The Independent interview: Scottsdale Councilman Guy Phillips

Guy Phillips

One of our feature articles this month focused on local political activists generated an enormous response from our sources we couldn’t fit for print.

Instead of leaving those comments on the cutting room floor, the Scottsdale Independent offers a questions-and-answer segment with Councilman Guy Phillips to better understand his perspective on how local politics is shifting.

In its entirety, this is what he had to say:

•Years prior to being elected to Scottsdale City Council you were a local activist speaking out against issues you felt passionately about. Where did this desire come from?

I think that was twofold, one was my passion for Scottsdale and I was getting increasingly concerned about the direction the city was going, mostly by removing its history and charm and replacing it with development. The other was the feeling that as a person I had no say and government seemed to be doing whatever it wanted at the expense of its citizens, not just Scottsdale but nationwide.

•What were you seeking to accomplish during your time as a grassroots activist?

I wanted to make government aware that we the people voted for them to represent us, not special interest groups. I joined a Tea Party in its infancy to be with like-minded people with hopes as a larger group we could affect change at the government level. This was the time of David Schweikert and I joined his campaign to reform congress.

•Was becoming a member of Scottsdale City Council the ultimate goal?

I never thought about running for office until after a while of attending these meetings I realized we can’t just get government officials to listen to us, but some had to be replaced. David Schweikert had a lot of influence on my decision to run for local office as he often told me politics starts at home.

•Do you think you make more of a difference in Scottsdale today as a member of council or previously as a member of the activist community?

Good question. After being elected, I soon realized you can’t change government overnight, it is a long and arduous process of politics and reformation. Government is an entity to itself. The staff feel they run the show, and are not fond of listening to someone who may only be there for four years when they have spent 20 years on the job.

I feel I learned a smarter way of affecting change through negotiation and politics rather than just shouting from the rooftops. However, as a city official I also feel stifled in responding to issues. As an activist you can say what’s on your mind with no repercussions but as an official, you could lose valuable strategy to affect change by alienating those who you need to deal with on a daily basis.

Remember, this is not a monarchy. I need four votes to get something passed, and a working relationship with staff to see it through. Imagine how Congress has to deal with 434 other members and their staff. They need to constantly understand who is leaning toward what and how each member can affect other members in order to rally enough votes to get a bill passed.

•What separates a grassroots advocate from an everyday citizen?

It probably takes a certain personality to see it through, but under the right circumstances anyone can be an activist. If your child gets hurt by a toy you might be the one who gets the issue out to get the manufacturer to fix the problem. I remember someone who told me they would never run for office because they were afraid if they spoke out they might end up in the river, so there is a bit of courage involved as well. Sometimes all it takes is a moment of heroics or inspiration to get you activated.

When one of my lead men joined the Marines, he looked at me and said, “So what are you doing for your country?” That one line probably was the catalyst for me getting involved.

•You have formally advocated against portions of the recent bond programs put before local voters. Why was that and how has that affected your standing with your colleagues?

I actively campaigned against previous bond measures for a lot of reasons like transparency and accountability, but mostly because I didn’t feel there was enough thought behind them. It’s easy for government to entice voters with feel good projects and get them to put it on their property tax, but when I see the projects not always fulfilled or diverted to other projects then I needed to speak out.

The city will always have projects, some needed, some not so much. What it does do is keep them in a job and continues growing government. Like I said earlier, government is an entity in itself, and it needs money to grow. Government is the only entity that doesn’t produce a product for profit and relies on taxing its citizens to ensure its survival.

Yes, a city needs to take care of its citizenry but sometimes it seems more concerned about taking care of itself. I feel we are moving in the right direction, but like I said earlier it’s slow and arduous and this is why you see councilmembers doing three to four four-year terms. It’s simply not possible to affect change in one four-year term.

•How do your colleagues treat you?

I feel the city council has been extremely kind and tolerant of me these past six years. We can’t always get along, but when we make good decisions for the city we all benefit.

•How does city staff treat you?

This is a different question. It has been a roller coaster with staff as some do not like an upstart politician telling them how to do their job. I have been able to work out a rapport with some and others do not want to change the way they have been doing things. Mind you as a councilman, I don’t tell staff what to do. That is the city managers job. But when questions arise from residents and I cant get a straight answer from staff its frustrating at best.

I’ve even felt at times that staff has undermined my position to keep my proposals from going forward. Like I said, government takes care of its own. Also, there are those who have their own agendas, which might not be what I feel is best for Scottsdale, but if they get the support of other council then they continue to do as they please. This is a unsettling part of government that I’m sure most know about even in their own office buildings with coworkers. You might not like the way coworker “Bob” gets away with things, but since he’s friends with the boss you can’t say anything.

•Do you trust American government at each of its levels?

I trust the concept and principles of government, but people will be people, with all the good and bad that goes with it. That’s why we need to stay constantly vigilant and “fight the good fight.”

•Many Americans say they don’t trust government; where did this idea of distrust come from do you think?

I know it’s from past officials who have promised the moon to their constituents and then taken them to the cleaners. There have been great leaders and bad ones, but our republic is still intact. One of my favorite quotes that summarizes politicians is from Abraham Lincoln who said “Imagine what could get done if no one took credit.”

I have personally witnessed many occasions where someone killed a good project or idea because it wasn’t theirs or they didn’t benefit personally from it.

•Is the NoDDC effort grassroots activism?

There are definitely some NoDDC activists with the best of intentions and I applaud their efforts. This is what this country is all about and if they get the signatures to get it on the ballot it is an affirmation that the people still have a voice in their city. If there was an initial anonymous approach I would only guess it was fear of reprisal, which would be a sad testament to our current government.

Independent Newsmedia Arizona Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at

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