Chester Cheetah

Last month the Arizona League of Cities and Towns held its annual conference for its 91 municipal members at the posh Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale.

As reported by staff writer Heather Smathers this week, Casa Grande spent more than $11,000 to send selected staff, council members and guests to the three-day event. A league official said Casa Grande sent a larger number of people than most cities, but City Manager Larry Rains said the cost is on par with what the city has spent in previous years.

The city also pays an annual membership to the League of more than $30,000.

If Casa Grande is about average for what cities and towns pay the League for its services and attending the conference, then Arizona taxpayers pony up millions every year to this organization.

The conference is sponsored by an assortment of corporations such as APS, ITC (a power transmission company) and Solon Corp. (a solar company) that rely on franchise agreements and business arrangements with League members to boost their bottom lines.

While conspiracy theorists may harp about the “deep state” in Washington, we have our own “deep city” working in Arizona.

The convention had many discussion topics that would be a stretch to say they will help public officials do a better job. There was, of course, the golf tournament held on the first day of the convention. And there were sessions on “Branding and Marketing our Local Communities: Creating a Sense of Locality and Identity”; “Arizona Public Universities: How Cities and Towns can Leverage Their Strategic Partnerships” (the UA and ASU were also convention sponsors); and “Cities and Towns Open for Business: What Are the Most Important Factors When Companies Decide to Locate in Your City or Town?”

I understand that last topic is important. Recruiting industry and job creation are important to any community. But aren’t the cities competing against each other in this area? It appears Buckeye and west Maricopa County cities are the prime competition for Casa Grande and neighboring cities in western Pinal County in attracting industry. Do we really want to work from the same playbook?

Along those lines, though, the strangest part of the convention had to do with the cities promoting themselves to each other.

The city’s judge and her assistant were at the conference to help set up a booth that showcased Casa Grande and handed out trinkets, including donated bags of Cheetos manufactured at the local Frito-Lay plant.

I think if you are going to have your judge perform such duties, then she should at least play the part.

You can purchase mascot costumes online. I found a high-quality Chester Cheetah costume for less than $400 the judge could wear. Granted, it cost twice as much as the “sexy leopard” costume, but I figured such an outfit would be less than dignified for a city judge.

Chester Cheetah is a fictional illustrated character who is the official mascot for Frito-Lay’s Cheetos brand snacks. He would also make an excellent unofficial mascot for Casa Grande. The judge could easily wear the costume while representing the city, not only at the League convention, but other events, such as Anti-Crime Night and the mayor’s State of the City address.

I am puzzled the League convention would have a component where the cities promote themselves to each other. What is the return? It is not like a trade show where you might recruit industry to locate in your city.

Ken Strobeck, executive director of the Arizona League of Cities and Towns, said the organization provides a “very valuable” service to its member cities, including legal advice and programming.

But its main function seems to be lobbying the Legislature.

So taxpayers pay for one group to lobby another taxpayer funded group. On top of this, many cities also employ their own lobbyist.

Layers of taxpayer dollars can run pretty deep when it comes to city government.

I am not a fan of the League of Cities and Towns and similar organizations in other states. The services they provide are usually just stacked on top of resources cities already have with their own attorneys and department heads. Their conventions are nothing more than social events that allow businesses to be able to get their customers all in one place. The breakout sessions can easily be duplicated in webinars set up by the individual cities.

Marketing seems to be the overriding theme now for city government. Forget all those basic services like streets, sewers and police/fire protection. That is so 1980s.

It is a new age. And Casa Grande needs a mascot to go along with it. If we can’t get a city judge to dress up like Chester Cheetah, than we should come up with something original.

Like, say, a camo-dressed “Smuggler Sam.”

That would sure cause a buzz at next year’s conference.

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Andy Howell is assistant managing editor. He can be reached at ahowell@pinalcentral.com.

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