For Scottsdale activists, the belief of righteousness is common

When I set out on the endeavor of writing one of this month’s feature articles focused on local political activists, I didn’t expect to get such robust comments from my sources.

Terrance Thornton

The response was a bit overwhelming.

But then I realized those who feel disenfranchised by their local government — whether it’s the local school board or city council — all share a common denominator: activated passion.

While this passion sometimes spews words of disgust from those fighting for an idea based on an idea of value they hold to be true, it’s oftentimes very easy to forget proponents on both sides of an issue believe they are righteous.

Sometimes a person wears their passion on his or her sleeve.

“I rarely back down from a movement I believe in. I am tenacious. Personal attacks bounce off me,” said Scottsdale resident Mike Norton, who was one of our sources for this month’s feature article.

“When someone chooses to stand up and demand change, you have to be ready to accept the attacks of the lunatic fringe — including trolls — as well as those who are smarter than I am and dedicated to the opposite cause.”

But somewhere along the line, Mr. Norton picked-up the moniker “mad dog” due to his consistent and, at times, pointed critiques of the locally elected.

“As for the ‘mad dog’ label I’m not fond of it,” he said. “But, I deserve that sometimes. Early in my career I was a plaintiff’s trial lawyer. I can adapt to a role if I need to move the purpose ahead. I prefer civil dialogue, but if we’re blown off and ignored, we turn up the volume until people listen.”

Furthermore, it’s that passion that has fueled a new grassroots perspective on how government ought to operate, and as the digital age is teaching us — very few records are not public.

But this access to the inner-workings of local government seems to have permeated a sense of distrust between citizen and the elected and appointed.

“I trust the concept and principles of government, but people will be people, with all the good and bad that goes with it,” said Scottsdale Councilman Guy Phillips after being asked if he trusts our government. “That’s why we need to stay constantly vigilant and ‘fight the good fight.’”

Councilman Phillips is a man who made the leap from City Hall pest, to elected leader — no small feat of stature.

“I know it’s from past officials who have promised the moon to their constituents and then taken them to the cleaners,” he said of how he approaches the role. “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’ve often wondered how that idea of a job well done plays a role in our society and the people who shape it.

“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,” he said.

But beyond the personal motivations for people to do the good work in a community, our digital opinion pages belong to our readers with the expressed purpose to allow your voice to be heard.

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.

In some communities — Scottsdale is no exception as evident by the reporting these last few months — people have forgotten they have the power to influence the decision-making process. They feel overwhelmed by the powerful elements of the local establishment, not the least of which may be the local paper of record’s institutional voice, which can often tower over all other opinions.

Not so here at the Independent. Our role is to provide information and cover the news honestly and accurately. We keep our points of view away from our editorial coverage.

Taken directly from our Newsroom Guidelines — the marching orders I rely upon to make my day-to-day editorial decisions — we don’t write opinion pieces on public matters because:

  • The Independent has faith in the public’s ability to eventually make good decisions if we provide them a solid understanding of the issues and a place to debate and develop their opinions.
  • When newspapers take editorial stances, the newspaper’s reputation for purposeful neutrality is jeopardized, and its news coverage, however even-handed, becomes suspect.
  • We believe our resources are better spent giving people the information they need to make their own intelligent decisions about important public issues.
  • We believe too many citizens have abdicated their public policy decisions to so-called experts, and editorials tend to encourage the trend. We try to involve them in public policy as participants, not just as spectators.
  • Government “by the people” is a messy process but worth the effort. Citizens need facilitators to encourage open and vital public debate but to keep it within the bounds of fair play. We see the facilitator role as the highest mission of our opinion pages.

If you have something to say or have a news item we can’t ignore, I can be reached directly at

Independent Newsmedia Arizona Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at

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