The city of Phoenix decided to suspend the city’s vaccine mandate after a federal judge halted President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal contractors. The city based its mandate for its employees under an interpretation of its workforce as federal contractors based on the amount of federal dollars and contractors it had.
The Phoenix City Council was scheduled to discuss their vaccine mandate during a policy session on Tuesday. Since the city announced the mandate’s suspension shortly before the meeting took place, officials instead modified the agenda item to showcase how well the city had handled the pandemic, the timeline of events preceding the mandate, and an explanation why the city classified itself as a federal contractor.
City Manager Jeff Barton offered a prelude to the presentation by insisting that the mandate was decided upon for the greater good.
“The January 18 vaccine mandate was not a city of Phoenix mandate. It was a federal mandate passed onto the city via executive order and with today’s ruling our city has halted implementation,” emphasized Barton. “Our fight against COVID-19 has forced us to be creative and innovative with our service delivery, and at times has forced us to make extremely difficult decisions as public servants for the greater good.”
Barton added that city administrators were “extremely flexible” with their COVID-19 policies for employees throughout the pandemic.
“I value their right to personal choice, religious freedom, and other convictions. But I also have an obligation to ensure the city operates within state and federal laws,” said Barton.
A week after the city announced their mandate, Councilman Sal DiCiccio called for a public vote on the mandate. DiCiccio said that the mandate would only strain further an already critically manned first responder force.
The response of first responders to the mandate was consistent with DiCiccio’s assessment. The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA) and The United Phoenix Firefighters Association (UPFA) joined Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s lawsuit against President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal contractors and employees.
On Monday, Phoenix City Council Member Sal DiCiccio called for the city to put their COVID-19 vaccine mandate to a public vote. In his letter to City Manager Jeffrey Barton, who made the decision to implement the mandate, DiCiccio insisted that the mandate would only further strain their law enforcement staffing numbers.
“This decision will compromise vital citywide services to our residents, including public safety, which this Council has been aware of the alarming crime data and how the city is struggling to hire and retain personnel. A more thorough determination needs to be made on whether, under federal law, the City of Phoenix and it’s 13,000 employees are considered ‘federal contractors’ for the purposes of this mandate,” wrote DiCiccio. “A discussion and vote on this mandate needs to be held in public not behind closed doors. When this Council is mandating city employees to get vaccinated or else lose their job, pension, and years of service, the least this Council can do is be transparent with our employees.”
The city of Phoenix announced its vaccine mandate last week, giving workers until January 18 to comply. Barton reasoned that the city needed to impose the mandate because a majority of their operations are sourced in federal contracts – a class of employees required to be vaccinated under the Biden Administration. They promised $75 for each employee who complied with the mandate by the deadline – a benefit initially introduced earlier this year as an incentive to get vaccinated, now apparently a thank-you for compliance.
First responder associations signaled their support for efforts to fight Phoenix’s mandate. The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA) and The United Phoenix Firefighters Association (UPFA) joined as co-plaintiffs in Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s lawsuit against President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal contractors and employees.
“For us, this issue is not about the vaccine but a concern for the public safety staffing in Phoenix and our members’ right to make their own personal health choices,” stated UPFA. “Forcing first responders out of a job protects no one.”
The PLEA Vice President Yvette Bro asserted that the city mandate would only worsen their staffing shortage.
“We can’t afford to lose one officer,” stated Bro.
City council candidate Sam Stone told AZ Free News that it was unconscionable for city leaders to unilaterally push for a mandate without input from those affected.
“This was a cowardly act by Phoenix politicians,” stated Stone. “They passed the buck because they know vaccine mandates are unpopular, and they want to gut our police force – but aren’t willing to take the blame for either of their poor decisions. Councilman DiCiccio is spot on to call for a public vote.”
Stone also insisted that city employees aren’t federal contractors, tweeting that the legal basis for the mandate was “bunk.” He warned AZ Free News that this mandate would grant the federal government more control over local government.
“Further, the city of Phoenix is not a federal contractor. Forget COVID for a minute, this sets a horrific precedent giving the federal government control over our cities and towns,” said Stone.
This week, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and Councilwoman Yassamin Ansari are attending the United Nation’s (UN) COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland. The conference began Sunday and will last until next Friday. The attendees are meeting with the objective of realizing the Paris Agreement through finalization of the Paris Rulebook and acting on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Gallego’s spokespersons informed AZ Free News that the city didn’t pay for Gallego’s trip – the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group paid, a global network of nearly 100 mayors that collaborate on climate solutions. In May, Gallego was elected the vice chair for C40’s steering committee.
Ansari’s spokespersons didn’t respond by press time.
Gallego told Business Journal that she would be networking with companies who may potentially invest in the city. In a statement posted to Twitter, Gallego explained that this conference would bring fresh ideas on climate change initiatives to Phoenix, as well as serve as an opportunity to share some of Phoenix’s initiatives, like their cool pavement installations. “Excited to be attending the UN #COP26 Climate Summit. Phoenix is an innovative leader on climate solutions,” wrote Gallego. “We’ll share our success, and learn about successes from cities around the globe. #TogetherForOurPlanet”
Ansari’s message concerning her attendance reflected more urgency, claiming that lives were at stake. “After spending years working to get elected officials to commit to bold climate solutions, I’m heading to Glasgow for #COP26 proud to represent District 7 in Phoenix,” wrote Ansari. “We just passed our #climateaction plan. Lives are at stake— it’s time to implement.”
Prior to her election to city council, Ansari served as a climate advisor for the UN. She attributed her work as crucial to delivering the Paris Agreement in 2015.
The pair will discuss Phoenix’s climate initiatives, including their $2.8 million Heat Response and Mitigation Office. The purpose of the office is to reduce the effects of urban heat, a phenomenon in which urbanization causes higher temperatures. Phoenix is the only city that has an office dedicated to these efforts.
Phoenix’s latest climate action plan was approved last month. The city pledged to certain goals, such as becoming 100 percent carbon-neutral by 2050, eliminating all food deserts, and establishing 100 years of clean and reliable water supplies.
The COP26 conference claims that climate change is the greatest threat facing the world. Two of the goals listed were reaching net zero for emissions and limiting global warming by 1.5 degrees. The UN claimed in their promotional video for COP26 that “Earth is sending a message that we must not ignore.” They showed pictures of various natural disasters, mixed with happy scenes from nature.
“What is COP? The potential threat to the surrounding natural environment, what the UN is calling the world’s first climate change famine,” said the conference promotional video. “Even on our warming planet there are reasons for hope. We need to have the courage to try. There are going to be a lot more jobs created in the economy. Climate change is not the problem, climate change is the expression of the problem.”
Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MSCO) responded to criticisms from Phoenix City Council member Sal DiCiccio over their practice of stopping traffic to allow an NFL convoy through. DiCiccio submitted a letter to law enforcement on Tuesday, along with a series of posts on Facebook and Twitter to express his grievances with the practice. DiCiccio noted that he would assure this doesn’t happen again in his district in the future.
“This type of action is at the very least an inconvenience to our hard-working taxpayers. Granting special privileges to a select few is unacceptable in my district,” wrote DiCiccio. “This action also creates a great danger for our first responders during emergency calls as they are responding to critical life and death situations. Phoenix residents are already experiencing an increase in response times, worsened by this unnecessary action of special privilege that only hinders the ability for our first responders to answer calls, perhaps to save lives.”
MSCO was escorting a convoy of four or five buses carrying the Houston Texans football team. The councilmember called it a “special privilege for some really special people.”
Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone wasted no time issuing a response. Several hours after DiCiccio published his letter, Penzone sent back a letter of his own.
Penzone noted that their method of escorting professional athletic teams has been a regular practice for a little over a decade, one to two years before DiCiccio was elected. He asked DiCiccio why he hadn’t questioned the practice in years past, and whether the councilman actually had the authority to single-handedly stop this practice. Penzone also explained that the practice was necessary to protect visiting teams from hostility, as well as fines from the NFL due to tardiness. The sheriff estimated that the entire procession delayed regular traffic by about one to two minutes.
“In my estimation, the time allotted to your inconvenience was similar to, or less than the time you spent complaining on your social network platforms. When I calculate that time spent and the time I am now spending to respond to your petty complaint, I recognize the taxpayers deserve more from our time,” wrote Penzone.
Less than an hour later, DiCiccio shot back a response claiming that the sheriff’s remarks were dismissive of citizen concerns. “Crazy, now you know why there are two sets of rules, one for normal hard-working citizens and then the other for the elites,” wrote DiCiccio. “Sheriff Penzone came back saying he doesn’t care about the citizens of the district. He will continue stopping traffic so that his privileged players can skip through all the lights and hold up citizens in traffic.”
Penzone didn’t reply to DiCiccio’s response by press time.
The city of Phoenix set aside $2.8 million for its new Heat Response and Mitigation Office, an initiative to reduce temperatures in the metro area. The city set aside the exact same amount to address its homeless population and offer affordable housing in this year’s budget, as well as similar amounts for various community building enterprises and administrative accountability.
On Monday, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego appeared on PBS’s Arizona Horizonto discuss the city’s Heat Response and Mitigation Office, a newly-launched local government sector to tackle dangers posed by urban heat, a phenomenon in which urbanization causes higher temperatures. Gallego explained that a major complaint from her constituents concerned the extreme temperatures in cities within the valley.
“When you’re mayor in the summer people are like, ‘When are you going to do something about the heat?’ And all my colleagues [in] city council got that [question] as well, so now we’re finally doing something,” said Gallego.
Gallego also mentioned the urban heat mitigation efforts would assist the most vulnerable, likely alluding to the homeless populations. Phoenix has an estimated 7,500 homeless people. According to the latest U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) report on homelessness published in January, however, Arizona has nearly 11,000 homeless people. HUD also reported that between 2019 and 2020, Arizona experienced one of the largest increases in the homeless population.
Leading Phoenix’s new Heat Response and Mitigation Office will be Arizona State University (ASU) Associate Professor David Hondula. Hondula teaches in the same School of Sustainability that was attended by Sarra Tekola, the PhD student who targeted and harassed two white male students over occupation of a multicultural center last month.
In the Arizona Horizon interview, Hondula explained that inner cities experience higher temperatures than the surrounding areas.
“The urban heat island is a process that leads to temperatures in the center of cities being higher than in the surrounding areas because of the way we build our cities and the types of activities that are concentrated in them, like driving lots of vehicles and operating lots of air conditioners,” explained Hondula.
Gallego explained that several pilot programs preceded the Heat Response and Mitigation Office, such as an initiative to introduce lighter-colored pavements.
According to the mayor, initiatives will include the addition of vegetation into the city, modifying building codes to allow for more sustainable and heat-resistant materials, and even redesigning the city to make it more heat-resistant.
Hondula expressed hope that they could create a cooler metro area, even with climate change.
Arizona summers reach regular highs between 110 to 120 degrees. The hottest day in recent history occurred on June 26, 1990, when temperatures reached 122 degrees.