Council Recap

by John Washington on March 1, 2012

Tuesday night’s Scottsdale City Council meeting was a real slog. It lasted from 5 p.m. until after 11 (which is when I left). That’s not counting the now-usual executive session beforehand.

It took me a while to recover from this meeting. That and a steady stream of retaliatory campaign complaints from the Chamber of Commerce have kept me pretty busy, so I was unable to keep to my usual “next day” posting schedule for City Council Recaps. I hope you understand!

The meeting video has been posted. There have been some improvements in the look and operation of the video playback, so kudos to the hosting service and city staff. I’ll sprinkle some time indexes throughout my recap.

Public Comment

I made a “public comment” at the beginning of the regular meeting (time index 0:13:00) on the Scottsdale Cultural Council’s new draft Open Meeting Law policy:

Scottsdale Cultural Council
Draft Open Meeting Law Policy

 Because of our no-bid, 20-year, $4 million annual subsidy from the
City of Scottsdale, we will comply with the Arizona Open Meeting Law…
except when we don’t.

I also commented on the new campaign finance disclosure policy of the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce:

Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce
Campaign Finance Policy

 We will comply with Arizona state campaign finance laws…
except when we forget.

And lastly I commented on the absolute abdication of journalistic integrity by the Scottsdale Republic. They’ve completely ignored the Chamber’s most recent campaign finance violation.

It has been almost two weeks since I filed the complaint against them and the Republic hasn’t even mentioned it, while at the same time running a story for several days about how vicious, dirty developers have spent money on the Paradise Valley mayoral race.

Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn campus upzoning

Later in the meeting I made yet another comment on the previous gift of cut-rate pricing for the sale of the old Neighborhood Center city property to Scottsdale Healthcare. On top of that, Tuesday night the City Council gave SHC a big upzoning on that property that tremendously boosted its value, as well as abandoning an adjacent city street to SHC for free (time index 0:21:45).

Councilman Dennis Robbins

Those comments earned me strong rebukes from SHC’s self-appointed defenders on the Council, Dennis Robbins and Linda Milhaven. That discussion begins with analysis by Bob Littlefield at about 0:28:00. Subsequent questions by Lisa Borowsky to staff about the valuation of the property earned her a snide comment from Milhaven.

However, Lisa beat her over the head with her snarky remark and Milhaven apologized to Lisa! Lisa’s retort drew some applause, and a rather quick, “Please, it’s not theater,” comment from Jim Lane. Actually, Jim, it rather seems like theater now that you mention it. Decisions are made well in advance of the meeting and what plays out in public is pure kabuki.

Milhaven didn’t apologize to me, though, and neither did Dennis “Chicken Little” Robbins (an insult he laid on community advocates several weeks ago in a Republic column). Robbins said,

It’s insulting to say that the city sells property below market value…that really offends me to make comments like that and it shouldn’t be involved in public discussion whatsoever.

Councilwoman Linda Milhaven

The City of Scottsdale has a long history of bad real estate deals including paying too much for property, and selling it too cheap. If Robbins truly doesn’t know this, then he’s–shall we say–naive and/or he hasn’t been paying attention. If he does know this, then his righteous indignation is shown for what it is.

Beyond that, however, the tax-paying citizens of Scottsdale have a RIGHT to question how their money is spent and how their resources are managed. It’s a good thing for them that Milhaven and Robbins aren’t up for election because statements like this show who they truly are…which is NOT what they portrayed themselves to be when they were campaigning.

I did everything I could do to help the voters understand Milhaven was going to do this, but not enough of them paid attention. Once again, I rue the day I bought Robbins’ rhetoric and supported him over Ned O’Hearn. I don’t agree with Ned on everything, but I don’t agree with Robbins on ANYTHING.

Robbins and Milhaven paint themselves as the poster children for “civil dialog,” yet once again they proved they don’t believe it applies to them.

Reata Ranch

The “big story” of this Council meeting was the approval of Reata “Ranch,” a high-density neighborhood project presented as a “western resort” and “guest ranch.” This ruse was perpetrated to take advantage of vastly more favorable density allowance that is far out of character for the otherwise very rural area.

Concerned neighbors presented highly detailed objections ranging from floodplain runoff concerns to inability of roads to handle the extra traffic. This contrasted strongly with the utter lack of hard detail of the project and all the folks the developer lined up (most either paid or hoping to make money off the project) including Marg Nelssen and state historian Marshall Trimble.

I knew this project was going to be approved. Even the dishonest representation by the Chamber Caucus on the Council that more speakers favored the project than opposed it was not a surprise. John Berry tallied speakers at 17 for the project and 11 against. Unfortunately, he didn’t count all the cards submitted by opponents who gave their time to just a few opposing speakers, as requested by Mayor Lane to help keep the discussion shorter.

That’s what we get for being nice guys. There were 50-60 cards submitted in total (according to Mayor Lane), and I’ll venture a guess that at least 3/4 were opposing the project.

However, I guess I was most disappointed by how Borowsky utterly gushed over the project/developer, and was completely dismissive of citizen concerns. I like her personally, and she has shown flashes of brilliance on Council (like her earlier exchange with Milhaven). Sadly, however, Lisa clearly doesn’t believe she has any duty to the citizens.

I began my comment on this item (time index 1:42:00) with a lawyer-meets-cowpie joke that incensed my new BFF Linda Milhaven to the level of calling for a “point of order” to censure me. It was pretty funny considering how she had earlier insulted Borowsky. Once again, “civil dialog” trumps honesty and integrity.

There’s a lot of other public comment, followed by a lot of telling discussion among council members. Riata neighbors take note: If you don’t want more of the same, you need to vote against Lane and Klapp in the upcoming election, and Borowsky and McCullagh if either or both decide to run.

The following item on the agenda was about expanding the plans for the upcoming Tony Nelssen Equestrian Center to include improved accommodations for the Barrett-Jackson auto auction. Calling the presentation half-baked would be kind. Even the City Treasurer jumped on it (time index 5:00:00).

Now I think the expansion is a good idea. However, it will add a lot of cost and staff has not figured out how to pay for it…yet they were hoping for (if not expecting) approval from Council to move forward. What they got was a two-week continuance.

I won’t oppose expanding the scope of the project IF staff can justify it with hard numbers, but my strong recommendation is to make changes only to the PLANS for the automotive component, and focus on construction and completion of the equestrian portions as soon as possible. You can see my comments at time index 5:25:00.

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for March 6. There are several text amendments to the zoning code that have been represented by staff as “housekeeping items.” The Council will also discuss employee compensation and benefits (but probably NOT for charter officers and executive-level staff); next year’s budget; and water/sewer rates, among other things. I think it will be another painful meeting. Ugh.

The one bright spot, however, is that the Council postponed discussion of a the proposed public poo-poo, pee-pee ordinance from this week until the 6th. Maybe I can work in another lawyer-vs-cowpie joke.

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