comments from the contestants.
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 are running as a slate. The band gave Couture negative feedback all night. Toth used his opening statement, a time meant to introduce himself, to begin the attacks on Couture. She said she didn’t like doing it, but couldn’t go without commenting on what she perceived as Couture’s dishonesty.
With respect to the issue-related discussion, the candidates showed general agreement on the main concerns of citizens.
Couture offered the most positive view of City operations. She cited a community-wide survey released earlier this year that found citizen satisfaction in the high 90% range. She acknowledged issues with street conditions, especially neighborhood streets. Couture said the council should assess the recommendations of the citizens’ committee looking at the problem and work from there on the solution.
The other three candidates also pointed to street conditions as a significant issue, but seemed to point to poor management by the town hall for not attending the interview. They also said that funding for street maintenance can be found with better budget management.
Kalivianakis has said on more than one occasion, “it’s not that hard,” referring to resolving tax issues.
Decisions related to the city budget also seemed to be an issue for the conservative bloc.
The city needs to end big spending priorities and focus on what’s important, Skillicorn said. Big spending drives inflation and hurts the middle class, he added.
“We need to set aside a little more each fiscal year to catch up on neglected road repairs,” Skillicorn said.
“We see things through different filters,” Couture said. “What the staff have done over the past few years on a shoestring budget is just 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.
“(The staff) also do a great job finding grants to help fund projects,” Couture said.
Toth said Fountain Hills has a reputation for not being business-friendly. In particular, she cited the regulation of signs put in place over the past year, in particular those aimed at temporary commercial signs. Toth, Skillicorn and Kalivianakis all said repealing these regulations would be high on their list.
Candidates were also asked to answer specific questions about themselves that arose during the campaign.
Skillicorn was asked about his service and leaving the Illinois Legislature.
“I faced the most powerful and corrupt political interests in the country,” Skillicorn said. “Some (are) under criminal charges at the moment because of my work. Of course they tried to attack me. It was a political attack, that’s all.
He also cited comments by the Illinois inspector general on the matter, who called the vote “standard practice” and “found no evidence of malicious intent.” The investigation was closed without complaint, Skillicorn said.
Couture was asked about the “leftist” label attached to her.
“I don’t even know how ‘leftist’ is defined,” she said. “I’m an easy-going moderate, the most easy-going person you’ll ever find.”
Kalivianakis responded to negative comments about his service with the Coast Guard Auxiliary. She said she was proud of the service, and ultimately the person who wrote the letter to The Times about her service used a fake name. The Times has addressed this issue and there is a further explanation in today’s edition on the Letters page.
Toth was asked about her youth and inexperience.
“What’s a girl in her twenties doing here?” I understand,” she said. “The council needs a younger perspective to bring young people to town.”