Germek: the ins and outs of the 2018 Scottsdale City Council race

There are many reasons people vote for certain candidates and not others.

AJ Germek

Buzzwords and slogans resonate with their beliefs. Name recognition from street signs or the press. Influence of friends or family. Some people actually research the candidate’s background and the candidate’s stand on issues.

Unfortunately some decide the whole process is not worth their time and effort and don’t vote at all.

When we let others choose our officials and let them govern for us — they usually do. Then we are upset to learn that some of our elected officials are strongly allied with certain business interests, or don’t have a vision for our city that goes beyond commercial development, or are not interested in hearing our views.

Elected officials don’t want to relinquish their power to people who have been absent from the election and governing process. I recommend we take a closer look at the candidates in three categories before making a decision on how we should vote.

Financial sources

One major issue in the Scottsdale 2014 elections was campaign financing. In early October it was report a nonprofit organization called Scottsdale Strong Inc. contributed almost $100,000 to a political action committee called Scottsdale United in support of select city council candidates in Scottsdale’s Aug. 26 primary.
Such contributions are commonly referred to as “dark money,” because the group originally responsible for these funds, Scottsdale Strong Inc. — a 501(c)4 organization — is not legally obligated to disclose its donors.”

The three ‘select’ candidates received about 2.5 times more campaign funds than the most prolific Scottsdale fundraiser. This channeling of money into local elections means people who don’t live in Scottsdale, do not experience life in Scottsdale and are not affected by the council’s decisions, substantially affect who gets elected.

New campaign financing regulations and the use of pass-through entities to mask donors will make identifying donors even more difficult. We need candidates who are fully transparent in disclosing the sources of their campaign financing and do not require a forensic investigation to determine if non-residents of Scottsdale are substantially affecting our elections.

Transparency is easy to achieve if the candidate is willing to disclose the information.

Development policy

There is a familiar mantra used in politics that development brings jobs and tax income to cities. Although that statement is generally true, how do we know that the specific projects proposed for Scottsdale will be successful?

The current Crossroads East project is advertised to bring $8-9 billion in revenues and to create 5,500 jobs. Really? How was that number calculated? Who did the forecast? Was the impact on city services accurately reported?

Developers are generally wildly optimistic about major projects and generate glowing descriptions of the benefits of their projects. But municipal projects do fail. The Castle Coalition Organization of Arlington identified 20 major municipal projects that failed after some spectacular marketing hype about the economic benefits of the projects.

Since it requires a decade or more to determine the outcome, who can we hold responsible for projects that significantly underperformed or create serious, unintended consequences. Can we start over and return the desert to its unspoiled condition or are the results irretrievable?

There are professional consultants like Craig Whittaker, an urban planning professor from New York University, and others who will look at the financial forecasts and also determine the total impact on the community, the residents and the things they value.

This type of study would cost a fraction of what will be spent to promote these projects. Such studies should be conducted.

We need candidates who are not wedded to the idea that all development is good development. We need candidates that will insist on clear, verifiable math to support project proposals and who will insist on a holistic view of projects to determine the potential impact on Scottsdale’s way of life and community values before variances are approved and the bulldozers begin their work.

Listening to constituents

The Open Meetings of the Scottsdale City Council were intended to provide the residents a window into government, to shed light on the thinking, rationale and positions taken by our city council.

It was also intended to allow citizens to comment on proposed actions and to express their views and concerns. Unfortunately, a review of the videos of the Open Meetings often demonstrates a mere tolerance of public comments and sometimes reveals outright hostility toward residents expressing skepticism about the council’s statements and positions.

Certain members of the city council actually worked hard to defeat a ballot initiative to allow the residents of Scottsdale to decide on commercial development within the McDowell Sonoran Preserve and the use of the Preserve funds.

This would be the exact opposite of listening to the residents. With this mindset, productive dialog with our city council is hard to achieve.

We need candidates who express a genuine interest in the opinions and concerns of our residents. We need candidates who establish ongoing communications with the residents, who conduct town hall meetings and who have informal gatherings with the residents over the course of the year.

The November election

The 2018 November election for city council is close at-hand, but there is enough time to sort out the facts, philosophies and attitudes of the candidates. We must not squander our rights to truly representative government — the community interests — to “Dark Money” interests, developer interests, and to the personal interests of those desiring to hold power as their prime motivation.

It may be difficult to influence our national or state government, but insuring true citizen representation on our city council is definitely within our grasp if we want it.

Editor’s note: Mr. Germek is a resident of Scottsdale

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