Bonds or Bust?

I’m not a huge fan of bond financing for municipalities. If you are going to borrow money for something instead of paying cash (or identifying a reliable offsetting revenue source) you ought to have some darned good reasons. That’s just good business.

If you listened to my remarks at City Council last night (at 01:11:00), you know that I don’t think Mayor Lane’s efforts to float a bond of as much as $200 million in the election this fall have identified very many “good reasons.” There are a couple that are probably worthy, but even those might be better serviced through more diligent management of our Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) funds and their balance against the “big pot” that is the General Fund where most of our tax revenue winds up.

No one else from the public spoke on this issue, so it makes me wonder whether anyone has been paying attention. Thankfully (for my confidence), Mike Kelly was watching and he sent the following email to the City Council to caution them about the manner in which the deliberations of the Bond Task Force are being shaped by staff or Council feeding them information that shouldn’t be part of their considerations:

Mr. Richert:

During last night’s presentation to the City Council on the Bond Task Force’s progress by Chairman John Gulick, I observed a power point slide that has compelled me to bring it to your attention.

The slide I saw apparently depicted materials/references that the Bond Task Force had reviewed/discussed in the conduct of its deliberations.  Two of the depicted items confused me.  They were: (1.) the Morrison Institute’s “Which Way Scottsdale?” report; and, (2.) the Morrison Institute’s “Next Step Scottsdale” report.

As you know, both of these reports were privately-funded business sponsored studies (special interest studies), neither of which was ever agendized for legislative discussion/adoption by the sitting City Council as Scottsdale public policy at the time when those reports appeared.  To my knowledge those reports have never been adopted as City of Scottsdale public policy.  In fact, many hold those studies to have been attempts to circumvent the City of Scottsdale’s City Charter and Arizona statutes specified, City Council adopted and voter-ratified General Plan 2001, which, at this moment, still remains our operative General Plan, and as such, should serve as the benchmark for any proposed bond project list.

With that being said:

  1. How did those two Morrison Institute reports come to be included as reference/discussion materials for the Bond Task Force in the conduct of its work?
  2. Did the Bond Task Force itself specifically ask for their inclusion?
  3. Did you or any member of your staff direct that they be included/referred to by the Bond Task Force in the conduct of  its work?
  4. Did the City of Scottsdale’s City Council direct that they be included/referred to by the Bond Task Force in the conduct of its work?
  5. Did any one individual or several members of the the City Council direct that they be included/referred to by the Bond Task Force in its work?

Please advise as to how those two Morrison Institute privately-funded reports have now apparently been allowed to achieve a status where they can now serve as public policy references for the City of Scottsdale as it conducts its public policy deliberations.


Michael S. Kelly
Lieutenant Colonel, United States Marine Corps (Ret)

Parenthetically, I will add that the MI reports Col. Kelly referenced are the same ones that the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce has relied upon to justify much of its recent public policy and political activities.

UPDATE: This post is going to get a little long because of an update I’ve posted below. City Engineer Derek Earle is the staff liaison to the Bond Task Force. He responded to Mike Kelly, and then Mike replied back. I’ve included both here:

Mr. Kelly:

Thank you for your inquiry and interest in the presentation conducted by the Bond Task Force at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.  I am the staff liaison for the Bond Task Force and was requested by the City Manager to respond to your inquiry.  The Bond Task Force is an ad hoc group established by the City Council last year to review alternatives and provide recommendations to the Council for a proposed bond program and election to be held in 2012 or some later date.  As a Task Force, the group has been chartered to both seek and represent general public opinion concerning the priority of proposed infrastructure projects that might be eligible for funding by General Obligation bonds.  The final decision concerning placing any type of bond program on an election ballot is a policy decision that only the City Council can make.

As part of the process of seeking public input on infrastructure priorities, the Task Force requested commissioning of a citizen survey to better evaluate public opinion on infrastructure priorities in the city.   Lacking available funding to conduct this survey, the Task Force sought other publicly available information concerning previous surveys that may have been conducted of residents of the city.  The Morrison Institute reports you mention in your email qualified in that respect due to their availability on the ASU website.  Other information sources include recent citizen surveys (both formal and informal) that have been conducted by the city itself.  Only internet links to these sources were provided by staff to the Task Force as supplemental information that was available in the public realm.  The Task Force members have been free to use this or any other available sources of information for their evaluation of a bond program.

We agree that the referenced reports do not represent adopted public policy by the City Council, but, they have not been represented as such to the Task Force.  They are simply one of many publicly available sources of information that this group may choose to consider in its deliberations.  The fact that the reports you have referred to contained some data concerning citizen attitudes, albeit dated to 2003, qualified them as a possible information reference.

The Task Force did receive detailed presentations on the General Plan, Character Area Plans and functional master plans (i.e. Transportation, Parks and Recreation, etc.) as the primary policy guidance documents for their deliberations.  The other information and surveys that were referenced were only intended to provide other input and context on citizen and organizational opinions concerning needs of the city.

If I may answer any further questions concerning this information or provide further background on the Bond Task Force, please feel free to contact me at any time.  You might also consider reviewing the Bond Task Force website at


Derek Earle
City Engineer

Mike’s final reply to Mr. Earle is here:

Mr. Earle:

Thank you for your response.

I concur with you that the Morrison Institute studies do indeed represent “organizational” opinion.  More specifically, I’d classify those studies, which were commissioned/funded by business interests, as “special interest” opinion.  The Morrison studies cannot and should not be construed to represent general public opinion or adopted City of Scottsdale public policy

When it comes to community growth and redevelopment matters, and any proposed infrastructure projects associated therewith, Scottsdale’s primary source of validated “general public opinion” remains Scottsdale’s General Plan 2001.  Our General Plan 2001, following the guidelines of our City Charter and Arizona’s municipal planning law, was adopted by the City Council in October 2000 and validated in a public election by 11,568 Scottsdale voters on March 12, 2001.

Arizona’s Revised Statutes (9-461.07) dictate that major public works projects undertaken by a city must be reviewed for conformance with that city’s adopted general plan.  The city’s designated “planning agency” bears the responsibility for conducting such reviews.

Our City Council recently designated a “planning agency” for Scottsdale city to ensure that this specific task and other tasks directed by the Arizona statutes pertaining to the administration and implementation of the general plan were followed and complied with.

Because of the importance of Scottsdale’s City Council adopted and voter-ratified General Plan 2001, and its key role in setting the standards and policies of the community in regards to growth and redevelopment here, any member serving on the Bond Task Force who has not made themselves intimately familiar with the contents of Scottsdale’s General Plan 2001 is failing in their fiduciary responsibility to intelligently represent the City and citizens of Scottsdale.

While some might find the information contained in studies like those commissioned and performed by the Morrison Institute, no one should assume that such studies displace  or replace Scottsdale’s most important City Charter and Arizona Revised Statutes directed community planning document, Scottsdale’s General Plan 2001.  Scottsdale’s General Plan 2001 remains this community’s foremost voter-ratified expression of its wants and  needs.  This point must be driven home to all members of the Bond Task Force.


Michael S. Kelly

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