Terrance Thornton, editor of the PV Independent newspaper, posted this article Saturday on their NewsZap forums page. I’m reprinting it here with permission, as an information item that may provide insight on the most recent campaign finance violation by the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce in Scottsdale’s election next month.
Lines in the sand
Five Star Development, Ayoub put
financial means backing Maria Syms
Editor’s note: To read a complaint letter in regard to this matter written by legal representation of Scott LeMarr filed Friday, Feb. 24 with Andrew Miller, Paradise Valley town attorney, download the attachment.
By Terrance Thornton
With the recent creation of Citizens for PV Honesty and Progress — an independent expenditure committee founded by Jerry Ayoub, CEO of Scottsdale-based Five Star Development — political tensions are running high in the Town of Paradise Valley.
In the all-mail March 13 primary election, residents will elect a mayor and three people to serve as members of council.
The newly created committee openly endorses mayoral candidate Maria Syms, who is also the Paradise Valley Planning Commission chairwoman, and decries what they claim are the “lies and mismanagement” of incumbent Scott LeMarr.
The endorsement comes on the heels of a Jan. 4 letter penned by Paul Shepherd, Five Star Development project manager, and a Feb. 8 LeMarr campaign press release alerting media officials to the formation of the political action committee.
In the Jan. 4 letter, Mr. Shepherd, among other things, asks for financial donations from partners and friends of Five Star Development in support of Ms. Syms and council candidates Jim Baker, Pam Kirby and Dan Schweiker.
Pursuing council seats this March will be incumbents Kirby and Parker, and challengers Baker and Schweiker.
Vice Mayor Mary Hamway is not seeking re-election this spring.
Approved by Paradise Valley voters in 2010, every two years a new mayor and three members of the council will be elected by a majority vote — this spring will be the first of this cycle, town officials say.
Fuel for the fire
David Leibowitz, spokesman for Citizens for PV Honesty and Progress, says the endorsement of Ms. Syms comes following a series of alleged missteps by Mayor LeMarr.
“Mayor LeMarr, first of all became an active opponent of the Ritz-Carlton project at the time of the referendum,” he said in a Feb. 21 phone interview noting a 2008 public vote for the proposed Ritz-Carlton project bordering Scottsdale and Lincoln roads. “At that point Mayor LeMarr had lashed out at the project.”
In 2008, Paradise Valley Town Council unanimously approved the 120-acre site of the proposed Ritz-Carlton resort.
Following council approval, the project was sent to voters and approved by a 70 percent tally of all votes cast, records show.
Following the housing bubble burst and ensuing Great Recession, the Ritz-Carlton project stalled, Five Star officials say.
Five Star last year approached the town testing the waters for a revised plan that would increase the project density by 16 percent — using 895,000 square feet for single-family dwellings compared to the original 768,000-square-foot plot — which drew ire from town officials, according to Jason Morris, Five Star’s zoning lawyer.
Mr. Morris says the new plan called for the town to de-annex a portion of the land to be used for the Ritz-Carlton project. In return, the municipality of Paradise Valley would gain a portion of property taxes assessed and collected by the city of Scottsdale.
Town officials opted to not pursue that option, according to Mr. Morris.
“I will cut to the chase: Paradise Valley hadn’t ever seen a case like this. Historically, in Paradise Valley 90 percent of the work they do is more in single-family homes and people dealing with improvements for their homes,” he said in a Feb. 21 phone interview. “This was overwhelming to the town.”
Mr. Morris says between 2006 and 2008, the relationship between Five Star and the Town of Paradise Valley was good, but political lines were being drawn in the sand.
“It went through and got unanimous approval, then it went to the ballot,” he said of the community’s support for the original project. “Montelucia was the first major redevelopment project and frankly there was not as much scrutiny for that project.”
Mr. Morris says noise concerns surrounding the villas at Montelucia forced local politicians to play damage control when it came to the Ritz-Carlton project.
“Elected officials were very sensitive to the potential blowback and that played into it,” he pointed out. “Ultimately, because of the downturn we were not able to continue that project.”
A new plan was presented informally to members of the town administration and elected leaders, but Mr. Morris claims his company was told it was best to leave the issue alone until after the pending mayoral election.
“We did present to the Town of Paradise Valley and told specifically it would be best to wait until after the election,” he said. “Clearly he (Mayor LeMarr) swayed us away from pursuing this further.”
When asked why Mr. Ayoub would launch a political campaign against Mayor LeMarr, Mr. Leibowitz responded, “If you let a lie go unaddressed it becomes the truth.”
Mr. Leibowitz says his client told him that he felt his reputation and company brand were being threatened by political innuendo spurred on by statements made in e-mail blasts sent by the the LeMarr campaign.
“You already have to battle a horrible economy and (now) a mayor that won’t even work with you?” he said of Mr. Ayoub’s motivation. “If you own 120 acres of land and property values are falling, you are in a losing situation.”
According to Mr. Leibowitz, the independent expenditure committee has raised between $10,000 and $20,000 to support the election of Ms. Syms.
“This campaign cannot and is no way associated with the Syms campaign,” he said. “This campaign exists to spend money on educating the voters.”
Out of nowhere
Although Five Star officials contend no dollars have been raised following the Jan. 4 fundraising letter, the three candidates vying for a seat on the Paradise Valley Town Council say there were blindsided by the unsolicited support from a Five Star employee.
Councilwoman Kirby says she was unaware of the letter until it was read publicly during the recent candidate forum held at Town Hall.
“My relationship with Five Star has always been a professional one to the proposed development,” she said in a Feb. 22 phone interview. “Ayoub’s attorney and Five Star had two separate meetings (last summer) for the second concept for the property — that is it — that is the extent of my relationship.”
Councilwoman Kirby says no one from Five Star has been in contact with her since the failed meetings of last summer.
“I am not sure that anyone is making a big deal of this other than the media,” she said. “I guess we will see where the media takes this.”
Mr. Baker, a candidate for Paradise Valley Town Council, says he was unaware of the letter as well.
“I think it is more obviously something against (Mayor) LeMarr and something against Vernon (Parker),” he said in a Feb. 21 phone interview. “I see it more as that than really supporting the other candidates.”
Mr. Baker says Five Star’s efforts are designed to support those they think will be the easiest to deal with when it comes time to develop the Ritz-Carlton project.
“Let’s be honest, if we are not going to have taxes in this town we need the revenue sharing from the resorts,” he noted. “They felt like the rug was pulled out from below them. The smell test does not work with this one — that is what started all of this bad blood.”
Mr. Schweiker says he was not all too surprised to see an endorsement from a Five Star employee.
“I don’t think it is coming out of nowhere and I am not surprised that they endorsed me because I was a strong supporter for the Ritz-Carlton,” he said in a Feb. 21 phone interview. “I am grateful for the support.”
Mr. Schweiker chaired the committee to approve the public vote back in 2008 when the Ritz-Carlton project was sent to voters.
“I don’t think it will win or lose an election for somebody, and for my 10 years on the council people know that I am a strong supporter of resorts,” he said.
Mayor LeMarr says he is unaware why Mr. Ayoub would single him out in “hit pieces” placed online and within the pages of the Town of Paradise Valley Independent.
“I don’t know — I ask myself this a lot,” he said in a Feb. 20 phone interview. “Now Ms. Syms doesn’t have to raise any more money because they will do the dirty work for her.”
Mayor LeMarr contends it comes down to core community values.
He says he will always support the residential-type zoning and the one-house-per-acre philosophy illustrated throughout the recent General Plan update.
“Quite frankly, I am shocked by it. This is all out of their hysteria,” he said. “If you think my attitude is up pretty high on this one, you are right.”
Mayor LeMarr points to his voting for the project in 2008, and signing the petition for the public vote as examples of support for Five Star development within Paradise Valley town limits.
“Five Star obviously wants a huge amount of density,” he said. “What else could it be?”
A public vote approving a Ritz-Carlton project within town limits, says the mayor, is not the same as supporting more density potentially hindering a resident’s view of the desert’s lush landscape.
“I have voted for every single resort in Paradise Valley and I have always been an active supporter of the development community. That is no secret and to be painted otherwise … that is just slanderous activity and it is not rooted with the resorts.”
Q&A with Maria Syms
Paradise Valley mayoral candidate Maria Syms was asked a few questions about the recent creation of the independent expenditure campaign supporting her as a candidate, her feelings on density and what kind of relationship she has had with Five Star Development.
•What do you make of the independent expenditure campaign promoting you as a candidate?
I’m running my campaign and will continue to run my campaign on the issues of protecting our residents and moving our town forward. I can’t control what other people say or do.
•What kind of dealings have you had with Mr. Ayoub, say over the last few years?
My only interactions with Mr. Ayoub have been in my role as a planning commissioner in the review of the Ritz project.
•Do you like the way the campaign has gone about representing you as a candidate?
Again, I’m running my campaign on the issues of protecting our residents and moving our town forward. I can’t control what other people say or do.
•Did you support the original plan for the 120-acre Ritz Carlton project in your role as Paradise Valley Planning Commission chairwoman?
Yes. After several public meetings and hearings during of which I was a strong advocate for low-density development and preservation of our founding principles of open space and community character.
•Do you know of any reason why you, Mr. Baker, Ms. Kirby and Mr. Baker have been singled out?
I think Mr. Baker, Ms. Kirby, Mr. Schweiker are very reasonable, principled and approachable members of town government. They are all committed to open space and operate on principle.
•Do you support the revised plan calling for single-family homes on about 895,000 square feet of the 120-acre Ritz Carlton project compared to the 768,000-square feet originally proposed?
We were given a very preliminary presentation of a conceptual plan at Town Hall last spring. We never made it that far in the discussions because a letter was sent to Five Star shortly thereafter making it clear that there would be no further communication on the proposal. I do recall that the proposal called for making two story homes into single story homes and having detached residences rather than duplexes, which may be improvements. That said, I recall not agreeing with everything in the plan and I am opposed to any effort to de-annex Paradise Valley land.
What is an independent expenditure committee?
An independent expenditure committee is a political arm of communication expressly advocating for the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate. The committee works separately from the candidate in question.
Source: Arizona Revised Statute
What is a political action committee?
A political action committee, or PAC, is an organization that campaigns for or against political candidates, ballot initiatives or legislation; however, at the state and federal levels spending thresholds exist.
Source: Arizona Revised Statute