Mayor Collins: Community Conversation model is one tool of consensus building

Paradise Valley Mayor Michael Collins. (File Photo)

Scottsdale Councilwoman Virginia Korte is seeking to bring different viewpoints surrounding Scottsdale issues to the table in an effort to find middle ground and consensus through a “Community Conversation.”

The neighboring municipality of Paradise Valley has, during years of late, been using the Community Conversation model to bridge the gap between points of view members of the community have on various topics of public interest.

Last April Paradise Valley Town Council hosted a Community Conversation event meant to allow town leaders and members of the general public better understand concerns and trepidation about the existing rules governing trash haulers and the potential for those guidelines to change within town limits.

Paradise Valley Mayor Michael Collins says he is a proponent of robust civil dialogue. The Scottsdale Independent reached out to Mayor Collins for his perspective on the “Community Conversation” and how it has worked in the Town of Paradise Valley.

This is what he had to say:

•In the Town of Paradise Valley, where did the idea of a Community Conversation come from?
Increasing resident participation in local government decision making was a key priority for me when I first ran for and was elected mayor in 2014. The Paradise Valley Ritz-Carlton resort project was another priority for me and became our first significant policy decision in 2014. Knowing that we would hear a wide range of opinions on the project, I asked our town manager to help me facilitate a Community Conversation on the Ritz where residents, elected leaders and staff could talk and listen to each other in a semi-formal, less structured town council meeting environment where we could share information and give residents a more comfortable opportunity to participate. It led ultimately to the identification of key takeaways for project success that framed the refinement of the project and its ultimate town council review and approval.

•In your view, have they been successful?
I love hosting Community Conversations and am convinced they lead to better public policy decision making. Oftentimes a few attendees emerge as legitimate subject matter experts with valuable industry knowledge. Always the audience is filled with community influencers with keen interests in or perspectives on the particular topic. But it takes a special skill to moderate a successful public conversation. Most important, the moderator must respectfully and constructively engage residents with high quality debate and discourse.

•What kinds of topics has the town tackled using the Community Conversation model?
We like to employ Community Conversation events whenever we have challenging policy decisions to make or on topics that directly impact the quality of life of a large number of residents. Following the Ritz project we used the approach again on trash services, hillside building review, and storm water management. Hopefully we will have another Community Conversation soon as we discuss the fate of the town’s heritage alarm monitoring service.

•What makes a Community Conversation successful?
A successful Community Conversation is one where everyone in the audience leaves feeling satisfied they had an opportunity to speak and be heard, that they were listened to, and they were treated respectfully by me, other council members and staff. Not everyone will agree on every policy decision but Paradise Valley residents are smart, and expect their elected leaders and staff are likewise smart, engaged, and trying to make good policy decisions. If residents leave feeling this way, I call the Community Conversation a success.

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

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