Paper of Record: The stories that defined Scottsdale in 2018

In calendar year 2018 the Scottsdale Independent covered extensively the ins and outs of the community of Scottsdale — and succinctly offered watchdog reporting at City Hall.

From the divisive Desert EDGE project and subsequent passage of Proposition 420 into local law and the ultimate erosion of trust at the Scottsdale Unified School District the Independent and its dedicated reporting staff was there for all of it.

Aside from political fallout atop local governing boards, the Independent also offered a salute to the accomplishments of local student athletes, the outcome of local elections, how the American recycling narrative is destined to change and the collateral damage of affluence.

But what truly defined what the Independent offered in calendar year 2018: A voice for the little guy.

No matter the issue — big or small — if a resident had an opinion, critical or otherwise, the hometown newspaper for more than 300,000 annual digital users would make sure those in power heard their perspectives.

Many now say the political landscape of the city of Scottsdale is shifting and through a conscientious approach to local journalism this is how the biggest stories of 2018 unfolded.

1. Voice of the People

As we stumble along the transition into the Digital Age a new development in the arena of public discourse has emerged: the birth of the political gadfly.

A political gadfly is defined as a person who persistently annoys or provokes others with criticism, schemes, ideas, demands or requests.

But while nature’s gadflies play their typical role — an annoyance of larger mammals dealing with a collection of any of the three major types of flies: filth flies, drain flies and blow flies — the political variant is growing in stature.

In calendar year 2018, the people of Scottsdale made their voices — and opinions — known to the outside world through usage of the Guest Commentary submission both in print form and online.

From now-confirmed illegal activity at the Scottsdale Unified School District to the political landscape eruption at City Hall, Scottsdale residents used their paper of record to hold the powerful accountable.

Turns out the pen is mightier than the sword — it always has been and will continue to be as long as local residents continue to choose to exercise their First Amendment rights.

Our digital and print opinion pages belong to readers, not our employees. Our role is to facilitate the community’s discussion of public issues, draw people out, make sure the discussion is as open and vigorous as possible, and keep it within the bounds of fair play.

2. The day the EDGE died

Tuesday, Dec. 11 may be a turning point atop Scottsdale City Council as the governing board — for once and for all — put an end to the prospects of a desert-appreciation venue within the bounds of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

This sign encourages Preserve patrons to be aware of their surroundings and to not let certain behavior provide an opportunity to victimized. (File phohto)

Scottsdale City Council voted unanimously Dec. 11 to end all municipal efforts for a project originally envisaged as the Desert Discover Center but later realized as the Desert EDGE.

Desert Discovery Center Scottsdale unveiled its plan for a proposed desert-appreciation venue in July 2016, but proponents of the project remain steadfast to the assertion the research facility was always in the works.

The effort was spearheaded by Sam Campana, former mayor of Scottsdale, who is serving as executive director of the nonprofit, which was charged with developing the Desert EDGE proposal.

That Desert EDGE proposal, which came at a cost of just over $1.6 million and many believe has been the catalyst for the immersion of a new political narrative, will not emerge at City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd.

3. A parent’s guide to SUSD’s transgressions

Like a butterfly spreading its wings for the first time, the Scottsdale Unified School District is attempting to muster its energy, courage and strength to emerge anew as it heads toward a new beginning.

While children attend summer camps, teenagers go off to their first jobs and teachers delve in to much-deserved time off, Scottsdale Schools’ officials are seeking to move forward after a tumultuous school year.

SUSD Governing Board members Sandy Kravetz, Allyson Beckham, Pam Kirby and Kim Hartmann. (File photo)

The district’s administration team dismissed its superintendent, chief financial officer, chief business and operations officer, and longtime personnel director. Meanwhile the same top officials were embroiled in a public scandal surrounding the architect hired to rebuild several elementary schools.

In all, Scottsdale Schools saw the departure of employees within the administration and classroom levels due to the build-up and fallout over the events.

Nearly two years ago, rumblings within Hopi Elementary School revealed parental dismay of its rebuild, which was the first school chosen to be reconstructed following a successful $229 million bond in the November 2016 election. A petition emerged that garnered over 1,000 signatures within hours.

SUSD officials found themselves treading through investigations, internal reviews, staff changes and periods of uncertainty for the majority of the school year, while legacy systems came crumbling down in district departments.

An Arizona Attorney General Investigation began percolating, and was announced in November 2017.

Issues were made public quickly. At Governing Board meetings, teachers, parents and community members voiced their concern over decisions made, the speed at which decisions were made and most important: claiming conflicts of interest and nepotism allegedly found at the superintendent’s office.

The community dug in as hoards of emails, information and allegations began surfacing on social media sites, blogs and news media. Three candidates for two open seats at the upcoming school board election emerged, they say, due to community outcries.

The five elected Governing Board members largely stayed mum on issues, allowing people to voice concern for several months. Some yelled, some cried and others spoke eloquently as SUSD meeting after meeting went by with very little explanation said about issues everyone seemed to be talking about.

The seal of the city of Scottsdale. (File photo)

4. New topography of the political landscape

Local voters Tuesday, Nov. 6 elected three people from a field of five to represent their interests at Scottsdale City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd.

In all, Scottsdale voters re-elected two incumbents — Linda Milhaven and Kathy Littlefield — and one fresh face — Solange Whitehead — to serve atop the local dais for the next four years. New members, incumbent or otherwise, will take office this January.

Two new community members have been elected to the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board for a 2019-22 term.

Paradise Valley resident Patty Beckman and Scottsdale resident Jann-Michael Greenburg are the two new elected officials. While they were the only two official candidates on the ballot, former Governing Board member Christine Schild was running as a write-in candidate.

Mr. Greenburg, a newly sworn-in attorney for the state of New York, says this election marks a turning point for SUSD.

Jake Smith (right) shakes hands with Arizona Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen (left) after accepting the Gatorade National Player of the Year award from him. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

5. Jake Smith notches national accolade

Standing at the center of a clapping and cheering vortex of Notre Dame Preparatory student-athletes, media members and other community members, Jake Smith accepted a trophy that he didn’t fully comprehend in the moment.

Smith — a running back/wide receiver for NDP and University of Texas commit — accepted the trophy for the Gatorade Player of the Year in football from Arizona Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen, who Smith had just watched play Sunday, Dec. 9 in Glendale. Rosen surprised Smith during his advanced P.E. class.

At the time, he thought it was just for the Arizona player of the year recognition. Once the media walked in, Smith decided to read what the trophy was for exactly, that’s when it dawned on him.

6. A perception of equality

If beauty is found in the eye of the beholder then the idea of equality can be realized in the mind’s eye.

The Human Relations Commission — a five-member advisory board to Scottsdale City Council — has launched a marketing campaign to help others understand the different ethnicities and cultures around them.

The rainbow flag is a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender pride and LGBT social movements in use since the 1970s with colors representing sexuality, life, healing, sunlight, nature, art, harmony and spirit. (File photo)

The Scottsdale for All campaign has already reached thousands through its innovative social-media approach to spreading the idea of equality and inclusiveness.

In tune with last year’s mayoral designation of Scottsdale as a Golden Rule city — one which holds fundamental values like kindness, empathy, respect and civility in high esteem — officials at the Human Relations Commission say the campaign is meant to help bring the stories of all walks of life together.

Numbers show Scottsdale has a population of 249,950, of which 88 percent are classified as “Caucasian.” The next highest ethnicity listed is “Latino” at about 10 percent, according to the United State Census Bureau.

As the Scottsdale for All campaign continues to pick up steam, elected leaders and community advocates alike agree the failure of City Council to pass a non-discrimination ordinance to protect members of the LGBTQ community illustrates the weight of legacy political influence.

7. Sales tax approved for crumbling infrastructure

In the face of numerous infrastructure projects, Scottsdale voters approved a ballot measure that will implement a .10 percent sales tax increase over the next 10 years.

That increase — which voters approved with 54 percent of the vote during the Nov. 6 general election, according to unofficial results at the county recorders office — will amount to one penny on every $10 purchase.

Drinkwater Bridge in the Civic Center Mall area is in need of repairs, city officials say. (File photo)

This money will go to help fund about $500 million in transportation needs, Scottsdale Transportation Director Paul Basha said. More specifically, the city hopes, through the tax, to raise $70 million, making it eligible for $171 million more from the Arterial Life Cycle Program of the Maricopa Association of Governments.

Allocations of ALCP revenue are administered taxpayer dollars from Prop. 400, which is a .5 percent sales tax allocation for transportation projects. To qualify for the projects, Scottsdale needed to ensure funding dollars are available to meet tenets of the ALCP.

The need for transportation improvement funds was sparked when 68th Street Bridge was deemed unsafe for travel earlier this year, followed by the closing of Drinkwater Bridge in Old Town Scottsdale.

Curtis Tarkington (photo courtesy of Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund)

8. A salute to the heroes of Scottsdale

It is because of a veteran.

Because of a veteran, we have the right to freedom of speech; to peacefully assemble; to vote; and the right to many other facets of life embedded in our day-to-day lives that are uniquely American.
The message was loud and clear on a sunny Scottsdale afternoon, as retired Navy Capt. Larry Ernst emotionally captivated and moved the audience with a touching tribute to mark Veterans Day 2018.

Over the sounds of young children playing nearby, Scottsdale’s veterans — particularly from the Vietnam War — were paid homage on Nov. 9, at the city’s annual event. Underneath a large tent at McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park, a crowd comprised of veterans of all ages recounted the importance of those who served all branches of United States military.

9. The economy of conservation

The implications of a 2013 decision made more than 7,000 miles away in the heart of the Far East is beginning to reverberate in the United States of America — and The West’s Most Western Town is no exception.

The Scottsdale Solid Waste Division offers residents both curbside waste and recycling services, but those costs could be on the rise as the global recyclable market shifts. (File photo)

The Republic of China in February 2013 began a program called Green Fence, which then matured into the National Sword effort and now translates to an almost outright ban of what American’s call “recyclables.”

In a formal announcement in July 2017, Chinese officials announced the Republic’s intentions to the World Trade Organization it will no longer be accepting the world’s — most critically those hailing from the United States of America — rubbish and recovered materials.

The ban has been in effect since Jan. 1.

While the public sector has been nearly silent on the far-reaching implications of the decision, private sector officials contend the shift in the global recyclable marketplace will likely reshape the beloved conservation narrative for future generations.

However, officials at the Scottsdale Solid Waste Department say it’s business as usual as the municipality holds an exclusive recycling contract through 2031 with the Salt River Commercial Landfill, 13602 N. Beeline Highway, which in turn, holds a contract with Republic Services to continue to accept contamination-free recyclables.

But at City Hall, officials there say, costs for services will likely rise as the economic vitality of recyclable materials continues to tumble.

10. The collateral damage of affluence

From the outside looking in, most people think of Scottsdale as a community defined by affluence and personified by million-dollar homes, five-star resorts and apartment complexes transformed into luxury dwellings.

Residential properties are increasing in values, living wages are more common and vacant office spaces are slowly, but surely, disappearing.

And, thanks to the many high-profile events and activities — and the weather — tourism remains the No. 1 economic driver for “The West’s Most Western Town.”

Residents, city officials and elected leaders seem to agree the brand of Scottsdale has never been stronger.

But collateral damage of the age of affluence enjoyed by many in Scottsdale is forcing a wider gap in economic inequality as outreach numbers surge and legacy residents struggle to make ends meet.

When it comes to poverty, a rising tide doesn’t necessarily float all boats. Local officials and organizations helping those in need are seeing an increase in requests for their services.

One local community center has seen its requests for emergency food boxes nearly double over the past six months. The city has provided over $300,000 in rent assistance this past year to Scottsdale residents.

And, even more striking: the amount of Scottsdale residents living below the federal poverty level is on the rise. About 9 percent, or just over 21,000 residents, live below the poverty line in Scottsdale.

On any given February morning in south Scottsdale those in need regulary seek out the support offered at Vista Del Camino. (File photo)

Independent Newsmedia Arizona Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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