Scottsdale City Council candidates share platforms at Independent forum

An overview of the crowd at Scottsdale City Hall gathered to hear those seeking a seat atop Scottsdale City Council debate local issues that matter Monday, Oct. 1. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

Scottsdale City Council candidates, local media and residents descended on City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd., Monday, Oct. 1 for a city council forum where candidates could opine on a plethora of local topics and issues.

Incumbents Kathy Littlefield, Linda Milhaven and David Smith as well as challengers Bill Crawford and Solange Whitehead were all in attendance for the forum, which the Scottsdale Independent hosted.

Candidates discussed topics including quality of life, infrastructure costs, sales tax initiative, divisive politics, Proposition 420, equitable housing and healthcare, police shortage and “dark money.” Candidates answered a series of moderated questions as well as a few audience questions.

Scottsdale voters will elect three people to serve as members of Scottsdale City Council Tuesday, Nov. 6.

Opening Statements

Before candidates got into the meat of their viewpoints, each one had a chance to introduce themselves and give an overall vision of what they hope to accomplish if elected to City Council.

Scottsdale City Council candidate Bill Crawford at the Oct. 1 debate. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

Mr. Crawford outlined key goals for his potential term on the governing body. They included his pledge to protect the city’s “unique” quality of life; honoring “the will of the residents with honesty and transparency;” to protect the city’s “priceless treasures;” and to promote and protect property values.

“If elected, I will continue to build on our city’s success and keep us moving forward by bringing people together from all sides to solve problems by listening, not taking sides, and uniting the residents together for a common solution,” he said during the forum.

Ms. Littlefield began the forum by stating her efforts through her first term on council, saying she has been the residents’ voice on the local dais. She then listed her goals as strengthening city finances, supporting first responders and fighting against over-development.

“But my immediate goal is for voter approval in November to put a stop once and forever to the idea of allowing any commercial development in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve without the permission and the consent of the voters,” she said.

Ms. Milhaven followed by listing her accomplishments and priorities through her first two terms. Those included maintaining quality of life, using her past experience to “promote private investments to maintain a robust local economy” that she believes leads to more jobs and lower taxes.

She also cited her work with the neighbors around Scottsdale Fashion Square as an example of how she’s working to reach her priorities. She said she worked with the neighbors to compromise on a project she believes helps keep taxes low in the community because of the sales tax.

Mr. Smith outlined his past experiences in finances and budgeting.

He also noted he had received endorsements from several past mayors and councilmembers who, Mr. Smith said, helped build the city to what it is today with past visions, similar to his.

Ms. Whitehead said she has three guiding principles that include “know who you represent;” “be honest and transparent to all;” and “be financially responsible.” She said she believes these principles to be essential in city government.

Scottsdale City Council incumbents Linda Milhaven, left, and David Smith during a candidate debate held Oct. 1 at City Hall. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

Sales tax initiative

In the upcoming November election, voters will be asked whether the city should increase local sales tax by .10 percent for 10 years in hopes of raising more than $70 million to help pay for transit and transportation projects in the city.

Furthermore, if approved, city officials believe it will make Scottsdale eligible for $171 million in matching funds from Maricopa County to meet the tenets of its arterial life cycle program.

In May, City Council approved the resolution that materialized into the ballot measure by a 4-3 vote with Ms. Milhaven and Mr. Smith joining the dissension.

Scottsdale City Council incumbent Kathy Littlefield delivers a response during the Oct. 1 City Council debate. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

All five candidates support the ballot measure, though their reasoning differed.

Ms. Milhaven said she thought a property tax would have been a better solution but now supports the ballot measure. Mr. Smith said he urges citizens to pass the measure because the city has desperate needs to satisfy in regard to transportation.

“It is our responsibility as councilmembers, in my judgment, to tell you what the needs are,” Mr. Smith said addressing the crowd.

“It is then your privilege of telling us if you choose to fund those needs. But we should not be sticking our finger in the air and saying, ‘I don’t think the citizens are ready for this, so let’s not ask them.’ We certainly shouldn’t be approaching this as a divided council saying on one hand, we need it and the other council members saying it’s not needed at all.”

Mr. Crawford said he saw the measure as a win-win situation all around although he doesn’t see it as the total solution, but rather a big help to reaching a solution. Ms. Littlefield said getting that money from the county is crucial because if the city doesn’t, it will go to the next city in line.

Ms. Whitehead said while she does support the tax, she doesn’t “think Scottsdale taxpayers should have been put between a rock and a hard place” in regard to the tax proposal.

The tax has come to answer the city’s 118 identified infrastructure projects that carry an estimated cost of $810 million, exceeding the city’s funding sources and mechanisms.

Mr. Smith said this backlog has happened because the city hasn’t made investments equal to the depreciation of the assets. He also said he anticipates the city will be back asking for more money since the amount likely won’t cover the need.

Ms. Littlefield also said the issue is the city is not putting aside money for the maintenance of these projects.

“We need a systematic and complete budgetary allotment every year that goes into the maintenance and upkeep of our streets,” she said.

Ms. Whitehead blamed the lack of finances on what she saw as “poor choices and lack of fiscal restraint.” She said she believes upholding current zoning and code requirements.

“When it comes to maintaining bridges, when it comes to keeping our streets up, if we don’t change the development fees to cover these costs, once again, we don’t have the money to do these projects but if we allow our tax dollars to be used on special interest projects, projects that don’t directly benefit the community, we also run short of funds,” she said.

Scottsdale City Council challenger Solange Whitehead outlines her staunch support for Proposition 420. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

Prop. 420

Proposition 420, if approved, will require voter approval for all construction and usage of earmarked conservation dollars within the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

Local community activists behind the Protect Our Preserve and NoDDC campaigns spurned the proposition by collecting more than 37,000 signatures, ultimately forcing it to the ballot. City Clerk Carolyn Jagger said more than 24,000 qualified local voters signed the petition.

At the forum, Mr. Crawford, Ms. Littlefield and Ms. Whitehead all voiced their support for Prop. 420 while Ms. Milhaven stated she did not support the measure. Mr. Smith’s position was unclear.

Managing Editor Terrance Thornton served as moderator for the Oct. 1 debate held at City Hall. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

Ms. Whitehead said she believes the Preserve needs an extra layer of protection. Mr. Crawford said he’s in full support of Prop. 420, despite what some have said.

“I’ve been for this since day one,” Mr. Crawford said. “It’s in my position statement on my website. It’s in the voter guide and I’ve made the statement before because I think the people should have the right to decide.”

Ms. Littlefield said she believes the Preserve ordinance is no longer strong enough to stand up to a four-person majority on council, thus causing a need to put the control of the Preserve back in the hands of the voters.

On the opposite side, Ms. Milhaven said everyone wants to protect the Preserve but the difference is how to do that. She said she thinks the Preserve ordinance is clear and already doesn’t allow for commercial developments.

She also worries that Prop. 420 will inhibit the city in its restoration efforts and “make attorneys rich trying to figure out what the natural state is with evolving ecology and what appropriate restoration is.”

Mr. Smith said he does have concerns with changing the Charter and he thinks Prop. 420 does that “in ways we should not be doing.”

He also said he is opposed to commercial development in the Preserve, but is in favor of making what he sees as necessary improvements to it such as trails, trailheads and parking lots.

“I don’t think the residents meant ‘and stop there,’” Mr. Smith said. “I think they meant to make improvements thereto that would benefit all the citizens.”

City Hall is at 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd. (Independent Newspapers/Arianna Grainey)

News Services Reporter Josh Martinez can be contacted at jmartinez@newszap.com or at 623-445-2738

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