Paradise Valley Town Council candidates gathered to make their pitches to the voters, touching on a bevy of topics and hoping to sway the public opinion in their favor.
Voters will cast their decisions in the Aug. 4 primary election on four candidates seeking to fill three council seats. The three incumbent candidates include Vice Mayor Julie Pace and councilmembers Scott Moore and Mark Stanton while planning commissioner Jonathan Wainwright is also vying for a seat.
Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner is also up for re-election but he is running unopposed.
Candidates assembled virtually for a town council candidate forum which Independent Newsmedia hosted in connection with the town. Managing Editor Terrance Thornton asked a series of questions on topics such as conflict of interest, COVID-19 and developments, among others.
Mr. Bien-Willner took some time to thank the community for their interest in the town’s leadership and to explain what the council strives to accomplish, especially amid a pandemic.
“We’re here to set strategy, to set policy, to grapple with really difficult problems,” he said. “Sometimes problems that seem impossible to solve but come up with the best solutions we can for the community and in response for the community’s needs. That’s what we do. It’s hard work. We’re well supported and well advised by the public but also by a tremendous group of talented staff members who have decades of experience.”
For Mr. Moore, the biggest issue facing the town is the economic downturn that’s emerged in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. He called it critical to focus on financial responsibility if the town is to navigate the uncertainties.
If elected, Mr. Moore said he would focus on several areas such as public safety, keeping overdevelopment at bay and maintaining a limited and responsive government.
Ms. Pace agreed the financial situation is a big issue for the town and she said it is important the town not take any shortcuts such as allow large developments in order to make up revenue lost during the pandemic.
This played into her main goal of maintaining the quality of life in the town by keeping with the town’s practice of low development, supporting the police and no property tax.
Quality of life is the main focus for Mr. Stanton, saying the budget and a General Plan discussion goes alongside this focus of maintaining the town’s quality of life.
To accomplish this goal of quality of life, Mr. Stanton will prioritize public safety, fiscal accountability and responsible decision-making in smaller government.
As for Mr. Wainwright, he prioritizes small government and no property tax, all of which he says are part of the original vision for the town, but that is not all.
“I think in this extraordinary time in our country’s history, the answer for Paradise Valley is no different than the answer in any other community. It’s public safety,” he said. “We as Americans need to make sure our safety and our property are well protected. In addition to that, we have to make sure we fully fund our police department and by doing so, we need to be very cautious of our budget.”
Mr. Wainwright said he is a big proponent of transparency and the public when it comes to developments within the town.
“To the extent we can foster public input, that’s the most important thing and moving forward, we’ll have the opportunity to see some great projects,” he said.
Mr. Stanton says he will continue to offer balanced leadership and a commitment to the town’s values when it comes to approving developments.
“My commitment is to maintaining a responsible balance, working with those who may be looking to invest or redevelop a property within Paradise Valley and balancing that with the charm and the quality of life which we’ve come to expect,” he said.
Ms. Pace said she believes the General Plan discussion will be important in regards to developments as she sees a push from some for large projects. She said she believes this election is a choice on this issue since she claimed some of the candidates appear in favor larger projects.
“We’ve got to stand together as a group and really stand against some of these high-density projects and I think I’ve corroborated that with my voting record,” she said.
Mr. Moore said he isn’t afraid to say no to developments when they don’t fit the town’s vision. He says he has a “long track record” of standing up for the residential standard of one home per acre.
“I think we must continue to look at each project individually and see how it will impact the community and to ensure that any development has a positive contribution to the overall quality of life and does not create unnecessary burdens or difficulties for our residents,” he said
Since March, COVID-19 has impacted the community greatly through business closures, quarantines, unemployment and budget shortfalls for municipalities. Arizona has also emerged as a hotspot for the virus with the state seeing large amounts of new cases and deaths daily, leading Gov. Doug Ducey to close some businesses, delay the in-person start of schools and allow municipalities to mandate face masks.
With the backdrop of the pandemic, Mr. Stanton says he believes the town is rising to the occasion and making the best of a poor situation. He said, however, the decision-making process isn’t any different for the town.
Mr. Moore pointed to the various businesses and resorts suffering from the pandemic’s effects as an example of the many challenges the town faces. He said in order to overcome these challenges, he believes strong leadership and solid long-term planning are needed, attributes he says he embodies.
Mr. Wainwright said he knows the town will get through this crisis because it has faced similar “Chinese coronaviruses,” as he called them. He acknowledged the dangers this pandemic presents but says he hopes it won’t affect his decision-making moving forward.
Ms. Pace said she sees resorts and hotels in the town as seeing the biggest effects of the pandemic. She said the town has made some efforts to allow resorts to meet social-distancing requirements but she also anticipates the pandemic will affect the short-term rentals discussion for the town.
Mr. Stanton is also the president and CEO of the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce. He says he has been accused numerous times of having a conflict of interest to which he says he’s always been careful in his approach to town decisions.
“If it even has the appearance, I’ve taken the steps to recuse myself from the vote,” he said. “I think it’s important to identify that but I don’t think it’s uncommon and I think if you manage it appropriately, it shouldn’t be an issue.”
Ms. Pace is a lawyer with Gammage and Burnham. She says she hasn’t run up on too many occasions where she might have a conflict of interest but she said she has recused herself during those times and believes all should be transparent in doing so.
Mr. Wainwright works in banking and construction finance. He says he has never had to recuse himself but has always checked with the town attorney when he thinks it might be a conflict of interest. He says he has no future plans of building homes in Paradise Valley and doesn’t think he’ll have a conflict of interest anytime soon.
Mr. Moore has worked in real estate investment and development. He said while recusal can be necessary, he sees the backgrounds of the council is beneficial for town.
“We all have our diverse backgrounds and I think that’s, certainly with the council that’s there today, it’s really a complement to each other, it gives us strength,” he said.
The Town of Paradise Valley has hosted a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration annually, highlighting his life and mission. The country is at a crossroads as the Black Lives Matter movement has led for calls against police brutality what many say are part of a group of unfair treatment of Black people in the country.
While many of these protests have remained peaceful, some have turned violent and both sides are left finger pointing at why the protests turned violent. In Paradise Valley, protesters marched down Lincoln Drive on July 7 to protest the death of James Garcia, who Phoenix police shot and killed. At one point, an SUV drove into the protesters that work blocking Lincoln Drive.
Ms. Pace said to her the Black Lives Matter movement means caring, equality, policies and how people deal with other people. She said she believes it is important for leaders to work with the community and to come to consensus on issues such as these.
Mr. Stanton said he values living in a community that celebrates diversity. He acknowledged the protests that happened in the town and said he believes in the right to protest, thanking the police department for their handling of those protests.
“Community diversity, it’s important to me,” he said. “Black Lives Matter is important to me and I look and see that every individual deserves respect regardless of race or background or orientation, that that’s a fundamental right. I stand to support that and I think now more than ever as we see social change being discussed peacefully and debated, I support that”
Mr. Moore said community diversity is important and the Black Lives Matter movement has brought a new level of awareness to the country in regards to equality and racism. He said he’s proud of the community’s efforts to contribute to that awareness.
Mr. Wainwright said he believes it’s important to distinguish between Dr. King’s approach versus the Black Lives Matter approach. He said while he agrees Black lives should matter in regards to racism and equality, the official Black Lives Matter movement ignores the values of Dr. King and claims the group doesn’t always advocate for nonviolence.