“Buckeye Then and Now” is not simply a book written by Mayor Jackie Meck’s wife, Verlyne Meck.
The story of Buckeye’s past and present is also very close to the story of Jackie Meck, born and raised in what was once a small town.
“When I was growing up in Buckeye, the population was 1,200 — and I don’t know how many dogs can chickens and cats were counted to get up to the 1,200,” said Meck, 78.
“So, yes it’s changed quite a bit.”
Likely the highlight for Buckeye in 2019 was being named “America’s fastest-growing city.”
Buckeye came in number one on the U.S. Census Bureau’s fastest-growing cities with populations greater than 50,000. It was fifth in 2018, and Meck expects fast growth to continue in 2020.
According to the census bureau, from July 1, 2017, to July 1, 2018, Buckeye’s population increased by 8.5%, to 74,370. Meck said the latest estimates were over 85,000.
“I just talked to the economic development director this morning,” Meck said, in a slow, farmer’s drawl. “He said (Buckeye’s population) is 85,000 and building permits will be over 2,500 when we finish this year.
“The way we’re going, the next year to year-and-a-half we will be over 100,000.”
Though he definitely has his old-school ways, and speaks and dresses like a tidy ranch manager, Meck is not only observant of change, he embraces it.
He even tries to speed up progress.
Meck’s face lit up when he talked about turning Buckeye into a “smart city,” with developers adding fiber optic cables before they build. And he dreams of bringing more medical facilities, perhaps even a hospital, to his hometown.
Born a few blocks from city hall, Meck has been Buckeye’s mayor since 2008. He was previously mayor from 1973-75, and served on Buckeye City Council from 1968 to 1975. “What we had were tiny issues compared to today,” he said.
On the flip side of Buckeye’s fastest-growing city title and positive publicity: negative news involving the Buckeye Police Department.
In June, two years after an anonymous letter accusing the Buckeye Police Department of misdeeds was sent to the media and city officials, an independent investigation firm hired by the city determined the Buckeye Police artificially lowered crime rates.
Related to the investigation, James Virgadamo, a former police sergeant, resigned when faced with termination, according to a city press release. And Buckeye Police Chief Larry Hall served a 40-hour suspension in November 2018 for oversight deficiencies and “unbecoming conduct.”
Meck addressed the issue, both indirectly and directly.
“At our new-staff orientation, I tell new employees, ‘If we didn’t do anything, we did nothing wrong.’ You make no mistakes when you’re doing nothing,” Meck said.
“So let’s say we made a mistake and see if we can’t benefit from whatever that mistake was.”
Asked if he was confident the issues at the police department were corrected, Meck answered, “Absolutely. It was taken care of in this particular situation and I’m satisfied. I’m very pleased with our entire staff.”
One of the challenges he faces in 2020 is dealing with growth, he acknowledged.
“Since I became mayor over the last 14 years, this has been unbelievable, major change,” he said.
“I accept all changes.”
While new homes are sprouting up in Buckeye like lettuce, Meck is planting seeds for Buckeye businesses - big businesses.
“The big thing right now is I want manufacturing for jobs, it’s what we’re really pushing for more than anything,” Meck said.
“We need to look 50 to 100 years down the road so what do we do today we do for tomorrow. It’s critical to me.”
As Buckeye approaches 100,000 population, Meck expects the city to be even more enticing to large-scale employers. He dreams of not only production facilities but medical operations, including a large hospital.
“We’ve got a lot of people looking at us; I say they’re kicking tires. So hopefully we’ll get some of those,” Meck said, with a smile. “I think what Goodyear is doing is going to spill over to us.”
He said he jokes by telling Goodyear Mayor Georgia Lord he’s jealous of the hundreds of jobs erupting within Buckeye’s neighbor to the east.
Whatever Buckeye development happens beyond 2020, it won’t be on Meck’s watch.
His current term as mayor ends one year from now. “I’m not running again,” he said.
“It’s time for younger people to be the leaders of Buckeye.”
Meck and his wife of 57 years, Verlyne, have three grown children and four grandchildren. The mayor flipped through a copy of his wife’s book and finds a group photo of children. “That’s me and my wife,” he said.
A few years after the photo was taken, Jackie was in seventh grade when he met Verlyne again. “I went home and told my mother, ‘I just seen this brown-eyed girl. That’s who I’m going to marry.’ She said, ‘What’s her name?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. But she has brown eyes and I’m going to marry her.’”
The story of him as a prescient-but-innocent boy is somewhat similar to how he describes Buckeye, his exploding hometown:
“We’re too little to be big and too big to be little.”