Berry, Berry Bad

I guess the “Scottsdale Man of the Year” must be zoning attorney John Berry, given his nearly-full-page photo on the cover of the Scottsdale Republic yesterday…not to mention glowing accolades from his developer clients, city staff, and Bill Crawford.

Here’s the meat of the Republic’s article on Berry:

A Scottsdale resident, Berry has represented property owners and developers in some of the most controversial zoning cases that have come before the city.

“I certainly don’t wish controversy,” he said. “There are many cases that I do that you never hear about … and I also turn down a lot of cases. If I don’t think that it’s something that I will want to drive my children around town and say, ‘Your dad had something to do with that,’ then I don’t want to take the case.”

Berry can often find himself defending projects that have drawn the ire of residents, so he is not without his critics.

When addressing the council and commission on controversial cases, snickers and sighs can be heard from the crowd. Residents at times can be heard hurling insults in his direction whenever he disputes their claims.

Howard Myers, president of the Desert Property Owners Association in north Scottsdale, opposed the Sereno Canyon Spa & Resort, which Berry represented before the city.

He said Berry “gets what his clients want, period.”

He said Berry is “always cordial, but it is easy to do that when you always win.”

Myers said Berry used to be “more concerned about how good a project was for Scottsdale, but now it is just getting what his clients want instead.”

However, Berry is quick to point out that he’s not just “this lawyer that comes in for the buck, and takes my money and goes to La Jolla or something.”

“I grew up here, my girls were raised here,” he said. “If it was all about the money, there wouldn’t be a case that I turn down. I’m grateful that people want me to assist them in Scottsdale, but that doesn’t mean I’m always willing to assist them.”

Berry has been involved in the community in various capacities through the years. He was board chairman of the Scottsdale Cultural Council and has served on the city’s Transportation Commission, the Board of Adjustment and the Charter Review Advisory Commission.

“I served on the visioning task force and was involved in all of the efforts to raise taxes and funding for the McDowell Sonoran Preserve,” he said. “On the one hand it’s like well, don’t you just gobble up the desert with your cases, but on the other hand, I work very hard to raise money and support, every effort to create the preserve and expand it.”

Here’s my take on John Berry. Yes, he’s a pleasant fellow. He’s also an opportunist who feels no greater moral duty to Scottsdale than his developer-clients, and he helps those client’s leverage the quality of life of Scottsdale residents (largely due to our low-scale community character and its attractiveness to tourism) to erode that quality of life by increasing the scale (height) and density of the community.

John lives in Scottsdale because it allows him to represent himself as a Scottsdale resident, as if that makes him more credible and less of a profiteer. His citation of his past service as chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Scottsdale Cultural Council (SCC) is even more dubious.

The Cultural Council is a private business organized as a non-profit (for tax reasons and to facilitate tax-deductible donations). SCC contracts with the City of Scottsdale to manage  taxpayer-owned facilities and assets including the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Scottsdale Public Art collection…hmm, the same Public Art program that Berry claims benefits from his developer-clients.

Of course, the whole Cultural Council paradigm has turned into a giant tax dollar sinkhole. Despite free occupancy of, and control over tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer assets, as well as the ability to charge–and keep 100% of the proceeds from–admission to taxpayer-owned facilities, the Cultural Council still receives a perpetual, $4 million/year cash subsidy from taxpayers . How is this a feather in Berry’s cap? Well, mainly it proves he knows how to swindle the taxpayers.

I note tangentially that John was succeeded in his capacity as SCC board chair by Wells Fargo banker and now-Councilwoman Linda Milhaven. Linda is directly responsible for hiring (and continuing to prop up) SCC CEO Bill Banchs, a nationally-recognized buffoon who has driven the Cultural Council from a tolerable bad joke down to the level of a scandal-ridden cesspool of expensive mediocrity. But I digress…

John Berry is “effective,” but only if you measure effectiveness by the win/loss ratio when it comes time for the City Council to vote in favor of his clients. He’s very selective about the cases he takes, not because he cares about Scottsdale but because he cares about his record. He only takes the cases where he can easily (and relatively inexpensively) overcome resistance from neighboring residents.

Berry’s bundling of campaign contributions and support for Scottsdale mayor Jim Lane and other sold-out members of the City Council plays no small part in Berry’s success. How can they say “no”?

I guess the characteristic that I find most offensive about John is that he’s not honest. I don’t mean that he’s an outright liar. As I’ve observed in these pages before, there are a hundred ways to be dishonest without actually telling a lie. You can witness most if not all of them at any given Scottsdale City Council meeting; especially if there’s a John Berry zoning case before the Council. It’s no wonder the public in attendance for his zoning hearings is frequently heard to “snicker and sigh.”

But, in spite of all that, I don’t fault John. He has a duty to represent his clients vigorously. The fault lies with the mayor and city council members who are willing to accept John’s representations that what his clients want is actually good for the community and the residents. Not that they really even believe John, just that they are willing to accept what he says and even parrot it as rationalization for the votes they were going to cast in his favor anyway.

To a great degree, the fault also lies with the voters of Scottsdale. Even though it isn’t reported in the Republic, they could easily see what’s going on if they ever attended a city council meeting; or watched one on Cox Channel 11 or via the web.

With Jim Lane’s re-election and the re-election of Suzanne Klapp to the City Council, John Berry still has a solid, five-vote majority in his corner for any given case. So, the public will have another two years to tune in before the next city council election.

Will you tune in?

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1 Comment

  1. I had to laugh when I saw Berry’s photo on the bridge with his $2,000 suit. He is like the Chamber of Commerce: He has never seen a development he doesn’t like. Any time some new project comes along you can bet John will be representing the developer.

    It’s easy to see where the Republic stands.

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