Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane thinks equal representation on Scottsdale City Council is an issue worth exploring.
A campaign initiative is getting new life as Mayor Lane is set to propose a new hybrid district council system in an effort to ensure all Scottsdale citizens — in particular south Scottsdale residents — have a stronger, and equal, voice on Scottsdale City Council.
During his successful campaign bid for re-election late last year, Mayor Lane announced his plans to pursue the measure, but the item died on the local dais as members of Scottsdale City Council failed to support exploration of the governance format.
Under Mayor Lane’s expected proposal, three members of Scottsdale City Council would serve at large while three members of council would be elected specifically from newly created districts serving north, central and southern Scottsdale. Under this model, the mayor would always serve at large and be elected by all of Scottsdale.
According to Mayor Lane, the Scottsdale City Charter would have to be amended and the matter put to a public vote either through a special election in 2017 or general election in 2018.
“Next steps would be to propose it again to council,” Mayor Lane said in a March 14 phone interview.
“It went down, I don’t remember what the count was, but I did not have the majority of those on council. I haven’t really finalized my thoughts on this, but I want to get away from the political season. I am not sure for the reason for the dissent.”
The proposal in late 2016 died for lack of a second to put the item on a future city council agenda.
Mayor Lane says his focus is solely on ensuring equal representation on Scottsdale City Council for all residents.
“I do think it would accomplish the one thing that is most important and that is to make sure some portions of the city get some representation on the council by design,” he said. “That is the most important and the most overriding issue of the hybrid system.”
The district system
Three members of Scottsdale City Council interviewed did not think the mayor’s proposal has legs.
“What I have learned looking at the district system, is it can sometimes create inequities instead of creating a more equitable approach,” Councilwoman Linda Milhaven said in a March 15 phone interview. “I think we are better off at being at-large.”
Councilwoman Milhaven says city projects are already evaluated with the scope of the entire city within local crosshairs.
“We are inclined to look at our projects for the city as a whole, but with a district system then we would be more inclined just to represent our neighborhood,” she said. “You wind up investing in things that are not high in priority for all. I think the way we have is the best thing we can do with competing priorities.”
Councilman Guy Phillips echoes a similar sentiment.
“Since the city council is at-large everyone is represented by all six council members and the mayor,” he said in a March 14 written response to e-mailed questions. “If it were by district you would only have one representative who may not be able to get the others to help his district.”
Councilman Phillips points out any district model would likely create more representation inequalities.
“The real problem all along with districts is that it would not be geographic, it would be demographic — that is we would be divided by ethnicity, which would result not in north middle and south but south to north in long squiggly lines. This is a state mandate and must be followed.”
New mantras can emerge that might bring more confrontation than harmony to the local governing board.
“Because of the way it would be split up it obviously wouldn’t work, but even if we could divide by region there are other problems associated. ‘Not my district’ would become the mantra,” he said.
“The ‘at-large’ reps would defer to the districts reps and they would become a lesser council. If no one runs it would be an empty spot. Big business can more easily buy a candidate for less money. There would be more politics as districts side with one another to get their projects done. The north would have more sway as they have more dollars than the south, resulting in a division of our city.”
Councilman Phillips contends residents of southern Scottsdale would have less political clout if a hybrid system were to emerge.
“Right now everyone has equal representation and despite some who say we ignore the south, if they were a district they would have even less representation,” he said. “Our current system ensures that you have a choice of council to contact and I for one represent all constituents regardless of geographic location.”
Councilman David Smith didn’t mince words.
“I don’t think there is any value to it,” he said in a March 15 phone interview. “I think there is greater value in each of us having a reason to represent the entire city.”
Councilman Smith says all who claim Scottsdale as home can be impacted by every decision made by local government.
“Anybody who uses Scottsdale as their return address is impacted by all the things that happen in all of the city,” he explained. “As elected representatives we are supposed to represent everyone in the city for everything that we do.”
Mayor Lane says not all want equal voices on the local dais.
“I still like the idea of the council looking out for the city as a whole,” he said. “I just think this is a more fair or complete model for representation. When this was first proposed years ago as a straight-six model, I was not for it. And, I watched other municipalities go through this, it has had mixed results.”
Mayor Lane says he is looking to increase local resident participation at City Hall.
“There are people who don’t want more improved representation — they are not interested in increasing participation,” he said. “Even the dates of our election process changed the results and it did change a bit our process.”
North Valley News Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at 623-445-2774 or at firstname.lastname@example.org