The most important government

by John Washington on February 21, 2018

SRP’s Trish Moeck posted a well-written article (which I’ve copied below) yesterday on the Scottsdale Leadership website, and I’d like to use as a jumping-off point for an expanded look at some of the topics Trish discussed.

As you may know, Scottsdale Leadership is at its core a training program run by the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce. There was a time when the Chamber served (in my humble opinion) a useful function in promoting tourism. But since the Chamber shirked city funding and split off to become a political lobbying organization for developers bent on increasing population density, I’ve frequently found myself on the opposite side of the Chamber on most issues.

Forgive me for a little cynicism, but every year a new class of ‘future leaders’ comes through the invitation-only Scottsdale Leadership program. They are dazzled by meetings with the mayor, council members, and city charter officers. They take tours of the city’s public works facilities, and undoubtedly gain a little insight into the functions of city government.

But the Scottsdale Leadership program is woefully inadequate in covering the Scottsdale City Charter (our constitution, if you will), and the General Plan. These two documents comprise the organic law of Scottsdale, in that they were both citizen-ratified, rather than mere legislative acts of the City Council.

And before you ask, yes, I was sort-of invited at one time to go through the Scottsdale Leadership program, by a friend who was a graduate. However, I scoffed at her suggestion, and countered that I could probably teach the program and do a much better job. Needless to say, the friend who made the suggestion hasn’t spoken to me much since then.

In fairness to my former-friend, I should have been a little more open-minded. Or at least I should have been more diplomatic. As a dearly-departed mentor, Bill Packer, always told me:

You can learn something from even the dumbest guy in the room.

I probably wouldn’t have enrolled in the program anyway, even if I’d been formally invited. But I could have been more respectful.

I will say that a couple of years after that, a Scottsdale Leadership CEO, who really believed in bringing all perspectives to the program, invited me to speak to one of those classes and offer a counter-point to the pro-density mania that has consumed the city council for the last twenty years or so.

It was a thought-provoking discussion; civil, but (I think and hope) eye-opening for the class members. Needless to say, I was never invited back.

Unfortunately for Trish and the members of the current class, in her article she really only dipped her toes in a very deep pond. So, please allow me to expand.

From Trish’s article:

“The most important government you have is the local government.” – Carolyn Jagger, Scottsdale City Clerk

Absolutely right. Local government is also the most accessible, has the most impact on your daily life, and it’s probably of the least interest to most citizens. In Scottsdale, probably 90% of the voters couldn’t find City Hall without a map. About an equal number can’t name the mayor outside an election year; forget about any of the council members, or the city manager.

In some ways, that’s a reflection of how good we have it in Scottsdale, despite twenty years of the mayor and city council selling off your quality of life to those who profit from it, i.e., developers and the liquor industry, along with a number of other trough-feeders.

After all, no one moved to Scottsdale because they thought it was broken. And about the only time the average citizen gets engaged with city government is when their own ox is gored.

It’s a shame that more folks don’t pay attention, and get to know their government. We have some great public servants in Scottsdale City government. Carolyn Jagger is among the finest of them. She walks a delicate balance, doing her job while working hard to stay politically neutral.

On the other hand, we have some terrible elected officials at City Hall, at least in the sense that they don’t represent us; despite all the rhetoric upon which they campaigned. Council woman Linda Milhaven is among the worst. Trish says,

Class 8 Alum Linda Milhaven followed up the Mayor’s talk stressing the importance of diversity amongst the representatives and motivating the class, and younger generations, to run for City Council. “Whether you agree or not, I encourage you speak up and be heard.”

This is the same Linda Milhaven who, upon voting to renege on an explicit promise by the council to neighborhood residents, to limit the height of an adjoining commercial development,

“That was then, this is now.”

And lest anyone forget, Linda was a VP at Wells Fargo under disgraced former president Pam Conboy, who was dumped for the recent account cramming scandal that cost Wells millions of dollars in federal fines, and untold erosion of brand value.

The only reason Linda was allowed to stay at Wells was because of the value of having her on the city council. Guess which bank issues all of Scottsdale’s bonds?

One of those bond issues recently cost the city $750,000 in IRS fines. Its tax-free status was revoked because it was used to refinance the Nordstrom parking garage for Macerich/Fashion Square… which was deemed “not a public purpose” (the fundamental criterion for using the good credit of the taxpayers to borrow money).

Trish continues:

After lunch, the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, Rachel Smetana, and the City Clerk, Carolyn Jagger, spoke to the class about opportunities on the City’s 22 boards and commissions as well as the requirements for serving on City Council. While Jagger expressed that serving may not be for everyone, at a minimum everyone should participate by voting – “Return that ballot!”

I will differ with Carolyn Jagger on this one point. As my friend Chris Schaffner says, if you aren’t going to pay attention and understand the issues/candidates, I’d just as soon you did NOT vote.

And as regards service on a board or commission, I can tell you from first-hand experience that it is rewarding right up to the point where you wind up disagreeing with the council majority on some issue.

Trish:

Next up in the day’s star studded lineup was Scottsdale’s City Manager, Jim Thompson. With his 31 years in government, the City Manager’s experience, knowledge, and passion was undeniable and he certainly didn’t shy away from the class’ tough questions.

I have not yet met Thompson, but have no reason so far to doubt Trish’s accolades. But because Mayor Lane and the council majority have historically been more interested in having a city manager that serves their campaign contributors than the citizens, we’ve had some really bad city managers.

And lastly from the article:

[City manager] Thompson discussed the recent successful implementation of the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) and Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) sub-committees and, when asked what the current number one issue facing the City of Scottsdale is, he explained that he believes it is the over $700 million discrepancy between the current capital budget needs and the available funding.

It’s interesting to me that no one asked how we got so far behind in our capital budget needs (most of which are for maintenance of existing infrastructure) for which we should have budgeted all along.

But magically, Mayor Lane and the council majority crow every year about the “balanced budget” that they dutifully pass. Maybe it is only balanced because it doesn’t account for capital maintenance! And I know for a fact that almost every budget passed in recent years has not been structurally “balanced” (adjective), but rather has relied on being “balanced” (verb) by sweeping undesignated reserves at the end of the year. This is a little trickery that was implemented by Governor Ducey and the legislature a few years ago, which watered down statutory requirements for balanced municipal budgets.

I have said for years that Scottsdale’s deferred infrastructure maintenance must be about a billion dollars. But the mayor, council, and the media always ignored me. So it is gratifying to finally hear the city manager admit to $700 million. And if that’s the admitted amount, what’s the REAL number?

And, “successful implementation?” That my friends is when they actually figure out how to FUND the plan. You can bet they’ll be asking you to vote to raise your own taxes (via bonds) again really soon!


The Scottsdale Leader, City Government Day
By Trish Moeck, Salt River Project

“The most important government you have is the local government.” – Carolyn Jagger, Scottsdale City Clerk

Scottsdale Leadership Class 32 learned just how true Carolyn’s words were during their City Government Day on February 9th. Scottsdale’s Mayor, Jim Lane, kicked off the class with an inspiring speech on the importance of engagement – engagement on behalf of both the citizens and of City Council. Scottsdale City Councilwoman and Class 8 Alum Linda Milhaven followed up the Mayor’s talk stressing the importance of diversity amongst the representatives and motivating the class, and younger generations, to run for City Council. “Whether you agree or not, I encourage you speak up and be heard.”

Next up in the day’s star studded lineup was Scottsdale’s City Manager, Jim Thompson. With his 31 years in government, the City Manager’s experience, knowledge, and passion was undeniable and he certainly didn’t shy away from the class’ tough questions. Thompson discussed the recent successful implementation of the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) and Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) sub-committees and, when asked what the current number one issue facing the City of Scottsdale is, he explained that he believes it is the over $700 million discrepancy between the current capital budget needs and the available funding.

Assistant City Manager Brent Stockwell and City Treasurer Jeff Nichols finished off the morning introductions and then the class ventured over to City Hall. Dan Worth, Director of the Public Works Division, really brought home the significance of the CIP (Corporate Improvement Plan) that Mayor Lane had mentioned. City capital projects include the development of both new and old city buildings and parks, pedestrian amenities, water and wastewater projects, roads, drainage, etc. and assist in maintaining Scottsdale’s quality of life and keeping our community safe.

Similarly, the Director of Transportation, Paul Basha, confirmed the value of the TIP (Transportation Improvement Plan) by sharing that most of the people who live in Scottsdale work elsewhere and most of Scottsdale’s labor force (citizens who are able of working) actually live elsewhere. To put it simply, there are a lot of people using Scottsdale’s roads every day and a lot of work has to be done to keep them safe.

After lunch, the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, Rachel Smetana, and the City Clerk, Carolyn Jagger, spoke to the class about opportunities on the City’s 22 boards and commissions as well as the requirements for serving on City Council. While Jagger expressed that serving may not be for everyone, at a minimum everyone should participate by voting – “Return that ballot!” She also urged the class to pay attention to the candidate pamphlet that the City sends out prior to each election where the candidates provide a brief description of their views as well as links to their individual websites for additional information.

The defining moment of the day was when the class got to experience firsthand what it is like to participate in a City Council Meeting. Scottsdale Leadership Class 32 Mayor, Laurie LaPat-Polasko and Councilmembers Lauren Burgoyne, Christine Goodman, Robert Houston, Todd Larson, Michael Sheedy, and Katie Smetana were faced with a tough decision: to approve or deny a new bond to obtain capital funding. The remainder of the class was divided into two camps to argue their cases: Pro-Bond and No Bond Scottsdale (No BS). Both sides were passionate about their position but in the end, the bond was approved.

After the Class 32 Council meeting, the class was given the opportunity to sit down for an intimate Q&A session with the current leaders, including Mayor Lane.

All in all, the day was a complete success and everyone left feeling truly inspired and informed about our local government and civic duty. Thank you again, Scottsdale Leadership for another unbeatable experience.

scottsdaleleadership | February 20, 2018 at 1:24 pm | Categories: Uncategorized | URL: https://wp.me/pDTA8-xA

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