Bookshelf Intellectualism

by John Washington on May 31, 2017

In a column that ran recently in “the other so-called newspaper” in Scottsdale, the editor regurgitated nonsensical remarks by Jim Bruner, which Bruner had delivered at a reception for city board and commission volunteer appointees.

Scottsdale’s boards and commissions are SUPPOSED to vet issues and provide citizen-oriented recommendations to the mayor and City Council when those elected officials are asked to approve impactful development and/or financial matters.

In his remarks, Bruner edified the peasants of Scottsdale by dusting off his copy of Alexis de Tocqueville‘s Democracy in America to lecture us that Scottsdale’s Indian Bend Wash Greenbelt was a good idea that didn’t originate in government.

And then he goes on to say, that means it is good to volunteer to be part of government, via appointment to boards and commissions. Which may be a true statement, but there’s no logical connection.

In fact, current reality shows that the utter dysfunction of Scottsdale’s boards and commissions has led to ongoing rancor at city council meetings by residents whose quality of life had been infringed by giveaways to private businesses owned by political campaign contributors; giveaways such as zoning concessions, tax abatements, no-bid contracts, no-bid sales of taxpayer-owned assets, and outright cash subsidies.

This rancor is one of the things that our boards and commissions are supposed to reduce, by engaging residents early in the processes of government that may affect their quality of life, and by transmitting these concerns to the city council in advance of that body’s public hearings of such matters.

It’s a shame that Scottsdale’s boards and commissions have –through general appointment of the council majority, rather than direct appointments by the individual council members– become merely rubber stamps for the council majority. Rare is the occasion when a board or commission recommends to the council that they reject the above-listed ‘incentives.’

There are a lot of well-meaning folks appointed to boards and commissions, but anyone who thinks they are going to make a difference by holding staff to the letter and spirit of the Scottsdale City Charter and the citizen-ratified Scottsdale General Plan is woefully naive. Worse yet are those who apply only to advance themselves, many of whom have never even read those documents.

In fact, Bruner referenced such individuals in his remarks:

Volunteers must be volunteering for the right reasons. They must believe in the mission of whatever the group is and want to help. I have worked with volunteers, as I’m sure most of you have, that are in it for themselves, either personal or business gain. You can spot these a mile away — have “phony” stamped on their forehead. Most of these type of volunteers aren’t very effective and don’t last very long.

I had the opportunity to witness some of these folks in-action in a recent Planning Commission meeting. The Planning Commission has for years been stacked with a pack of back-scratching sycophants from real estate developers to architects. It is perhaps the most dysfunctional of all Scottsdale’s boards and commissions, relative to its stated goals.

The item under consideration was a live-entertainment use permit for a 1000-patron event venue located about 300 yards from my home in a single-family neighborhood in Downtown Scottsdale. Two of the commissioners, Kelsey Young and Prescott Smith, all but broke out their pom-poms to cheer for developer Tom Frenkel.

Young and Smith parsed the public comments of concerned citizens and tried to use those comments against them to undercut opposition to the development, rather than hearing and heeding the concerns of the neighboring residents who will literally have to live with the irritation and nuisance of this project.

Kelsey Young is a real estate broker and landlord. Young was nominated to her Planning Commission seat by Wells Fargo banker and city council member Linda Milhaven. Prior to her election to council, Milhaven was an underling of disgraced Wells Fargo account cramming architect, Pam Conboy. Milhaven was also the chairman of the board of the Scottsdale Cultural Council (now “Scottsdale Arts”), one of the most egregious taxpayer-funded black holes in the city. Scottsdale Arts is a private business that has a 20-year, no-bid contract with the city, and it gets free rent in taxpayer-owned facilities, along with a handsome $4 million-plus annual taxpayer-funded subsidy… all for a contract which contains zero objective deliverables.

Prescott Smith was nominated by developer wannabe and council member Virginia Korte. Prescott also just happens to be the “Director of Community Outreach & Public Affairs” for Technical Solutions, a mercenary group that does promotion and dirty political tricks for developers. Technical Solutions is owned by former Scottsdale city council member Susan Bitter Smith, who is also now the former chair of the Arizona Corporation Commission. Bitter Smith resigned in disgrace after it was revealed that she neglected to disclose that she was a paid lobbyist for telecommunications interests in the state that were also regulated by the ACC. The developer of the project under consideration, Tom Frenkel, is also a business associate of Virginia Korte.

Turning our attention back to author Jim Bruner; he has a long history of “public service” through elected office, and a (perhaps) not-coincidental elevation of his own station and finances.

Bruner is a banker (senior vice president of Mutual of Omaha Bank, formerly chairman and president of Northern Trust Bank of Arizona), and a lawyer (Snell & Wilmer).

Bruner was also

Elected for two terms on both the Scottsdale City Council and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, Bruner served as chairman [of the Supervisors] on two separate occasions.

Pursuing his interest in bringing a major league baseball franchise to Arizona, he successfully persuaded Jerry Colangelo to form an ownership group. Bruner cast the deciding vote that implemented the funding mechanism for a county-owned stadium, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, now called Chase Field.

While a county supervisor, he also served for three and a half years as chairman of the Maricopa County Stadium District [which handles– or mishandles– finances for several taxpayer-owned stadiums].

I don’t know about you, but to my ear that paragraph is rife with conflicts of interest.

So, to the esteemed Mr. Bruner, I would say that one’s volunteer public service has no value in itself, as compared to the spirit in which the volunteer executes that service. Or as de Tocqueville said,

The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve Lowen May 31, 2017 at 12:55 pm

Kudos, John you have focused with rapier-like language on the workings, or non-workings within, and often without Scottsdale Government. Influence peddlers, the connected, real estate developers, lobbyists, churches, bible humpers really run things make no mistake about that.

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John Washington May 31, 2017 at 1:02 pm

Oh, and how could I have forgotten: Mr. Bruner is not only a founding board members of the aforementioned Scottsdale Cultural Council, he’s also a member of the board of directors of the scandal-plagued Arizona Sports Foundation (Fiesta Bowl), and chairman of the board of directors of Scottsdale’s Museum of the West… another privately-owned, taxpayer-funded black hole that is performing so poorly that they refused to publicly release their first year paid attendance figures… despite at least $400,000 in annual subsidy from the public treasury and taxpayer-owned land upon which to build.

http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/scottsdale/2015/01/15/scottsdale-museum-west-opens/21792275/

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John Washington May 31, 2017 at 3:01 pm

And surprise, surprise; Bruner is a “good friend” of Virginia Korte, per tweet a moment ago.

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Michael Norton May 31, 2017 at 2:07 pm

Amazingly tangled webs, as usual. These deals are more incestuous than a neighborhood picnic in Pigsnout Arkansas.

Not amazingly there are 3 empty seats on the Planning Commission. Apparently no one with a brain wants to get tied in to the shenanigans.

Great article, John. You outdid your always great work on this one.

Maybe we’ll add a later footnote for the Museum of the West 2016 Financials (if they ever issue them – who cares if they’re 3 months past due – send more money).

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