Sedona Elections: The following is a Sedona.biz interview with Sedona City Council candidate Jon Thompson. All candidates have been invited to share their platforms with Sedona.biz by answering election-specific questions. The following are the questions and responses.
• What office are you running for?
I’m standing for re-election to Sedona City Council. By the way, I wrote a brief commentary on the difference between running and standing, which you might find interesting. It’s on my campaign website at SedonaJT.com/Articles, at the bottom of the page.
I hope Pete Furman and Brian Fultz will be elected, as I believe they will bring great talents and ideas to Council that will help us solve our current challenges while maintaining the general vision and direction that Sedona residents have chosen. But three seats are available, and I wanted voters to have the additional choice of experience and continuity. Also, I have been a strong and outspoken advocate for sustainability, which is an issue of great importance city-wide. So I want to be sure our future and our planet have an informed and dedicated voice in all policy decisions.
We built and moved into our home 16 years ago, on a lot that we had purchased 11 years prior to that. The lot itself has been there for eons, of course, which we try never to forget.
Funny story. As a teenager, thinking about what I would like to be in life, I knew that I could at least eliminate two options, which seemed the antithesis of me: salesman and politician. So of course my very first full-time job was as a salesman, and here I am post-retirement doing that other thing I was sure I would loathe.
I’ll spare you the recitation of my bio and résumé, which are a click away at SedonaJT.com/Meet-JT, if you’re interested. I’ll just say that the learning curve for an effective city councilor is steep and involves much more than most people know. So I list my qualifications as patience, flexibility, openness, respectfulness, thoughtfulness, curiosity, questioning ability, listening skill, empathy, and integrity—not because I consider myself the textbook example of each, but because those are the qualities I find most often called for in this job. I believe I possess them in sufficient quantities that you can trust me to continue serving Sedona well.
I’m most proud of my contributions to the development of the current Community Plan, my record of service on City Council both from 11/2014 through 11/2018 and from 03/2021 to the present, and my volunteer involvement with several nonprofit organizations at different times. I’ve championed sustainability more often than most, before we even had our first Sustainability Coordinator. In fact, I left my Council seat more than once to speak for three minutes about current environmental research during the Public Forum. Awkward, yes. But that’s the only time anyone can speak on a topic that isn’t on the agenda, and important things needed to be said.
Isn’t that what they call a false dichotomy? It’s interesting to me that someone who has served in office for some years is assumed to be drained of new ideas. For one thing, an experienced councilor may still be working to get across ideas that were new once and are still as important and worthwhile as any new ones—these things, especially big complex things, don’t get implemented overnight. Also, an experienced councilor can have new ideas all the time, but with the added knowledge of how to present them and work on them in the political environment. And finally, an effective councilor, one who isn’t burdened with stubbornness and a self-centered ego, can recognize and promote good ideas that come from others, or from anywhere. So I would say to look first for the candidate who can recognize a good idea wherever it comes from and has the ability to promote it effectively. Their level of experience and their individual ability to come up with the ideas by themselves are bonuses.
The main “immediate” challenges are the ones that residents feel are the most important. The current Council and city staff are locked in on these and we are doing everything in our power to solve them. What’s often not apparent to residents is how interconnected they are. So I have described my “top three” issues as the larger, systemic groups that comprise all these immediate issues. Those three are: sustainable community, sustainable economy, and sustainable future. I won’t retype what I wrote about these and posted at SedonaJT.com/Issues. But if you detected a theme in those three categories, yes, I’m convinced that unless we are thinking sustainably about everything we do, our solutions will be flawed, and maybe fatally so.
As a member of the City Council I am already addressing the issue. I’m on the record as supporting limited STRs. If we can wrest the authority back from the state to regulate them properly, I don’t see any reason why a rented out spare room in any home or a limited percentage of entire homes can’t be part of a sustainable community. We are well past whatever that percentage should be, of course, but I won’t speculate on what the right number is until we have the ability to determine it for ourselves and until we have then had a thorough debate on what it should be. In the meantime, I’m for exploring any ideas that come up, including things other cities have tried. We just gave consensus approval to the City Manager to create a full-time position dedicated to the STR issue as of July 1st—that’s how complex and labor intensive this truly is.
I’ve supported all the current SIM projects, with one partial exception. The decision to build the Uptown parking garage on North Forest Rd and the parking study that the recommendation was based on were considered by Council during the 2 1/2 years while I was not a member. I approve of the need to consolidate our necessary parking, and large parking structures are a good way to do that. But when I rejoined Council last year, I tried to get my colleagues to reconsider the specific site of this garage, based on extensive research I have done on parking strategy. As for future SIM projects of future decisions on those already underway, I can’t comment because of open meeting laws. I am on the record, however, as saying that I will support those that are likely to provide enough sustainable benefits to justify the expected costs and don’t undermine our long-term vision.
Again, I am on the record as supporting the housing initiatives that city staff has brought to Council, including the creative Sunset Lofts partnership with a developer, a down payment match program, and the hiring of a full-time position focused on our many complex housing issues beginning July 1. I believe we should do whatever we can to ensure that affordable housing in Sedona is available for anyone who works here, at all income levels. That’s a key component of a sustainable community and economy.
I’m glad you phrased the question that way, rather than focusing solely on the financial support the city provides. Because a good chamber of commerce has a major role to play in a sustainable community as well as a sustainable economy. And we have a good one. It understands not only the importance to the city of the tax revenue its members generate, but also the impact that their activities have on the community and the environment we all want to protect. The Sustainable Tourism Plan they spearheaded is unique in the industry and bridges sustainability concerns for the environment as well as for both our community and economy.
No one likes to keep hearing the answer to this question, and I certainly don’t take any pleasure in saying it. But it’s true that current state laws and US Forest Service policies make it difficult or impossible to mitigate many abuses by ATV and OHV owners. That said, your current Council, staff, and City Attorney continue to explore every angle we can come up with. Regulation, restriction, increased enforcement, and more. We’ve seen many ideas and lots of evidence from the public, some of which have been quite helpful. The Chamber of Commerce is weighing in with a program, too. There’s even an organization of OHV owners whose members have signed and emailed us a pledge to use their vehicles responsibly and to educate their various clubs to do the same; a steady stream of these emails arrived for weeks. So there’s no shortage of ideas and no shortage of city leaders—including myself—eager to find ways to eliminate or reduce the negative impact of these vehicles. But to the extent that solutions lie within state laws or US Forest Service regulations, expect this to take some time.
I absolutely support it. Moreover, I would love to see it get wider exposure and continue to be maintained so that the commitments remain relevant and impactful. This plan represents a partnership between the City, the Chamber of Commerce businesses, several local nonprofits, and individual residents. As such, it is a great example of the interconnected goals of a sustainable community and a sustainable economy, both in support of a sustainable future for our environment. It’s influence has already spread beyond our borders, and as many more visitors become aware of it and see the positive effect it has here, its impact will continue to inspire other communities.
I absolutely support the CAP as well. It’s a great start, especially because it codifies our vision and commitment. But there is much more to do. Our commitment of a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 is a high bar, but we must clear that bar because higher ones will be needed in the near future. Also, we are aware that our base GHG emissions calculation did not include many externalities. That is, emissions that we know we play a part in creating, such as jet fuel or gasoline for automobiles that bring visitors here, or CO2 from the production of cement that is used in building construction, or the especially potent methane and nitrous oxide emitted by the animals that are raised for our food—these emissions could not be counted because the data on our portion of the responsibility was just too hard to get. Our Sustainability Department has a huge task to help us understand what our complete contribution to climate change actually is and to lead us in the mitigation and adaptation measures that are necessary for us to play our part in achieving a sustainable future.
I have submitted an argument in favor of Home Rule, which will appear in the official voter pamphlet that will be mailed out well before the election. I recall using phrases like “ultimate no-brainer”, if that gives you an indication of how strongly I feel about this. When you know that the best argument to vote against this issue is either a lie or amounts to “do it out of spite”, it’s pretty clear that YES on Home Rule is the only rational choice.
I know it’s going to sound like I’m dodging a commitment here, but once again I find that there’s not much specific I can say in answer to this question while staying within the limitations of the open meeting law. There are projects likely to come before Council for debate before long, so that’s just too close. The best I can offer is to reaffirm the position that I have taken and will continue to take with any project or issue that comes before Council. That is, my first and most important criterion is the degree to which it will help, hinder, or have no effect on achieving a sustainable community, building a sustainable economy, and/or ensuring a sustainable future. Sometimes that calculus is pretty straightforward and obvious, and sometimes it can be complicated and reliant on a fair amount of life experience and intuition. But that’s my methodology, and I promise to keep applying it as thoughtfully as I can.
At pretty much the same altitude, latitude, and longitude. But I suspect you weren’t looking for a literal answer. And that provides me with an opening for a closing statement, so thanks for that, Tommy. And for giving all of us candidates this unlimited space to speak to your readers.