Elections are the quintessential expression of being an American. In the month celebrating our country’s independence, it seems apropos to highlight new candidates for Prescott City Council, citizens who are taking the leap of seeking public service in our community.
The 2021 Prescott election features more new faces than in past years, with a contested mayoral race and three Council seats open and six candidates vying for them. The issues of development and water have churned up the political waters as new subdivisions spring up around Prescott and the Granite Dells development deal nears its final months of negotiation. Here we profile the candidates who haven’t previously run for office.
With the primary ballots coming in the mail this month, we salute the candidates and the voters who will decide who will best represent “Everybody’s Hometown.”
Hall Focuses on Smart Business
Jessica Hall, 33, moved to Prescott at age 11 and graduated six months early from high school to start attending Arizona State University, earning an accounting degree. Now a Certified Public Accountant, her primary role is as a consultant for businesses.
Parent to “Irish twins” born 14 months apart, she’s a working mother who gave birth to her second son while earning her master’s degree, running Prescott County Club in Dewey with her husband, and keeping the books for her father’s commercial real-estate investment company.
She and her husband Jeff bought the bankrupt country club in 2011 and worked together to revive the failing golf course, restaurant and clubhouse, standalone businesses that gain no revenue from the development around them. After succeeding in making the business profitable, they sold it in 2017 and moved to Prescott. Now they focus on buying a couple of modest houses a year, remodeling them and renting them.
Hall said it was important to them to be in Prescott, to raise their children and be a part of the community. With their children now older, she says she wants to do more in service to Prescott, and decided last November to run for Council.
“My accounting background, I think, is going to be the number one asset,” Hall said. “Prescott has a $238 million-dollar budget, a massive number that has to be taken seriously.” Her accounting background, knowledge about financial statements and cash flow, budgeting and forecasting, she says, represent “what my strength will be coming to Council.”
Like most candidates, Hall says growth and water are the issues that matter most in this election.
“It's our duty as Council members to make sure that we negotiate the best possible deal,” Hall says. “As someone that's been in property negotiations before and having done some larger acquisitions … it's a process of compromise if we're going to get an upside for the City. Because if you don't negotiate, and you don't leave those doors open, we have the potential of them walking away. And then if we lose, we lose the opportunity to manage that right, and to have our opinion of what we would like to see built and how many homes and what size … to make sure we keep the changes to Prescott to be as much like Prescott as we can.”
With regard to water, Hall said she thinks Prescott’s conservation practices are a positive step, and that working with developers to ensure that homes are connected to the water supply rather than on wells is necessary to good management.
“The second you have to pay for water on a meter instead of a well, you’re managing your conservation,” Hall said. “You are saying maybe I’m not going to leave the hose on the bouncy castle, or do certain (wasteful) things. So if there's an opportunity for us to annex and for us to be able to meter that water, I would much rather it come from the City. Then we can meter, bill and recharge. That's ten times better than any other situation of individual (management).”\
Another issue important to Hall is ensuring small-business success and adding higher-paying jobs in Prescott.
“We don't talk a lot about our economic development in Prescott,” Hall said. “We're unique in that so much of our revenue comes from other people … we get to use the weekenders’ money, (those who) come up here and shop and eat and stay, and then we get to spend it back into the city. So we have a massive upper hand when it comes to that in the sense that we should also be supporting our businesses. (We need to do) more to encourage businesses to open and (help them) be staffed, because that’s one of their biggest obstacles right now. I would love to see us, as a Council, figure out how we can work more in concert and be more supportive of our local businesses.”
Montoya Offers Businesslike Approach, More Openness
Brandon Montoya, 36, is a Prescott native who made good in his hometown by creating Montoya Wealth Management with his business partner and wife, Erica Ryberg (who has written for this paper). He’s the father of two, active in the Frontier Rotary Club, and now a driven candidate.
Montoya started thinking about public service after attending the year-long Prescott Area Leadership program, which teaches people involved in the community about the City, local issues and how to be a leader. He started by joining the Rotary Club, and was later elected president.
The Prescott City Council’s decision not to hold an election for a vacated City Council seat — instead appointing a new member — clinched his decision to run.
“A crystallizing moment for me was when I saw what happened with Billie Orr’s vacant seat,” Montoya said. “I was pretty disappointed with how the City Council leadership handled that decision. At the point where it’s acceptable to appoint someone for 33 months without an election, something’s gone wrong with the leadership of the City that they think that’s okay.”
Montoya said he had conversations with a lot of people before he made the big step.
“I said it might not be the most convenient time in my life to do this, but Rotary … has a motto: Service Above Self,” Montoya said. “That’s a big driver for me as I go into this thing, I’m going to take a very technocratic approach — I want to help make my community better.”
The high rate of development growth is at the top of Montoya’s list of issues.
“If you look at the trendlines, Prescott has been growing by more than 4% every year since 2018,” Montoya said, noting that the city’s General Plan calls for 1-2% growth. “There’s been a real snap up in terms of the growth trajectory in our community, and people notice it in a way that they didn’t before. There are more cars on the road and more traffic.” Montoya advocates “ratcheting down” growth through City policy.
Water also ranks at the top of Montoya’s concerns, since the issues are linked.
“How you solve the growth picture is you look really hard at how we allocate water for development,” Montoya said. “I think a lot of people are aware that the City of Prescott made a pretty significant change in how water allocation was being done for new development, and that has allowed for more development to happen. I think that was a pretty hasty choice.”
Montoya said that the Prescott community’s efforts to conserve water — leading to lower use with more residents — is being cited as an excuse to allow more developments access to water. He favors a strategic plan for water conservation that incorporates ongoing cooperation between the City, residents and property developers. He said that requires active water management, with goals and benchmarks.
“When I started my business in 2016, what I noticed right away was that if I didn’t set goals and benchmarks for what I wanted to do, it was really impossible to know if I was succeeding or failing,” Montoya said. “Right now the City’s conservation policy is very much ad hoc. There’s no strategic plan where you can go to the city’s website and say, oh, this is where we are, this is how many gallons per person per household we’re using in a given year.”
Montoya said although the area uses less than the allowable amount of water per person, it could conserve more by setting metrics and measuring success, which is important especially because of the drought.
Along with growth and water, Montoya said he’s concerned about the City’s lack of transparency, as exhibited in how citizens aren’t allowed to speak on issues that aren’t on the agenda at each meeting, and when they are allowed, their time is short — usually two minutes. In addition, the Council often discusses issues in executive session, and citizens get the impression that decisions are made behind closed doors instead of in the meetings. He wants to change the perception that deals are done in backrooms.
“There’s some power in directly petitioning your government,” Montoya said. “That’s why it’s enumerated as a right in the Constitution. So I think kind of whitewashing it and saying you can send an email to the City and we put things on Facebook — those are great things to do, but we need to have a way for people to directly show up and directly bend the ear of the Council.”
He mentioned the Save the Dells organization as an example of a grassroots effort by citizens that has had positive impact on shaping development.
“It was a lot of people coming together and saying, ‘We expect better from our Council than just not doing any negotiation.’ … It’s a real example of that accountability of elected officials to the public.”
Montoya said that as a Millennial he thinks people from his generation deserve a chance to live and work in the town where they grew up, but the lack of affordable housing and opportunities has driven most of his classmates away.
“I can count on one hand the number of kids I went to high school with who are still here, and some of those people are leaving because with what they make here, they can’t afford to live here,” Montoya said. He hopes to help create opportunities and seek workforce housing solutions.
Along with tackling big issues, Montoya thinks the City could do a better job with its website, as well as its relationship with the public. He expects that purchasing the new city hall and consolidating offices from several areas will centralize operations and possibly make it more responsive.
“I’m a real big believer in democracy and the Constitution, and they’re sacred to me,” Montoya said. “(I ask) what are unique and different ways that we can approach making City government more accessible, more usable, more friendly to people?”
Moore Believes ‘Good’ Growth, Open Government Needed
A busy day for Eric Moore means filling in for a manager whose wife had a baby and covering for a sick employee as he deals with a steady flow of customers at his Prescott store, Jay’s Bird Barn. In recent days he’s spent a lot of time at events related to his campaign for Prescott City Council.
He talked about how he has refocused his life from business to civic involvement, in part by closing a profitable branch of the store in Flagstaff to reduce the amount of time away from Prescott. His wife Gayla helps run the store behind the scenes as a bookkeeper, something she did even as they raised six children, two of them adopted. When Moore was approached about running for office, he’d already been thinking about it for years due to worries about development in the Granite Dells.
When he’s not working or campaigning, Moore writes a regular local column about birding and spends time every week on nature hikes. He’s concerned about the environment and the fauna within it — and that influences his views on what he considers the top issue: growth in Prescott.
“As the owner of a business and in talking to hundreds of people every week, I can tell you that’s their top issue, too,”Moore said. “The second is water, because we’re in the middle of a long-term drought and the way we’re using water is not sustainable.”
Moore said he’s willing to do the work to find the best solutions for dealing with both.
“I’m an expert in bird seed … it would be wrong for me to say I have all the solutions, and I can’t make promises, but I think anyone in politics has to get educated on the issues,” Moore said.
Moore’s vision of growth involves integrating it into the environment.
“Growth has to be manageable, it has to be sustainable, it has to be environmentally friendly, it has to be waterwise,” Moore said. “As a resident of Prescott you’re not blind to the fact that the development in Deep Well Ranch is the opposite, because they’re blading 100% of the habitat. They’re removing every tree, shrub, bush, rock, grass, removing every lizard, snake, bird, coyote, squirrel, rabbit, javelina that lived there. That’s wrong. That’s not good growth.”
The density of housing developments is concerning to Moore, who says that water will be an issue for a long time to come.
“There’s just a lot of concern from the community at large; I hear that people don’t feel like they’re being listened to and they’re not involved in the public-comment process. Oftentimes the public-comment process is very short, or there’s very little notification. … It seems like some of our public officials feel like ‘you elected us, so we’re representing you,’ but they’re not listening to the people.”
Calling himself a “moderate centrist,” Moore praised the city parks, the trails system and efforts to work toward creating a regional park in the Granite Dells.
“I think that needs to be an important part of the next Council's agenda, to shepherd that process,” Moore said. “We can help bring the City and the County together and move the state trust land into it. We need to work together to create a regional park and connect that to the property the City owns.”
Moore calls affordable housing a critical issue in Prescott, but difficult to address.
“I believe in infill,” Moore said. “I think there are areas in town, particularly maybe underserved areas in town ... and maybe we could increase the density of small houses.”
Moore said that encouraging the relocation of low-impact, high-technology businesses to the area would help keep some of the young people from moving away, while benefiting the City.
“That’s good growth,” Moore said.
Quezada Works to Contribute
A Prescott native since age four, Grant Quezada started his first business at 17 selling aftermarket auto parts. He moved on to hairdressing school in Missouri and worked for Vidal Sassoon, a top salon. He later joined the military and married a girl from back home after basic training.
After serving for eight years in Special Operations over six tours of Afghanistan, he returned home in 2014 and started working in the haircutting business, eventually opening John Hancock Barbershop in November of that year. With a partner he opened Founding Fathers Collective on Granite Street in October 2020, which includes the barbershop and five other businesses.
Quezada said he wants to give back to the community. He has done that so far as a board member of Prescott Area Young Professionals and the YMCA, as well as Young Life, a campus ministry program.
Quezada cites growth and water as two key issues in the campaign. He says he learned from working with the City and people in the private sector when he was building his current business with his partner — an extensive project that involved multiple business entities and licenses — that he has a grasp of dealing with long-term issues.
“There’s no quick or easy answer,” Quezada said. “It's just an ongoing collaboration with private and public sectors and individuals who have the knowledge and know how to solve those issues.”
Quezada said maintaining Prescott’s values is important to him, too. He said people come to Prescott for the small-town feeling, its friendliness and its natural beauty.
“Probably one of the biggest things that we need to address, and always be at the forefront of our minds, is how do we continue to grow in perpetuity with the next generation in mind … and grow without losing who we actually are as a community, like th core values, the principles, the ethics of what makes up the area.”
At age 37, Quezada said he realizes his generation is not as involved as the seniors in the community, and pointed out that the average voting age in Prescott is 72. He’d like to change that.
“When you think politics, everybody thinks at a national level, okay, we're dealing with DC, we're dealing with Democrats, Republicans and those issues way over there. So (younger people) kind of just remove themselves from the equation when it comes to what is actually happening at a local level, whether it's being productive and helping out or just simply educating themselves on what the issues are, and what's going on and how to be involved. Part of that, too, is younger people tend to be at that stage in life where they’re working jobs and raising families … a byproduct of that is they’re just not that involved.”
Quezada said that Prescott needs to have affordable housing for younger families, too, which has become an issue with the wave of newcomers who are leaving cities in the wake of Covid. He mentioned that his wife works with a nurse practitioner who lives in Rimrock and commutes to Prescott because she can’t afford any of the housing available.
“Now we have this massive influx of people moving here, and homes have just skyrocketed in price because the demand is so high, so how do we actually provide some level of affordable living for those families looking to be first-time homeowners? What might that look like?”