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Guest Commentary

Bien-Willner: A response to Councilmember Pace


It is a low moment in public service when, on a national holiday celebrating our women and men who have served our nation in uniform with honor, I feel compelled for the public good to respond to published material about the town via a public response.

Yet, on Veteran’s Day, I am writing in response to an article that was authored today by Councilmember Julie Pace that Ms. Pace urged the public to rely upon to form and voice opinions to town officials concerning code updates that are under discussion by your council.

As your mayor, I have always tried, and have encouraged councilmembers, to resolve open town questions in the open public forum of our council meetings, where there is notice to the public, due process, order, open debate, ample opportunity for council and resident discussion and input, and the benefit of a knowledgeable professional staff to help us all better understand the issues.

This has been the best practice for the town over the years, and I will continue to support the rights of town citizens to stay informed and participate fully in town decision-making with accurate, reliable, and complete information — and not to be misled, fearmongered, or fooled.

I am troubled that there are multiple layers of factual distortion and misrepresentation in Councilmember Pace’s public “call to arms” today, even though this topic suffered none of the outrage or provocative rhetoric during our public discussion at our council meeting a mere week ago. (Town Council meeting records are available here, including video.)

For example, Councilmember Pace states: “It is also a safety issue if the town makes the change, it forces residents to walk closer to the roads within 10 feet — not the current 20 feet.”

This supposed fact that Ms. Pace has injected into public discourse, among many others, is simply untrue and totally bizarre. The revisions that have been under public discussion deal with where fences may be located within existing private residential lots, so they have zero impact on where residents may walk — that is, the town’s public sidewalks, roads, and paths (or, of course, anywhere on their own lots).

No Town Code allows anyone to stroll 10 or 20 feet inside someone else’s yard. I believe that had anyone taken such a position at our public meeting last week, it would have quickly been identified as incoherent.

What possible good explanation could Ms. Pace have to urge town laws to enable people to preserve walking areas inside of someone else’s property line — also known as trespassing — let alone egg on citizens to raise safety concerns to the town based on this faulty and inexplicable scare tactic?

Unfortunately, this is but one many other examples of “crying wolf” via the press that are too numerous to address in a newspaper article (which is another reason we have public meetings). Perhaps most distressing are the misleading statements about the scope and nature of the proposed revisions.

In reality, they would only apply to so-called “view fences” (think of the high-end wrought iron you see around town), not to tall block walls. And then, the revisions would only apply to homes on the town’s major roadways, which is where homes are located that also tend to have the greatest security and privacy concerns — and even then, they are not a requirement but would be an option for the homeowner.

There’s also the glaring omission that longstanding town policies already allow a homeowner to plant hedges of unlimited height and density all along their property line with no setback at all — so much for the “open space” views, located in other people’s privately owned yards, that the Veteran’s Day “call to arms” claims to be trying to protect by enlisting your efforts.

I always welcome honest and even tough disagreements on town policies. But releasing misleading statements to citizens outside of our public meeting process can and does create an environment of confusion, drama, anxiety, and distress for citizens, Councilmembers, town volunteers, and town staff alike.

And it distracts and takes us all away from doing our best work for the community and with each other.

That is why I have made the reluctant and uncomfortable decision to address this matter immediately and publicly — and with the hope of mitigating the agitation of our citizens based on inaccurate information.

It is my sincere hope that everyone has relaxed and found ways to honor our Veterans today. Please rest assured there is no emerging crisis in our town that requires your immediate attention with an urgent letter writing campaign to your own dedicated elected officials.

And please do continue to stay interested and involved in town affairs, and please always feel free to reach out if you ever have questions, ideas, or feedback about the town on this or any other topic.

Editor’s Note: Jerry Bien-Willner is mayor of Paradise Valley.