Gov. Doug Ducey recently took notice of Gilbert’s prestige by featuring its mayor in a kind of fireside chat before officials from across Arizona.
But it wasn’t just the town that Ducey was indirectly citing as he and Mayor Jenn Daniels sat down for a discussion of topics like economic development, trade with Mexico and school safety at the League of Arizona Cities and Towns’ annual conference Aug. 23.
“Mayor Daniels is a rising star and the town of Gilbert, which was just named one of the best cities for business, is one of Arizona’s best success stories,” said Patrick Ptak, the governor’s spokesman in an email. “We are thankful for her leadership and partnership.”
He added Ducey and Daniels share many priorities — including job creation, investing in Arizona classrooms and making communities safer.
Daniels said she was surprised the governor picked her to ask him the questions during the discussion and humbly surmised it’s because she’s been around for a long time — 10 years in elected office.
“I’m on the Municipal Tax Code Commission, one of the governor’s commissions,” Daniels added. “And I have worked closely with his office on city issues alongside the league.”
The Municipal Tax Code Commission comprises a Department of Revenue representative and nine mayors or council members from cities or towns that have adopted the model city tax code. Daniels is one of five appointed by the governor.
When told the governor considered her a promising political figure, Daniels said she has no aspirations for higher office. “It’s very kind of them,” she said. “I really love being the mayor of Gilbert. I’m up for re-election next year. I’ve not made any announcement but I’m running again.”
“We have the opportunity to serve,” she said. “And if we keep doing what we are asked to do by our residents and voters and serve to the best of our ability to meet their needs, that is the entire goal of leadership.”
Ducey isn’t the only one taking note of the town’s standing.
Gilbert consistently ranks high in the country for its quality of life — safety, education and job opportunities.
“Gilbert is a beacon of economic development for other cities and towns,” said Matt Lore, League spokesman. “If you look at the last 10 years, they are definitely a forerunner and other cities and towns look at them as quite an example. They’ve been doing some innovative things in economic development.”
The mayor said the list of questions for the fireside chat was a collaboration between the governor’s office and Rene Guillen, the town’s intergovernmental relations director.
“It was issues that are pertinent with cities and towns and issues the governor is definitely interested in as well,” Daniels said.
The platform allowed the governor to recap the 2019 Legislative session and tout his accomplishments over the past four years — signing the DroughCongency Plan, giving pay raises to teachers and going from a $1 billion deficit to financial stability and one of the nation’s five fastest growing states.
“We are in a spot where we do have financial strength and we should be thinking about the future of the state of Arizona, the kids, public health, public safety, all the things that need to be addressed,” Ducey said at the event.
One question involved school safety and state and local governments' roles.
“I know you have three sons,” Daniels said. “I have four kids in the public school system and when I look and see what’s happened in many of our American cities, including in Arizona, we know that this isn’t a what-if scenario in any community in the entire country. It could happen in any of our communities and we’re just hyper aware of that.”
Ducey stressed that every one has a role in terms of school safety.
“But no one can do more than our mayors, our elected leaders at the Legislature and on the state level regarding this issue,” he said. “We know that we are not immune to this in Arizona. And oftentimes I think there, but for the grace of God, go we.”
He said Arizona has taken steps to be pro-active, including allocating an additional $20 million over the last two years for cops and counselors in schools and improving background checks.
But mental health also needs to be addressed, he said.
“We talked this week about suicide prevention and the statistics are staggering all among our youth, our veterans and our elderly,” he said. “Something is wrong. I think there is a real crisis of the heart and of the soul inside our nation in many ways. We can do and take steps to address this.”
The governor proposed a Severe Threat Orders of Protection or STOP order last year that would keep guns out of the hands of those who pose a lethal threat, a tool for law enforcement and school leaders that Ducey said could prevent mass tragedies in schools.
Although he couldn’t drum up support for the proposal, he reportedly is pushing for some sort of red-flag law.
“If there is one thing you take away from this session today, it’s that awareness that we need to have on the ground, that idea that any citizen, if they see something, should say something,” he said.
“This is not just somebody else’s business or something to be ignored. This is something we need to address. There are things we can do from a public policy standpoint, from a family standpoint, and then from a national conversation standpoint. But it’s going to start at the local level first and there’s no reason that Arizona couldn’t lead on this issue and help but fix this very dire problem.”
Daniels said she couldn’t agree with him more, noting it was a call to action for everyone.
“I would love to see us take up this as a statewide cause,” she said. “One life is too many, one incident is too many for us to be dealing with as a state. Let’s elevate, especially our youth but all those vulnerable populations and ensure that they understand we care and want to do something about that.”