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Phoenix Council race draws a full house

PHOENIX — Three City Council members and the mayor will face competition on the Nov. 4 ballot to keep their seats.

 Current longtime council member Terry Helfrich will take on incumbent Mayor Jeff Bellah while each of three incumbent council members will seek re-election alongside three challengers.

 Bellah, a retired medical facility auditor for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said the current council deserves credit for producing a balanced budget with no tax or fee increases.

 "My interest when I got into this was to make the city stable and get things done without borrowing money or taxing people for money," he said. "This year, we're going to be able to spend $750,000 to do streets maintenance — and that's money we've just saved and didn't have to borrow.

 "That philosophy of save and spend rather than borrow and spend or tax and spend is what I'd really like to get ingrained into Phoenix before I step out. For the first time in a long time, Phoenix's finances have stabilized, we've added positions and haven't had to add street or parks fees. I think we're really on the right track behind the scenes and we've got a lot going for us so I want to see that continue."

 Helfrich, an orchardist, said he felt strongly that the city needed better communication with citizens and to be more open to citizen input.

 "I think the biggest difference between me and Jeff is that I don't support that vertical structure with the mayor at the top, then council, then citizens and businesses. I support a flat structure or a level board-type of input where we take input from everyone and come up with the best solution," Helfrich said.

 "I really feel like bringing everyone to the table makes the citizens feel involved. With the employees, that empowers people to tap into their own creative talents and start solving problems within the city. We need to take the time to listen and apply common sense for positive change."

 For a trio of council seats, all three incumbents — Karen Jones, Bruce Sophie and Chris Luz — are seeking re-election. Three challengers include former council member Steve Schulman, planning commissioner Judith Grillo and salon owner Melissa Wagy. The top three vote-getters will be elected.

 Jones, 62, and Luz, 54, both pointed to a desire to maintain a balanced budget and improve the city center. Jones initiated the Phoenix Food Project, is a volunteer for the community food bank and dinners and participates in the Phoenix-Talent Ford Leadership program.

 Luz said he wanted to utilize experience gained from his time on the council to "foster more positive interactions between city government, commissions, boards and citizens" and hoped to initiate a street improvement program.

 Council president Bruce Sophie, who has served a number of terms on the council and as council president, did not return calls.

 Former council member Steve Schulman, co-editor of a Phoenix "Council Watch" Facebook page, said his bid to return to council was a response to a "total lack of vision" by the current council.

 Schulman, who lost in a race for the mayor's seat in the last election against Bellah, said if he's re-elected to the council, he hoped to encourage citizen involvement and encourage urban renewal.

 "We need to change the image of the city, both the visual image and the perceived image," Schulman said.

 Grillo said she was encouraged to get involved in the city by the late mayor, Carlos DeBritto, who prompted her to join the planning commission not long after she moved to the city four years ago. Grillo said she felt drawn to help serve her newfound hometown.

 "With some real plotting and planning and a dash of guts it could become a darling bedroom community," she said.

 "With the new intersection coming in, we could make room for a wonderful civic center and a positive place for businesses ... . I'd like to help make Phoenix a destination and I truly believe this is possible."

 Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.