Norton: Scottsdale lessons learned, lessons yet to be learned

Scottsdale voters’ passion is driven by our true love of our city. We all care.

Mike Norton

We want it to be the best it can be. We disagree about how we get there from time to time, but not because any of us are motivated by anything but the best Scottsdale can be.

When elected officials are in sync with voters, a love fest goes on. Bonds get passed. Taxes are put in place to support them. The Preserve gets created. A fabulous school district is rebuilt.

When the opposite happens things can get ugly.

We’ve seen both results recently. There is no greater story of local advocacy and grass roots politics stepping in to fix a problem than the political battle over our Preserve or the advocacy of parents who rooted out the corruption within SUSD.

Evidence of Scottsdale government done right:

  • Deferring to voters: Despite sharp arguments, Mayor Lane had the wisdom to turn the DDC issue over to voters. His decision to encourage NoDDC advocates to see if they could pass Prop 420 was a pivotal moment in restoring faith in local government. We have argued fiercely. I admire his decision to shift his position and respect him both as an opponent and as an ally as we now find ourselves on the bond matter.
  • Passing a transportation sales tax initiative: Right in the heat of a bitter battle over Prop 420, smart people and cool minds on all sides recognized that it was about the issue, not the people. Without admitting it, enemies got a long on that issue while fighting over others.
  • The 2019 city bond ballot: Finding as many points of consensus as possible before pushing a bond ballot out in 2019 was a wise move. Embracing fiercely active voter base and engaging us in the process will prove to have been the winning decision. Nicely done by staff and City Council. And, again, proof that we can work for the good of the community even if we don’t like our allies.
  • Development input – pre-application: The progress of Andrea Alley’s South Scottsdale Project and its hand in hand cooperation with the developers is a completely new metric in our city and so encouraging to watch. Not only have developers recognized the importance, but even Councilmember Korte now accepts the obvious — Andrea’s path is the right path. Now Korte has climbed on Alley’s bandwagon with her proposal for a new architectural plan for Scottsdale.

Not all is well in Scottsdale government — unlike the city, some of our SUSD Governing Board just don’t get it.

Rather than learning a lesson from watching city politics move forward a couple of members of our SUSD Governing Board are caught up in a dysfunctional conflict.

The board recently split to vote 3-2 to ignore the mandate of voters and instead impose their own will.

Voters approved a $229 million bond in 2016. The vote was 57.2% for and 42.8% against. That overwhelming success should not be overlooked.
Not only did this city approve the bonds, it resoundingly announced “We Must Re-Build Our Schools.”

Eight schools were carved in to the pamphlets that were sent out to voters in the summer of 2016. Each named Kiva Elementary School and Pueblo Elementary School as campuses to be rebuilt.

Despite that mandate, a fractured SUSD board voted to stop the construction on a 3-2 vote. The majority insisted that the district rethink whether Kiva and Pueblo should actually be rebuilt or not.

What has changed with those schools since the election in 2016? A lot. And it’s all good.

These are not struggling schools. They are full, they are growing, they succeed on all measurable levels. Their communities love them and are actively supportive in every manner possible.

How did these schools fall in to disfavor with the board? They didn’t. They are simply the victims of a nasty quarrel going on that really needs to stop and stop now.

Voters told our board what we wanted. Voters agreed to be taxed. We approved the construction of eight schools including these two. What possible justification exists for some of our board to decide that their personal conflict with other board members justifies punishing the community that elected them?

Do what is right. Recognize the power and passion of Scottsdale voters. Get over the grudges and build those schools now.

I am quite positive that when each board member was appointed there was no clause in their oath of office that said “Go Ahead — Ignore Voter Mandates — That Works For Us.”

And while I’m on the topic of voters, let’s quickly approve a Maintenance and Operations Override Ballot for November 2019. Do it now.

That question, too, is a question reserved for voters, not Governing Board members. The duties of board members are straight-forward.

Adopt an M&O Override Ballot resolution, get it on the ballot for November, and let voters exercise our statutory rights to choose to support SUSD with additional funding or not.

Our city’s elected officials and charter officers get it. They’re in sync with voters now.

This is no time for our Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board to defy the obvious power and passion of the community. Whether you like each other or not, please find ways to govern professionally and with respect for what’s best for the community.

Editor’s Note: Mike Norton is a longtime Scottsdale resident, and current SUSD Bond Oversight Committee member. He is an editor of the Respect Our Scottsdale Students Facebook fanpage.

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