Sales tax dipped in March, likely dropped further in April

City Financial Director Jeanette Parrales reported during Wednesday’s meeting of the Nogales City Council that sales tax revenues for March 2020 retail sales in the city were about $18,000 less than those for March 2019.

Even so, she said, the city was still ahead of its revenue forecasts for fiscal year 2020 and revenues exceeded expenditures for the fiscal year to date, which began in July 2019.

“This fiscal year we’re in good shape… next year will be more challenging,” she told the mayor and council.

Parrales said that sales tax collections for April transactions would probably be “quite a bit less” than April 2019. She said it was too early to tell, but, pressed for an estimate by Councilman Marcelino Varona, Jr., she said sales tax revenues for coming months could be half of collections made in previous years.

Parrales did not respond to a request for the sales tax revenues by the NI’s press deadline at 5 p.m. on Thursday.

She also told council members that she was planning to prepare a draft of the fiscal year 2021 budget by the following Monday.

Rule change: Manager must communicate with council on hiring

Also on Wednesday, the mayor and council approved a pair of changes to the city personnel manual that give the council more oversight over the city manager’s operating and hiring decisions.

The changes come after months of clashes between City Manager Eddie Johnson and elected officials, with both sides accusing the other of overreaching their powers.

City Attorney Mike Massee wrote the proposed changes in response to council directions at an April 23 meeting.

The first adds a section stating: “Administrative authority delegated by the city council to the city manager or other staff pursuant to these rules is subject to discretionary review by the city council.”

That seemed directed at a previous squabble over whether the manager or council had the authority to modify employee work schedules. During an April meeting, council members talked about telling Johnson to walk back a move that kept half the city staff home due to coronavirus safety concerns, but the council didn’t take any action.

Johnson said during that meeting that he would consider any direction from the council “not legal.”

The second change establishes rules for a hiring process that requires the Human Resources department to share the names and resumes of finalists for some city jobs with the mayor and council.

Under the new rules, if the manager doesn’t want to hire any of the finalists, she or he is supposed to “restart the recruitment process.”

That appeared to be a direct shot at Johnson’s decision to hire Micah Gaudet to head the Nogales Housing Authority after Gaudet interviewed – but wasn’t hired – for a different job at the city and Johnson rejected three other finalists for NHA director. Gaudet previously worked with Johnson at the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office and was hired over three applicants with local connections.

Mayor Arturo Garino and council members have repeatedly complained about Gaudet’s hiring.

Massee said the purpose of the rule change was to make the hiring process “more transparent.”

Varona, who complained about Johnson at the April 23 meeting, saying that the city manager “is not the dictator of this community,” insisted that the purpose of the changes wasn’t to “usurp” the manager’s authority.

Anti-abortion resolution draws protesters, then gets tabled – again

Protest

People protest outside City Hall on Wednesday against a resolution championed by Councilman Marcelino Varona, Jr. that would declare Nogales a “sanctuary city for the unborn.” Varona ulrimately tabled the proposal for a second time, but vowed to bring it back.

Approximately 15 people gathered on the steps of City Hall as Wednesday’s meeting was getting underway to protest a resolution championed by Varona that would declare Nogales a “sanctuary city for the unborn.”

Some held signs bearing slogans such as “Focus on COVID, not this” and “A yes vote on resolution = a no vote 4 U.” The protesters also posted dozens of post-it notes on the windows surrounding the City Hall entrance, some of which read, “It’s not your job,” “We have a health crisis, concentrate on that,” “Mind your own uterus” and “Están locos!”

But when the council arrived at the agenda item to discuss the resolution, Varona asked for it to be tabled and brought back at “the appropriate time” so that “everybody has equal opportunity to express their thoughts” about the issue.

Community members couldn’t speak in the council chambers on Wednesday because City Hall closed to visitors in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. When Varona put the resolution on the agenda for the first time in March, a number of people took to the podium during the call to the public to denounce the measure.

He asked for it to be tabled at that council session as well.

At this week's meeting, Varona read aloud two letters that he said he’d received about the resolution, neither of which was supportive of the move. He said he’d received a third letter in support of the resolution, but didn’t read it aloud.

An email to the city clerk and city manager requesting records of any comments that had been submitted to the city regarding items on the council meeting agenda was not returned.

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