General Plan Train Wreck

This article appeared in the Scottsdale Republic this morning.

Mayor: Resignations could undermine General Plan draft

By Beth Duckett, The Republic | azcentral.com

The fate of Scottsdale’s General Plan is uncertain after four members of the task force resigned, prompting critics to speculate that the new plan could face opposition.

Task-force members James Heitel, Howard Myers, Ned O’Hearn and Jo­anne “Copper” Phillips resigned on Jan. 13, saying they were ignored, bul­lied and intimidated by some other mem­bers after airing their views on growth and other topics.

Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane said the controversy could bring about further efforts to undermine the General Plan, which is nearly finished in draft form. The plan could go before voters in the Nov. 4 election.

“This mass resignation is probably not entirely unexpected, and I’m con­cerned as we go forward what tactics might be employed to further stifle the efforts to comply with state law,” Lane told The Republic.

Lane is concerned that the new plan could face a fate similar to the last plan, which was defeated by voters in March 2012.

When asked about the resignations, Lane said he was “saddened that you have this group, which is pretty much the same group that had exceptions with the first General Plan, employing a simi­lar strategy and not being willing to work with the other task-force members.”

“This is not unlike the first effort,” Lane said. “I guess you learn from peo­ple’s actions. I would probably anticipate something similar.”

Meanwhile, those who resigned say they will continue to take part in the cre­ation of Scottsdale’s General Plan, the state-required document that guides the city’s priorities for 10 to 20 years.

O’Hearn said those who resigned are also concerned about the new plan, but for different reasons.

“It is going to end up being the 2011 plan made worse,” O’Hearn said. A pre­vious task force worked on a plan in 2011 before it was brought to voters in 2012.

O’Hearn, a Scottsdale city council­man from 2000 to 2004, said the current plan has a “high probability” of failure if it continues down its current path.

“Out of respect to the council, it’s best for us to get off the tracks, withdraw from the process, let those other mem­bers pursue their goals and create a draft for recommendation,” O’Hearn said. “And then we will provide the City Council with some alternative language and some critical ideas.”

A rough draft of the plan is due out in February.

The General Plan 2014 Task Force formed last year, with the goal of devis­ing a rough draft of the plan, which will go to the city’s Planning Commission and the City Council before it goes to voters.

Scottsdale voters rejected the last General Plan by 4 percentage points, forcing city planners and task-force members to craft a new plan before a July 2015 deadline.

The 2012 plan failed in part due to critics such as City Councilman Bob Lit­tlefield, who said it catered to special in­terests and threatened Scottsdale’s char­acter.

Two years later, the first draft of the new General Plan should wrap up by early February, said Erin Perreault, Scottsdale’s long-range planning man­ager. It will include more than 20 “ele­ments” of the city, such as housing, open space, economic vitality and land use.

According to various interviews and resignation letters reviewed by The Re­public , tensions on the task force boiled over after Myers and O’Hearn wrote so-­called “white papers,” which they dis­persed to other task-force members.

The papers were meant “to stimulate a healthy discussion of some critical growth-related issues,” they said.

But they weren’t well received, ac­cording to O’Hearn. “It was painfully evident certain members of the task force didn’t bother to read them or read the first paragraph, and this was something they didn’t want to listen to,” O’Hearn said. “The vitriolic responses were shocking.”

A discussion of the white papers took place on Dec. 16. A three-person panel — made up of Jim Rounds, from real-estate and economic consulting firm Elliott D. Pollack & Co.; former Scottsdale Treasurer David Smith; and Lee McPheters, a research professor of economics at Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business — critiqued the papers.

At the next meeting on Jan. 6, Phillips said in her resignation letter dated Jan. 15, a disagreement erupted over the minutes of the Dec. 16 meeting.

In her letter, Phillips accused one task-force member, Loren Molever, of being “volatile, threatening and angry” and on a “tirade.”

“Never have I felt intimidated and threatened like this on any committee, task force or even when testifying before argumentative state or federal congressional members,” Phillips said.

She said the four who resigned were attacked on other occasions and wrongfully called “liars, anti-growth activists, self-serving and anti-business.”

But Molever, a business lawyer, painted a different scenario. He called their complaints “more fantasy than real.”

Molever argued that the opponents tried to “editorialize” the minutes from the Dec. 16 meeting, which were written by city staff.

In a letter to Scottsdale’s mayor and council members, Molever also said, “I never raised my voice or was animated in any way.

“I was intentionally calm in making statements that were my opinion, given the information being submitted. And, as the transcript reflects, I was livid. I did feel that the process was being hijacked by the few in an effort to support their not-so-hidden agenda.”

Molever argued that the concerns voiced by the resigning members “resembled nothing of the actual process.”

“What I first noticed was that some of the task force members were spending a lot of time between meetings, preparing position papers from which they could and would try to lobby the task force, which frankly I didn’t know was appropriate,” Molever told The Republic.

“If I was sitting back to characterize what seems to be hidden agenda, it is to control growth in a manner they would like to see it.”

On Monday, Jan. 27, the task force could decide whether to fill the four vacant spots. According to bylaws, the task force can meet as long as it has at least 17 members. It is currently at 19 members.

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