Scottsdale City Council candidates gathered to discuss local politics for over an hour during an Oct. 4 debate hosted by the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce and the Scottsdale Independent.
The debate held at the Doubletree Resort by Hilton, 5401 N. Scottsdale Road, attracted about 60 guests and featured the four individuals running for three seats on the council: challenger Dan Schweiker and incumbents Suzanne Klapp, Virginia Korte and Guy Phillips.
The four candidates responded to moderated questions by Independent Editor Terrance Thornton and a select number of audience questions. Topics included tourism, the downtown area, transportation, apartment buildings within Scottsdale and LGBTQ rights.
City residents will be voting for the thee open seats on Scottsdale City Council, along with a mayor, during the Tuesday, Nov. 8 election.
A diverse and sustainable economy
Three of the four candidates cited a diverse economy can be maintained by creating a sustainable business environment for the city of Scottsdale, while Mr. Phillips wants to balance business and tourism.
“I think that we already do have a pretty diverse economy at this point,” said Mr. Phillips. “Our last Chamber president made a comment one time saying that tourism isn’t sustainable and we need to bring in more business; and that’s fine, but if we bring in too much business then we loose the tourism.”
Tourism is Scottsdale’s “Golden Goose,” as Mr. Phillips opined, and the city should make sure they don’t loose by evolving the downtown area too much.
“We will have to make sure we don’t loose that Golden Goose by turning our downtown into a place to live and a place to work and not a place to visit. I have a real concern about that.”
The other three candidates stated the importance of attracting corporations and businesses that understand Scottsdale is welcoming.
“Corporations are looking for places where their employees feel safe, and they can live and work and play in the same area,” said Ms. Korte. “That of course is our downtown and it’s also becoming our McDowell Corridor.”
Along the same lines, Ms. Klapp sees the answer to keeping Scottsdale sustainable as being a welcoming atmosphere.
“We will have to maintain a business friendly attitude in Scottsdale,” said Ms. Klapp. “I think we’re doing that but we have to energize that even more and make the businesses in other parts of the country know how accepting, and how much we want to embrace them here in Scottsdale.”
Mr. Schweiker explained in addition to attracting good jobs, creating more transportation options will drive those employees to the city.
“One thing we really need to do — from going out and talking to employers — I heard the frustration they have with micro-transportation,” he said. “It’s good but we can do much better than that. Eighty-seven percent of people that work in Scottsdale do not live here. They have to come from elsewhere and they all drive one car. That clogs up our roads.”
The downtown scene
Each of the candidates reflected the changing downtown Scottsdale district. Comprised of restaurants and bars, art galleries, a variety of businesses and recently more apartment buildings — the Old Town Scottsdale area has been evolving over time.
“On the CVB board we see statistics of where people come from,” said Mr. Schweiker. “Our downtown restaurant and bar scene attracts the young people from Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Chicago and Dallas. These are all people who grow up later on and visit here and stay here. They’re gong to be the tourism people, and they will be people who will eventually move here and raise their families here.”
Mr. Schewiker believes focusing on the future will be key for Scottsdale.
“I think you’re seeing it really attracts the right group of people for the future,” he explained. “As we’re aging there’s a younger generation coming after us. These younger people want to do things differently and it’s good that we get the opportunity.”
According to Mr. Phillips, Scottsdale has a large amount of adults over the age of 65, who might be turned off from the young generation downtown.
“I worry that the perception of downtown would be that it’s a party atmosphere,” he said. “We have a lot of adults here — Scottsdale has the highest percentage of adults over 65 I think — they want to come downtown too and they don’t want to go downtown if they’re afraid to.”
Mr. Phillips says he doesn’t personally believe the downtown district is contributing to the economy, but Ms. Klapp says that isn’t true.
“The entertainment district is pretty locked into its own area, which is a good thing, but the other side of the coin is our own city treasurer said it costs more to police it than the revenue that we bring in,” said Mr. Phillips. “So while young millennials might like to go there and have a beer and cheeseburger, it’s not really contributing that much to our economy.”
Ms. Klapp offered a different perspective.
“The entertainment district is a very good, viable business district for the city of Scottsdale,” said Ms. Klapp. “It brings in a great deal of revenues — more than what was just eluded to — the amount of taxes that come to the city from the restaurant and bar industry downtown is about $3 million.”
Ms. Klapp said an economic impact conducted in 2012 found that the downtown restaurants and overall businesses have an impact of $300 million.
Regardless of age group visiting downtown, the growing area is only a portion of the city, says Ms. Korte.
“The entertainment district is a part of Scottsdale, it’s a part of the business district, it’s not representative of all of Scottsdale,” she said.
Over a decade ago Ms. Korte said the downtown area had boarded up businesses and tumbleweeds blowing through its streets.
“We have a very vibrant, viable district that is celebrated not only by other communities but also celebrated by our tourism,” Ms. Korte explained. “It’s in transition again, because there are many apartments and condos that have already opened up. That is where you get the 24-7 mix that is going to change services down there.”
Workplace rights for all
In 2014, the Scottsdale City Council signed a “UNITY Pledge,” followed by the pursuit of an LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance by city staff and the council in August 2015.
But a work session discussion last March left some wondering why the city of Scottsdale would not join other Arizona municipalities — including Phoenix, Tempe, Tucson and Flagstaff — and become the 226th American city of officially adopt a nondiscrimination ordinance to protect members of the LGBT community.
In June of 2015, the city of Scottsdale sent a letter to 88,000 utility customers encouraging residents and proprietors to sign the pledge and join the council in its support of LGBT rights. A member of city council says close to 50 hateful letters were sent back to the city following the UNITY Pledge effort, which for some on the local governing board convinced them of the need for civil protections.
Scottsdale municipal employees already enjoy LGBT workplace protections. In December 2007 the city adopted Ordinance No. 3765, which prohibits any city employee from discriminating against another employee based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
During the Oct. 4 debate, only one of the four candidates opposed a city-wide nondiscrimination ordinance. Mr. Phillips says he would never discriminate in his own personal business, but doesn’t believe the city should be regulating businesses in that sense.
“As far as the city doing that, I did not agree and do not agree with it. I agreed with the UNITY pledge, but I think it was a mistake when the city sent out those letters in the water bill,” said Mr. Phillips.
He said the response the city received afterwards was not hate of the LGBT community, but upset proprietors.
“I don’t think it’s that big of an issue,” Mr. Phillips continued. “I wouldn’t be for it. The reason for it is I have a small business, a lot of people have small businesses, and they call it a bathroom bill because you have to let a gentleman follow your daughter into a bathroom otherwise you have to build them a separate bathroom.”
Ms. Korte says she led the discussion about the nondiscrimination ordinance for council, but the elected group could not come to a final consensus.
“I believe that there is no one in this room that believes discriminating against an individual is right or fair, or morally right, and that’s what this is all about,” she said. “The U.S. Constitution does not protect the rights of LGBT individuals, they can be fired from their jobs by their employers just because they’re gay and they have no legal right to fight that. That’s just plain wrong.”
Without the ordinance, Ms. Korte believes it can effect the city’s tourism industry.
“It doesn’t provide a safe place for our employees and it doesn’t provide a safe place for our tourism. I think that’s an important component of being a tourism town, is providing a safe place that people can come and work, get housing and enjoy our public space.”
Ms. Klapp, the owner of a local small business, says she would support working to find a solution that everyone on the council can agree on.
“We have tried to take an ordinance through a council and it’s difficult; it’s difficult to create certain points of that ordinance,” she said. “I don’t know if even it came back to the council again we would be able to hammer out those differences, but I’m willing to try. It’s definitely something that could come back again, and I will certainly work as best I can to find some common ground.”
Mr. Schweiker strongly believes the ordinance is needed.
“From both a business and tourism background, discrimination is bad,” he said. “If I’m elected, I will be the extra vote needed to make sure we have the LGBT community protected.”
Editor’s Note: Mr. Phillips’ quote above refers to then city-treasurer David Smith.