City Council candidates talk growing divisiveness of Scottsdale politicking

On Tuesday, Nov. 6 local voters will elect three people to Scottsdale City Council.

This election year will showcase the chase for three seats with those inhabiting those chairs not ready to give up a seat on the local dais.

The incumbents are: Kathy Littlefield, David Smith and Linda Milhaven, meanwhile the challengers are Bill Crawford and Solange Whitehead.

Scottsdale voters can expect a total of five candidates seeking three city council seats.

In partnership, the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce and the Scottsdale Independent are hosting a candidate debate at City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd., from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 1, which will be aired on local cable access.

In early spring, seven people pulled packets, but one candidate — Becca Linnig — opted to pull out of the race prior to the May 30 signature deadline, which confirms the municipality is forgoing a primary election, according to the City Clerk’s Office.

In addition, one candidate, Alyssa Robis, failed to successfully defend a challenge in Superior Court for her qualifying signatures and ultimately dropped out.

However, the field is set, and the Independent offers its second installment of an eight-part, question-and-answer series to help readers better understand the motivations and beliefs of these five candidates.

The Independent reached out to each candidate to ask if they believe the local political stratosphere has created a line of division between resident, elected leader and the popular consciousness that governs modern Scottsdale.

This is what they had to say:

Solange Whitehead

Solange Whitehead

• American politics has become an incredibly divisive topic — and Scottsdale politics is no exception. Do you believe you can help to bring more civility to the conversations surrounding Scottsdale politics?

Politics at the national level have become incredibly divisive and seem fueled by a variety of forces working against, not for, the public good. The notion that Scottsdale citizens are divided or uncivil is a myth. A myth perpetuated by some on City Council. I have knocked on hundreds of doors and met residents in every ZIP code over the past eight months. Our community is united, engaged, and kind.

From south to north, Scottsdale residents share a love of Scottsdale and believe infrastructure, public safety, and open space are priorities. They oppose the rampant up-zoning and yearn for leaders that unite us. They share an overwhelming fear that money interests control City Council and our democracy is being destroyed.

I am running to bring the priorities that unite our community back to City Hall. By restoring a city-resident partnership, we will get a lot more done, for less money, and celebrate many victories. By strengthening trust in the local government and nurturing community relationships, we will build a foundation that can begin to heal the divides at the national level.

• Why do you think we have gotten here as a community?

The City Council majority is not aligned with community priorities, lacks fiscal discipline, and implements changes with severe, but foreseeable quality of life and financial consequences.

When members of the community present clear, quantifiable opposition to a proposal, a council-majority routinely chooses to disenfranchise constituents by denying a public vote or moving zoning negotiations behind closed doors. Even more shocking, citizens presenting opposing views have faced personal attacks from the dais and anonymous bloggers.

The trend away from citizen representation coupled with a dramatic increase in special interest dollars flooding City Council elections have cratered public trust.

• Can you tell me one way you will work toward collaboration with your fellow council member if you are elected?

I hope to build back a collaborative spirit on City Council by focusing first on a shared and critical priority — the fire department. The Scottsdale development application must be updated to require that land be designated for future fire stations. This is not done today. Setting aside the land up-front will substantially reduce the cost of the fire station while guaranteeing that the location will minimize response times and maximize coverage. This is the only sensible way to protect public safety and tax dollars as our city grows.

I am a former Preserve commissioner and I have collaborated with many City Council members over the years. I played a role in passing the 2004 bond and also collaborated with then-Councilman Jim Lane to stop the frequent Preserve closures during summer months.

David Smith

David Smith

• American politics has become an incredibly divisive topic — and Scottsdale politics is no exception. Do you believe you can help to bring more civility to the conversations surrounding Scottsdale politics?

Yes. My first terms on council demonstrated a leadership style based on civil dialogue. I purposely reach out to groups and individuals of different persuasions to understand their motivations in the context of my own diverse experience.

My senior management positions with large companies in the private sector, as well as owning a small business in Scottsdale, have given me a unique and credible perspective to understand a diversity of business needs.

My “family footprint” in Scottsdale over 30 years includes south Scottsdale, McCormick Ranch, the Airpark and north Scottsdale and has given me first-hand understanding of the distinctive needs of our diverse city.

My experience as Scottsdale City Treasurer when the city struggled through the recession has given me a unique understanding of “how the city works,” so I can have enlightened financial discussions with my fellow citizens.

• Why do you think we have gotten here as a community?

I don’t think this is unique to our community; it is evident across America. Citizens are pressed for time and looking for “shorthand” ways to judge the performance of their government and/or elected officials. A single issue can become a litmus test to justify a voting position or to differentiate between candidates for election.

Social media is ideally suited for offering pre-packaged, concise soundbites, which then become rallying cries. Unfortunately, the success of social media often depends less on the logic, merits or truth of a position than the marketing and communication skills of the social media experts.

It is easy to cobble together a group of individuals to criticize government; it is difficult to rally a like number of individuals in support of their government and its approach to the future.

• Can you tell me one way you will work toward collaboration with your fellow council member if you are elected?

As a council body, we need to agree on a citizen-generated vision of where we are going and how we believe various initiatives will get us there. To that end, I plan to collaborate with fellow council members and citizens to adopt a new General Plan, updating the General Plan last approved by voters in 2001.

If council effectively communicates how our actions conform to an updated General Plan, more of our citizens may be reassured we are governing with their interests in mind.

Linda Milhaven

Linda Milhaven

• American politics has become an incredibly divisive topic — and Scottsdale politics is no exception. Do you believe you can help to bring more civility to the conversations surrounding Scottsdale politics?

I have always worked to model civil dialogue and collaboration. In fact, my opponents have noted that I never make the dialogue personal, but rather focus discussion on the facts and the issues. As leaders, we must insist on respectful dialogue from others and call out incivility and disrespect when we see it.

Last year, I took exception with the tactics of some people who maligned folks who disagreed with them. They made abhorrent references and posted false reports on Trip Advisor when hotel management advocated for something they opposed. I don’t know who did these things, but I called for us as a community to hold ourselves to a higher standard.

Rather than join me in the condemnation of this incivility, some called my demand for respect disrespectful. They misrepresented my statement as a criticism of everyone who shared their same point of view. I do not attribute this disrespect to everyone who shares the same opinion.

I do stand by what I said. As a community, we must demand civility and a discussion based on facts and not on personal attacks. We deserve better. I will continue to stand up and call for respect and civility and urge everyone to do the same.

• Why do you think we have gotten here as a community?

Typically, when I meet personally with people, even those with strong opinions, we are able to have a constructive conversation — even if we agree to disagree. There is a difference between strong opposing points of view and incivility.

Unfortunately, there are others — who I believe are a minority in our community — that will use any means possible to achieve their ends. They use misinformation, misleading sound bites and personal attacks in email blasts, Facebook post and Tweets to influence public opinion. Anyone who disagrees is greeted with fresh personal attacks.

This is a relatively new tactic. One that I hope will not hijack our discussion of the broader issues. I trust that Scottsdale voters will have a healthy skepticism, take a balanced view, see past the personal attacks and sound bites and decide for themselves based on the facts.

Can you tell me one way you will work toward collaboration with your fellow council member if you are elected?

I will continue to reach out to my colleagues to understand their points of few and to collaboratively seek solutions.

One example of collaboration led to four new fire stations and miles of road improvements. As soon as Councilwoman Littlefield was elected, I reached out to her to discuss how to fund critical infrastructure improvements. Councilwoman Littlefield had chaired the previous “No” bond campaign efforts and I wanted to understand what changes she wanted to see. During the ongoing conversations, I checked with her frequently. We met jointly with the City Attorney to agree on ballot language. As a result of our collaboration, we agreed on the bond proposal and Councilwoman Littlefield supported a “YES” vote at the next bond election.

More recently, Councilman Phillips had been skeptical about funding options to pay for infrastructure improvements. He accepted my invitation to meetings I set up with our City Treasurer to review the city’s capital investments and budget. These meetings provided us the information we needed to make the best decisions. It also helped me to understand Councilman Philips thoughts and concerns. After careful review and consideration, the City Council unanimously agreed that we needed additional revenues to meet the city’s critical capital needs.

We will never agree on everything but disagreement leads to rich dialogue and challenges all of us think more broadly. If we understand and respect each other’s points of view, we make better decisions for the entire city. I will continue to reach out to learn and collaborate.

Kathy Smith

Kathy Littlefield

• American politics has become an incredibly divisive topic — and Scottsdale politics is no exception. Do you believe you can help to bring more civility to the conversations surrounding Scottsdale politics?

I agree when we disagree we should stick to the issues and not attack our opponents personally. During my three years on City Council that is exactly what I have done, and I will continue to conduct myself that way if I am re-elected.

• Why do you think we have gotten here as a community?

Partly this is a reflection of the trend toward incivility on the national and state levels. Locally this has been magnified by the number of highly controversial development proposals that have appeared over the last few years and have outraged many citizens. Not surprising the heat is rising in local politics.

• Can you tell me one way you will work toward collaboration with your fellow council member if you are elected?

I have always worked collaboratively with my council colleagues, including my political opponents, when I believe they are proposing something that will be good for Scottsdale. One example is the ballot question to provide funds for transportation improvement projects for our city.

Bill Crawford

Bill Crawford

• American politics has become an incredibly divisive topic — and Scottsdale politics is no exception. Do you believe you can help to bring more civility to the conversations surrounding Scottsdale politics?

Yes. I believe in solving problems, not taking sides. I listen to all sides, searching for building blocks that can be put together for a successful outcome.

During my 20-plus years living and working in Scottsdale, I’ve devoted myself to protecting our city’s unique brand and quality of life and have successfully advocated for residents, neighborhoods and businesses citywide.
One of my most notable achievements was working with residents and businesses to address public safety and compatibility concerns regarding the Entertainment District in Old Town Scottsdale. My efforts in collaboration with Mayor Jim Lane were successful and led to a safer downtown.

My tools for bringing civility to difficult conversations include 40-plus years of business negotiation experience, extensive community service and law enforcement training, where I was taught de-escalation and problem resolution.

Despite differing views, we can all agree on one thing: we all want what is best for Scottsdale. I look forward to continuing to be a powerful voice for Scottsdale residents.

• Why do you think we have gotten here as a community?

I believe the reason our political climate has become so divisive is because some people in Scottsdale have hijacked issues and sold a reality that does not exist for the purpose of building a political base. This tactic does nothing to benefit the city as a whole, but benefits self-serving agendas of people who continue to exploit issues for their own personal gain.

Instead of working together and meeting halfway for the greater good of our city, these individuals who chose to sell a reality that does not exist have become obstructionists. As a result, they have squandered their positions by attacking and vilifying their opponents, council persons, city employees and members of the business and development community. This cultivated division creates an atmosphere where it is impossible to advance any meaningful negotiations and compromise.

We need to get back to the basics and return to our city’s core ideals of respect and cooperation. As a successful business owner and community leader in Scottsdale for more than 20 years, I have a proven track record of bringing people together to solve problems.

If elected to the City Council, I will be a voice of compromise to continue moving Scottsdale in the right direction.

• Can you tell me one way you will work toward collaboration with your fellow council member if you are elected?

It all starts with dialogue and consideration of differing perspectives. I am a strong believer in holding fair and orderly meetings with agendas, as in Robert’s Rules of Order, which is a time-tested standard, providing common rules of parliamentary procedure for deliberation and debate. That’s how we solve problems.

People can look at the same issue and see different perspectives, and yet still have effective solutions for solving problems.

These differences must be identified, along with the similarities in common, to forge compromise so we always make the right decision for our city.

As your councilman, I will respect differences in opinion with my fellow council members on issues that impact Scottsdale and I will work towards responsible solutions that keep us moving forward in a positive way.

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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