Election Recommendations: City Council

You haven’t seen much action on ScottsdaleTrails lately because I’ve been very busy with other very important activities. However, it’s not because I haven’t been paying attention to what’s going on in Scottsdale, and in particular with the upcoming elections.

I’m going to focus my coverage on the Scottsdale City Council election, and the contest in state Legislative District 23 which encompasses most of Scottsdale. This column is about the City Council.

My short answers are: Kathy Littlefield and Cindy Hill for City Council.

Here are some expanded comments for those who want more explanation:

Elections shouldn’t be a popularity contest. During the campaign you have an opportunity to interview the folks who are applying for the job of representing you in government. Take take that opportunity seriously.

I measure all candidates first for their track record. It’s very hard to predict what someone will do in the future (Wayne Ecton comes to mind). But the best indicator is what they’ve done in the past.

When it comes to City Council what really matters is how they will vote, rather than what they say. Ron McCullagh is the best example of why you shouldn’t elect folks just based on what they say. He was the master of saying the right thing right up until seconds before the vote, then voting the absolute opposite way.

For the incumbents, this is an easy yardstick. We ignore campaign rhetoric and look at how they voted.

Council incumbent Dennis Robbins is an attorney who owns a couple of Midas auto-service franchises. Incumbent Linda Milhaven is a Wells Fargo banker, and former chair of the Scottsdale Cultural Council Board of Trustees. As far as votes are concerned, they are two faces of the same person. There probably aren’t three council action items on which they voted differently in the last four years when it really mattered; i.e., when it was 4-3 and one of them could have swung the vote the other direction.

And virtually everything Milhaven and Robbins have voted for has been bad for the ordinary citizens of Scottsdale and the long-term fiscal sustainability of city government. But they have been great for their Chamber of Commerce buddies; developers seeking block-busting zoning concessions; Super Bowl party planners ($1,000,000 for 2015); professional golfers ($15-20 million in subsidies in the last couple of years); polo promoters (hundreds of thousands in recent years); and private “cultural arts management’ companies ($16,000,000 in the last four years). Would it surprise you that Milhaven and Robbins represent themselves as being “conservative?”

On the Scottsdale Cultural Council (which IS a private business, in spite of their “non-profit” label) enjoys a 20-year, no-bid, sole source contract. Under that contract they “manage” the taxpayer-owned Center for Performing Arts (SCPA), the Museum of Contemporary Arts (SMoCA), events held in the Civic Center Mall, and the taxpayers’ public art collection. For SCPA and SMoCA, they pay no rent, keep all the receipts from ticket sales, and leverage their relationship with the city to receive millions more every year in donations.

The SCC contract has no objective, measurable, or verifiable deliverables. Robbins and Milhaven have NEVER questioned or even seriously studied any of their budgets, financial reporting, or contract compliance.

I think Robbins has no appetite for it. Milhaven, on the other hand, has many bodies buried there. She was instrumental in hiring the previous president, widely-renowned village idiot Bill Banchs, who ‘retired’ in disgrace last summer when no one was looking. Milhaven has never accepted responsibility for the damage Banchs caused to the organization and to the city’s reputation. Both are a laughingstock of cultural arts professionals across the country.

And both Robbins and Milhaven are unabashed cheerleaders for Scottsdale’s downtown ‘bar district,’ with the highest concentration of liquor licenses in the State of Arizona, not to mention the highest concentration of crime in all of Scottsdale. The bar district is the origin of most of the 20 pages of arrest reports that now make up the SPD weekly blotter. In return for their support, the liquor industry has been generous with campaign contributions in this election cycle and in the last one.

Milhaven has also done done a good job taking care of her banker buddies. Look who’s the registrar for all of Scottsdale’s bonds: Wells Fargo. Where does Milhaven work? You guessed it: Wells Fargo.

For non-incumbent candidates, evaluating track record is a little more difficult. But you can evaluate past community involvement and real work on issues.

Here are the rest of the candidates, saving the best for last:

Michael Auerbach, personal chef. Most of the time I have no idea what Auerbach is talking about. That’s OK because most of the time Auerbach doesn’t know what Auerbach is talking about. He just wants to be someone, and chose the Tea Party route rather than any actual work on any real issues in Scottsdale…a common affliction among those who identify themselves as Tea Party people.

Auerbach was initially coddled by otherwise-friendless mayor Jim Lane, but Lane is keeping his distance now. Which says a lot about Auerbach, considering how much of a pariah Lane has become.

Bill Crawford, gym owner and fitness trainer. Crawford is a pleasant fellow, but has little in the way of track record beyond his work on public safety awareness in the bar district. He’s frequently supported tall, dense housing projects and light rail, though it’s hard to get a straight answer on either of those…which is a bigger problem for me than his actual positions. If you can’t be honest about where you stand, you don’t deserve my vote.

The most telling thing for me about Bill is he has frequently griped to the activist community about not getting their support in previous elections after he’s charged in late in the game; but in a recent forum when he was asked which candidates he has supported and/or worked for in the past, his answer was, “Me.” That sums up Bill in his own words…or word…or syllable.

Jennifer Petersen, former Scottsdale Unified School District board president. Like Crawford, Jennifer is a pleasant person. Like Auerbach, she wants to be someone and doesn’t want to do any actual work for it other than campaigning. Her half-hearted effort in the LD 23 house campaign two years ago is more evidence of that.

To make matters worse, Petersen has been cozying up to bar owners, developers, and zoning attorneys, so much so that she managed to get the Chamber of Commerce endorsement. Normally that is the mark of the beast in Scottsdale as far as the citizen advocates are concerned. The worst part about Jennifer, though, is that despite never having lifted a finger to help with real city issues, she’s actually attacked citizen advocates who’ve invested decades of volunteer effort to try to preserve our quality of life.

David Smith, retired Scottsdale city treasurer and chief financial officer, former CFO of Amtrak, former CFO of Tennessee Valley Authority. Smith is probably the most dangerous of the non-incumbents. He’s smart, he’s a good campaigner, and he’s charming. So much so that he managed to con the COGS political committee into endorsing him (along with Crawford). More on that in a moment.

Smith did a remarkable chameleon-change when the Chamber turned their back on him and endorsed Petersen. Almost overnight he became “one of us,” and really became a student of all the issues he ignored during his tenure as City Treasurer. Unfortunately, he had already attacked citizen advocates (yours truly included) and showed his true colors.

Smith talks a good game when it comes to financial matters like growing deficits (which happened every year on his watch) and lack of investment in capital infrastructure like roads, water, sewer, etc. (which also happened every year he was treasurer). He probably is–as he says–the most qualified of all the candidates to understand such issues. However, understanding them and fixing them are two entirely different things.

Most telling to me about Smith is his unabashed support for the $4 million in taxpayer-funded subsidies awarded to the Scottsdale Cultural Council every year. Guess whose wife sits on the SCC board of trustees? Smith has only publicly opposed one such subsidy (the $2 million given to Phil Mickelson), but when it came time for him to actually make a difference (during the discovery phase of a lawsuit aimed at reversing the subsidy) he chose to play possum. Of course, that’s before he declared himself to be a candidate; which was clearly being planned at the time.

You can’t really fix budget problems without first stemming the bleeding. And you can’t do that just by cutting public safety salaries below competitive levels, which seems to be the only so-called ‘solution’ Smith ever championed when he was in a position to do something.However, it is somewhat humorous to hear Smith attack Milhaven over contributions she received from bar district power brokers.

Cindy Hill, executive director of Police Officers of Scottsdale Association Outreach. Cindy has been involved in volunteer community service for a long time, and much of that effort has been centered around the outreach activities of the Scottsdale Police Officers’ association. She’s a quick study and has shown strong commitment to not only public safety, but also the causal effects of quality-of-life problems like zoning abuse and wasting taxpayer money on corporate welfare.

Kathy Littlefield, part owner and treasurer of computer company NetXpert Systems Inc. As the very actively-involved spouse of longtime City Council member Bob Littlefield, Kathy has been in thick of all the important issues–and on the right side–for the past dozen years. She’ll make a fine public representative in her own right.

Now back to COGS. Many of you have asked if they’ve been taking too much advantage of the state’s medical marijuana laws. That would at least be some kind of explanation, because I can’t come up with a better one.

You should know, however, that the COGS “political committee” is legally-distinct from the membership of the Coalition of Greater Scottsdale. The committee (former council candidates Chris Schaffner and Copper Phillips; Patty Badenoch; Allan Henderson; Sandy Schenkat; and Linda Whitehead [ed note: Whitehead was inadvertently omitted when this article was originally posted]) appears to have deviated pretty significantly from the sentiment of the larger membership in endorsing self-serving candidates Crawford and Smith over Cindy Hill.

COGS relevance to Scottsdale citizens’ quality of life issues is ever-more murky, as is its effectiveness at actually achieving results. It’s a shame because since the disintegration of Coalition of Pinnacle Peak and the bumbling of the Greater Pinnacle Peak Association, there is no cohesive resident group in Scottsdale. Many of us had great hope for COGS, but it would appear those hopes have been dashed.

Maybe things have to get worse before folks will pay attention and force them to get better. Unfortunately, we’ll all suffer in the meantime.

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19 Comments

  1. As I look out on Camelback Mt. through our Back Door it’s hard for me to see just what is going on at City Hall, but with your insightful view the picture comes much clearer!
    Glad to have you Back.

  2. Solid political analysis, per usual, John. I agree wholeheartedly. Littlefield and Hill are the obvious choices.

  3. John, thanks for a clear path through the confusion that comes out of the Kiva. For me, the incumbents seeking re-election “are part of the problem, not part of the cure”, one sits on his hands until a ‘yea’ is required (taking the role of Wayne Ecton) regardless of the impact on the taxpaying Electorate, the other is simply not supportable, given her behavior and treatment of both candidates and the Electorate over the past term, and the idea that she sits and Wells Fargo is the custodian of Scottsdale’s Bonds, while pushing other agenda’s would seem a conflict of interest.

    Our choices are made, I thank you again.

  4. 63% of Milhaven’s contributions come from the bar owners and developers. It’s not going to be easy to beat these incumbents especially with all the “dark money” behind them. We all appreciate all you have done to attempt toget Scottsdale on the right path. You have worked tirelessly for years and I can’t imagine how much worse the city would be without all your great efforts. We all have appreciated you and your Scottsdale Trails. I disagree with you but hope we can agree to disagree. A third endorsement is necessary or we’ll be back to 4-3 or 5-2 on issues related to bars and unreasonable development. It appears that those not wanting Milhaven, Robbins and Petersen must get together and work our a solution or it will be 2 more years of abuse of the citizens. Let’s not fight among ourselves. We will be doomed.

  5. If you all remember, at the Via Linda Senior Center forum, the candidates were asked who they voted for in the last city election. Cindy Hill said she voted for Susan Klapp and Virginia Korte. Might want to take that into consideration when voting.

    1. My recollection from other forums is that Cindy voted for those two based on their assurances of supporting the enhancement of public safety, but that they didn’t follow through. If anything, this should be a lesson to you that campaign promises are worth the paper upon which they are written. I believe Cindy learned that lesson and has said so.

  6. Thanks, Sandy.

    A sense of humor is a necessity these days when it comes to politics. I normally get about one or two phone calls a day but at this time of year I probably get about 50, mostly from someone named “unavailable.” It’s quite a coincidence since that is also my middle name.

    Then there are the political signs posted all over town. Someone actually has posted signs against Kathy Littlefield. That’s not smart; they must never have heard of the old saying that “Every knock is a boost.” I sure hope Kathy wins and I guess I will vote for Cindy based on John’s comment. I don’t like it that she supported Klapp and Korte though. She must be a b it of a novice. We’ll see.

  7. Jim – as I said I like your humor – How about the fact that Scottsdale is now the laughing stock of the mid-west. A news report came out about a woman in the bar district who had slapped a patrol horse on the rear. She was arrested and is facing felony charges. Sad what the bar district is doing for the reputation of Scottsdale.

  8. Mayor Lane and the Scottsdale Republic have been advised that the Associated Press announced that Selma Iris Gonzalez slapped a police patrol horse and was arrested in the bar district. I wonder how the local papers missed that interesting tid bit?? Maybe because horse slapping in the bar district isn’t as criminal as killing a bouncer with a knife or disabling a young guy for life who was riding in a pedicab by a drunk, the paper decided it wasn’t as news worthy.

  9. Sandy,

    We have a bunch of people in authority in Scottsdale who take themselves WAY too serious as illustrated by your comparison of the bouncer getting killed v. the girl slapping the horse.

    Fifty years ago in the days of the cowboys, they used to come into town and ride their horses right into bars like Lulubelle’s and the Pink Pony and order drinks while their horses ate peanuts out of baskets sitting on the bar,

    A slightly different Scottsdale exists now.

  10. Thank you Jim McAllister and John Washington, not because I am working on Cindy Hill’s campaign, though that is what prompted me to say a couple of things, but for maintaining a sense of humor and perspective about politics in Scottsdale.

    The reference to Cindy apologizing for supporting Klapp and Korte, was mentioned by Cindy at a couple of different forums. The first was at Scottsdale Shadows when a question was posed as to who did you support in the 2012 election.

    As most of you know Cindy is the Exec. Director of the Police Officers of Scottsdale Association Outreach that works ten charitable events that serve Scottsdale kids over 1000 from all over our city, as well as education, every year for the last ten years.

    POSA represents over 300 Scottsdale police officers and they are all involved to some degree with the fund raising for these events and volunteering to help with the activities.

    More importantly Cindy is married to a decorated police officer who has seen 28 years of service. Together they founded POSA. The POSA PC endorsed Klapp and Korte in 2013 because of the positions they took on public safety across the board. Neither one followed through on that support once elected.

    Just like neither one has asked to revisit the Downtown Plan to address defining a bar district or an entertainment district and creating the goals and policies for such a district in our Downtown Character Area Plan, even though they said they would support doing that when interviewed by the COGS PC in 2012.

    We knew at that time that the city had Liquor License policies and procedures that had not been reviewed in ten years and still hasn’t. That was long before the young man was murdered and the other three young folks received life altering injuries due to excessive drinking in the bar district and then being allowed to drive, and before Council was forced to create some regulations for the pedicabs; and long before our public intoxication ordinance was found to be in conflict with state law (for the second time and still nothing is being done about it). It was before it became clear that the noise ordinance was defined as unenforceable (not doing anything about that either).

    Oddly, two of the candidates that the COGS PC endorsed this year said they did not want to revisit the Downtown Character Area Plan at the first two forums held this summer. They indicated no interest in reviewing or revisiting any of the ordinances or policies mentioned above. (Being part of the Southern Scottsdale Community Area Planning process I am surprised that they haven’t pursued holding reviews to make sure that we have a Downtown that has real economic revitalization addressing the new residential that is being built amid the bars.)

    When the question was posed at the Scottsdale Shadows forum, Cindy was the first to answer and she answered very honestly, saying she was “so sorry that POSA had endorsed them” because when asked by the City Manager last December what each Council person’s priorities were, those two did not include public safety at all.

    You are right Jim, we have a slightly different Scottsdale today.

    When Herb Drinkwater left office we had a community that was lauded for it’s comprehensive community policing program that proactively worked with other city department and organization to solve problems before they really became problems. Our officers were required to have a college background and the city supported ongoing training for them and equipping them with whatever tools were necessary to protect our residents and the quality of life Scottsdale is known for.

    Police officers were treated with respect as an important part of everyday good government and not just as basic necessity that should be seen, but not heard.

    The presence of Cindy Hill as a candidate for Council brings someone who is intelligent and knows how to build bridges and create community. Far better than blowing up the bridges with subterfuge or telling people what they want to hear to placate them.

  11. great reading. i am filling out my ballot right now. You and a few writers for the paper are my authority of what is going on in this disfunctional state that most residents ignore.

  12. Thank you for such an insightful article. It’s always easy to find opinions and rhetorical comments on state and national figures and issues, but not so on more local candidates. I too am filling my ballot out over the next couple of days, making sure I read and digest as many perspectives as possible.

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