Youngtown election: Mayor and Town Council candidates share hopes, challenges for town

·16 min read
Youngtown Town Council Chambers.
Youngtown Town Council Chambers.

Youngtown's longtime Mayor Mike LeVault is unopposed in his reelection bid, although there is plenty of competition for Town Council seats in the Aug. 2 election.

Two people are running for the council seat carrying a two-year term: Bernadette Labat and Jim Starke.

Seven are running for three council seats carrying the traditional four-year terms. The three incumbents  — Margaret Chittenden, Karen Haney Duncan and Mike Francis — face four challengers — Ensign Beesley, Jodi Kaczynski, Denita Manning and Ann Nelson.

Early ballots will be mailed out July 6.

2022 elections: Here’s who wants to be your next city council member in metro Phoenix

Residents who choose to vote by mail are advised to mail their ballot by July 26 or drop it off at a ballot drop-off location or voting location by 7 p.m.  Aug. 2. Search the Maricopa County Elections Department website to find a location near you.

The Arizona Republic asked the candidates to answer questions on issues facing Youngtown and skills they bring to public service. Here's how they responded.

Youngtown mayoral and town council candidates
Youngtown mayoral and town council candidates

Candidates for the 2-year seat

What are Youngtown’s biggest challenges right now, and what are you doing or what will you do to resolve them?

Labat: "One of Youngtown's challenges is to secure qualified leadership on the Town Council. … I have owned and operated Used Tools and more as a successful business since 2019, and bought and moved into a close residence in 2020.

"There are plans … to build a housing community in south Youngtown. ... I've seen affordable housing built in the West Valley that has suffered from blight and so I see the need for code enforcement to influence residents to keep their property maintained.

"Planned celebrations and activities … (can) enhance (residents’ quality of life) and allow them to get to know and trust their neighbors.

"There is a wandering population of homeless who become a challenge … due to theft, vandalism, and other invasive behavior. ... Our permanent residents could be advised of the best ways to deal with the homeless population with regards to groups that are skilled in giving productive aid to these individuals."

Starke: No response submitted.

In your ideal scenario, what does Youngtown look like in five to 10 years, and how do you make that happen?

Labat: "In 5-10 years, I'd like for Youngtown to have more thriving businesses. Since our arrival, we have seen several businesses open and close their doors. We would like to have a business forum to meet regularly to work with businesses.

"There are necessary services, business practices as well as networking that aids new businesses. I graduated with an MBA with an emphasis in sales and marketing and know what my skills are and what I need to hire done by other professionals.

"My husband Gordon ran a successful auction business and likes to discuss budgeting with new businesses. He knows his tools and advises new businesses on the tools to use to modify their properties. Together we could be an asset to the business community."

Starke: No response submitted.

What skill would you bring to the council that would benefit residents?

Labat: "The skills I have to bring to the community include a respect for individuals.  Many times homeowners and business owners come into our shop to just talk. They are concerned with the economy, the quality of life, the town organization, and fiscal responsibility of the Town Council and town management.

"I let them speak their mind and then I encourage them to be active. ... I remind them of upcoming Town Council meetings or the availability of the town staff to answer questions. The Village Reporter has been a great asset to the community as many of the informative editorials provide answers to the residents.

"Much more could be said about my desire to keep this little bedroom community safe and enjoyable, but I'd just like to thank all members of the community who will vote for me. … May you all continue to live the good life in Youngtown.”

Starke: No response submitted.

Maricopa Lake Park in Youngtown.
Maricopa Lake Park in Youngtown.

Candidates for the 4-year seats 

What are Youngtown’s biggest challenges right now, and what are you doing or what will you do to resolve them?

Beesley: "I believe Youngtown's biggest challenge at this time is the increasing rate at which the homeless are entering our community. I have watched the changes and patterns of the homeless in downtown Phoenix for the last 28 years. I have seen the pockets start small, then eventually advance to varying degrees of coordinated commerce. I'm starting to see parallels of the same patterns in the northern sections of our town.

"Unfortunately, I do not see a solution to the homeless issue. I would like to be involved as part of the council discussing ideas on how we can delay the migration of the homeless into our community and how we can minimize the negative impact this will place on Youngtown's citizens.

"The Town Council and manager have done a fantastic job proactively addressing our security issues by installing the Flock security cameras and hiring marked patrol."

Chittenden: "One of our biggest challenges ... is homelessness. We have done a lot. In the last two years, the council has cleaned up the Agua Fria river bottom. We cleared out the homeless camps. We check on the camps every week. … Someone from the staff, plus the mayor, offer them some places to go. ... It's not illegal to be homeless, people have to remember that. So now the river bottom is a lot better. … We hired two … security companies to work together with the Sheriff's Office. That helps our businesses feel safer.

"My concern is our traffic issues and multiple families living in one house and dealing with crowded parking. There are some issues with new residents getting along with older residents, but you just hope younger residents moving in will be respectful. … We have a couple of housing projects going in and we're working on multiuse projects for down the road.”

Haney Duncan: "To unite the communities to transcend the age and location differences. We have The Garden on Saturday nights which is a potluck dinner; the dog park, the craft corner on Monday nights and the Town Council meetings and many activities through the town library. We advertise in the monthly town paper and on electronic signs in the town. As I interface with the community and businesses I encourage them to be involved. Knowing your community makes your town a better and safer place to live."

Francis: "I feel that the biggest challenges right now are petty crime and drugs. Serving on the council, I support the MCSO and the block watch teams in the vital work that they do. The information gained and evidence provided to the MCSO is extremely important in stopping crime, drug abuse and sales in Youngtown. As council member, I will continue to support and help provide all of the tools possible to defeat the crime and drugs in Youngtown."

Kaczynski: "Youngtown’s biggest challenge is the large number of homeless people that have called Youngtown their home. The homeless people are fighting challenges within themselves. They could be using drugs, fighting past trauma, fighting mental illnesses and/or moving from one location to the next to survive.

"We have to find humane ways to help them find solutions to their homelessness. We also need to balance this with relocating them to have a safer Youngtown. In my position as captain of the South Neighborhood Watch (Aqua Fria Ranch and north of this community) and working with captains of the North Neighborhood Watch, I have been an active part of relocating homeless people and balancing finding resources for them, as well."

Manning: "One of our biggest challenges are the homeless population, the vandalizing stealing and harassment. I have contributed to helping our town as well as the homeless population to find necessary resources for drug rehabilitation, mental health treatment as well as classes for self-care. Not all are willing to participate but the ones who do have found themselves to be successful."

Nelson: "Youngtown's biggest challenge right now is homelessness, which leads to drugs/drug dealers and crime. In June of 2021 I created an online neighborhood watch group on Nextdoor. I have hosted several neighborhood watch meetings and I have recently started going door to door to promote neighborhood watch.

"I also patrol Youngtown with my family and other block captains as a part of neighborhood watch and report anything suspicious to MCSO, the mayor and the Town Hall manager.

"As a member of the City Council I would continue my work as a neighborhood watch captain and aid the mayor with the town's work with MSCO, Affinium Security, and the community in making Youngtown a safe place for families."

In your ideal scenario, what does Youngtown look like in five to 10 years, and how do you make that happen?

Beesley: "In my ideal scenario, I see my main concern of the homeless, safety, and security affecting Youngtown citizens resolved. I see every citizen's quality of life and notion of safety and security entirely fulfilled, regardless of what part of our community we live in.

"I also see every commercial location filled with a prosperous business. I also see every citizen of our community thriving personally, economically, and spiritually, and having the power to pursue any aspirations one may have."

Chittenden: "We have one dog park that was grassroots started and it's doing pretty good. It was a great way to socialize during the pandemic. We have a citizens dog park committee, too. There will probably be another one in the future.

"We could use more amenities, like a Boys and Girls Club. For a small town with no property tax and no other taxes and we're debt free, I think we're doing a good job. We also have a community garden and arts commission.

"We're going to continue our sidewalk program, which includes additional sidewalks and street lighting. That's been a blessing. Those things are working forward. We're continuing to improve."

Haney Duncan: "Would like to see the available business sites filled. We have two new housing developments within the next two years and we have negotiated the addition of a solar storage unit to bring revenue into the town. We are continually working hard to maintain a safe, clean environment so that businesses can thrive."

Francis: "In 5 to 10 years the community park in the Agua Fria river will be complete. We will have sports fields, play grounds, hiking trails and more available for the Youngtown residents. A place for family's young and old to get out and enjoy. I continue to support this great project in anyway that I can to help facilitate its opening."

Kaczynski: "In 5-10 years Youngtown will have small businesses flourish with revenue. Families will use the parks to interact with their family members, parks will provide activities to bring families together, and the Youngtown Neighborhood Watch will have over 400+ volunteers to be the eyes and eats for the MCSO."

Manning: "The scenario and future hope for Youngtown within the next 5 to 10 years is that it would be a small town (and) very family oriented. Connecting the seniors with the children in the town. As well as creating community events and an environment for these types of connections."

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Nelson: "I want Youngtown to be more like Mayberry or Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. A safe community of thriving families that help one another. Measuring that success would be as easy as seeing the crime rate and number of homeless decrease, properties be kept up, and less vacant homes/businesses.

"I would also like to see more family-oriented businesses. I want there to be places available in Youngtown that people use regularly in their everyday lives so that they do not have to constantly drive to another city to get things done."

What skill would you bring to the council that would benefit residents?

Beesley: "I have 28 years experience working at the Maricopa County jails, mostly in a supervisory capacity managing a team of specialists reviewing criminal histories, making assessments, and determining security levels for inmates awaiting transport to their housing facility. This has furnished me with much experience dealing with varying attributes of the population.

"I also manage two rental properties in the northwest Valley thus providing experience with contracts, taxes, depreciation, contingency funds, and land use regulations.

"I am a native of the northwest Valley and have seen the many changes in our community over the years. It is my hope that my work experience along with my lifelong residency in the area will provide an additional/unique perspective to the council when discussing ideas on future policies and programs. It is my hope that the citizens of Youngtown will find me worthy of these discussions along with the management of Youngtown's assets."

Chittenden: "My motto has always been working for the residents, being their voice. You can't promise stuff, you just have to do your best.

"My new signs say 'Chittendon will get the job done.' My motto is learn from the past, live in the present and plan for the future. That's what I try to bring to the council.

"I'm in good health and I want another term to see these projects get accomplished. For council people ... you have to be open minded and listen to others' suggestions. We don't all agree on everything but we try to be reasonable. Our council has been doing great. We're a good team. That's the kind of person I'm hoping to get for the vacant seat. I'm pleased that people are stepping up to run."

Haney Duncan: "I’m a hands on person. I listen to the concerns and suggestions of my constituents and make sure they are brought to the board. I am vigilant in observing what is happening in our neighborhoods and look to keep this town clean and safe. I have been part of a great team these past four years that loves and serves this community and I would appreciate your vote so that I can continue to serve for the next four years."

Francis: "I have lived in Youngtown 31 years. I have seen a lot of change and growth. I serve on the Youngtown community garden committee and have since its inception.

"I have attended most all of the council meetings for years to keep my hand on the pulse of the town. I listen to what the people of Youngtown have to say and work hard to try and find solutions to these problems while serving on the Town Council. I have a strong work ethic and good common sense."

Kaczynski: "The skills I would bring to the Youngtown Council would be to listen to the needs of residents and keep in mind the town’s initiatives, use strong organizational skills to continue to lead the Youngtown South Neighborhood Watch Program, and use the skills gained from working with public relations and marketing experience to market Youngtown as a family-oriented community."

Manning: "I would bring the skill of being a counselor and coach, helping people to make the necessary changes and transition for a better life, as well as being an advocate for those in need. I have the ability to assist with those who are in dire need to find and become aware of necessary resources."

Nelson: "The skill that I will bring to council is my positive can-do attitude. I love Youngtown and am committed to helping the city, it's residents, and businesses thrive.

"I am a mom and wife and together my husband and I created our household budget.  If a paycheck-to-paycheck family like ours can keep our heads above water with this 40-year high inflation, I can help keep the city of Youngtown’s budget in the black as well."

Mayoral election

What are Youngtown’s biggest challenges right now, and what are you doing or what will you do to resolve them?

LeVault: "Youngtown is in its best shape ever. Its infrastructure is updated, modern and well maintained. It is debt-free, has a healthy rainy-day fund and its tax burden is light. The West Valley is growing rapidly. Growth brings lots of good things but along with the good comes some of the bad and the ugly. Arizona has the fastest growing homeless population in the nation. Our southern border with Mexico is flooded with illicit, highly addictive and potentially lethal fentanyl. Petty crime continues to spike across the Valley, and the greater Phoenix metroplex is seeing increasing acts of violence. Youngtown has gone to extraordinary lengths to keep residents safe. We have erected an array of LPR (License Plate Reader) cameras across the community and have deployed additional law enforcement and security assets throughout the town while aggressively helping organize Neighborhood Watch groups."

In your ideal scenario, what does Youngtown look like in 5-10 years, and how do you make that happen?

LeVault: "While Youngtown is essentially land-locked, with a modest geographical footprint, the Valley around us continues to explode in growth. We are well located, half-way between the 101 and the 303 and just south of Grand Avenue, to take advantage of all the great things happening in the Valley of the Sun.

"Our focus will continue to be on the enhancement of quality of life for our residents and in providing the safest environment in which to raise a family, live in retirement and live life in quiet enjoyment. We will achieve these things by continuing to adopt and implement policies which promote an enhanced quality of life."

What skill would you bring to the council that would benefit residents?

LeVault: "I will continue to involve the town in organizations like MAG, GPEC, WESTMARC, Luke Air Force Base and Valley Metro so as to continue to have an impact on important regional and state policy decisions. My communication skills are solid and I have a good understanding of how things play out on the street as well as from the 30,000-foot level. We will continue to make good policy decisions locally but also recognize the profound impact of policy decisions made at the regional, state and federal levels."

Reach reporter Taylor Seely  at tseely@arizonarepublic.com or 480-476-6116. Follow her on Twitter @taylorseely95 or Instagram @taylor.azc.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Youngtown election: Q&A with mayor and Town Council candidates