Guest Commentary

Kush: Kudos to Korte for handling of Phillips ethics complaint

By Larry Kush
Posted 5/21/20

Running for political office is not for the faint of heart, especially in Scottsdale where it seems everyone has a master’s degree in social media. Virginia Korte, after terming out on City Council, has taken politics to the next level by running for mayor.

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Guest Commentary

Kush: Kudos to Korte for handling of Phillips ethics complaint

Posted

Running for political office is not for the faint of heart, especially in Scottsdale where it seems everyone has a master’s degree in social media. Virginia Korte, after terming out on City Council, has taken politics to the next level by running for Mayor.

Most savvy politicians avoid controversial issues when running for office as no one wants various factions lining up against you on any one issue. Not so with Councilwoman Korte. She has squarely taken on an unprecedented situation having to do with honesty, integrity and ethics. Namely, the ethics complaint filed against Councilman Guy Phillips.

In case you have been living on the north pole, several months ago Mike Norton filed an ethics complaint against Councilman Philips claiming that he had failed to report and/or illegally received donations from a GoFundMe page which was set up to help Councilman Philips pay for some medical expenses for a broken leg.

The problem was that the donors to this page were never identified by Mr. Phillips nor were the donation amounts reported to the city per the city’s ethics code until after Norton filed the complaint. A code on which Phillips was trained and signed a written pledge to follow. Mr. Norton was concerned that the donors were members of the Old Town Scottsdale coalition against the Southbridge 2 (SB2) downtown development. A group that Mr. Phillips supported with his two no votes against the SB2 proposal. It should also be noted that Mr. Phillips wife received over $4,000 for collecting signatures from the same group which Mr. Phillips supported with his vote.

I will leave the reader to draw their own conclusions as to what odor that action emits.

Norton’s complaint was reviewed by the Scottsdale city attorney and was thought to have enough merit to be referred first to an independent ethics officer and then to a three-person panel of former judges for their adjudication.

Mr. Philips reaction to the complaint was to blow up on the news media claiming that other City Council members took far more money than he did in political contributions from developers so why were they asking questions of him? Mr. Philips clearly did not understand that unlike the GoFundMe contributions, political contributions to the other council member were properly reported and then disclosed to the voting public.

Due to the COVID-19 lockdown, the public hearing scheduled for March 14 was not held on the ethics issue and so after a couple of months, the panel issued their ruling. The judges found Mr. Phillips did not violate the ethics code, their main reasoning was that the code as written by the city had several omissions (loopholes) to include no specific language regarding “personal” gifts to those individuals required to follow the code.

The judges clearly made no use of common sense in their ruling! I, for one, do not need a written code to know that you do not take money from someone who has a case before you. As a six-year Scottsdale planning commissioner, I have, on several occasions, recused myself from voting for the most minute of reasons, much less actually taken money. I did not need a written ethics code to tell me that to do so would have been wrong. Plus, my question is, even if this acceptance of money is not an ethics violation, how is it not a campaign finance violation?

The next step in the process was to send the board’s recommendation to the City Council, where their responsibility was to decide and then to vote to “accept” or “reject” the ethics panel’s report as submitted. There was no provision to remand the report back to the judge’s panel for reconsideration.

At last evening’s scheduled City Council meeting the action item to approve or reject was conveniently placed on the consent agenda. Items on the consent agenda are not discussed in open meeting and are voted on in mass (last night there were 18 items on the consent agenda)

IN STEPS KORTE! As is her right as a councilperson, Councilwoman Korte pulled the ethics vote case from the consent agenda, thus bringing the issue into the light of day, forcing her fellow council people and the mayor to have to publicly comment on the issue at hand. In doing so, the item was moved to the end of the evenings agenda and was not heard until three and one half hours later.

Guy Phillips having gotten wind that Korte was planning to pull the consent agenda item responded by saying he would never forgive Korte and that he would, “endorse any Korte trashing from this point forward”.

At the council meeting, Korte made a two-part motion that 1. The council accept the panel’s recommendation with respect to Phillips and 2. The council reject the panels finding regarding the what she thought was a mis interpretation of the city’s ethics code.

Korte’s motion failed for lack of a second (although I personally did not hear the Mayor call for a second) and another motion was made by Councilwoman Klapp to accept the findings which passed.

In my opinion by these actions, Korte showed the kind of courage and search for the truth that is required of a mayor and that is why she will be receiving my vote and will hopefully go on to lead Scottsdale as our new mayor.

Editor’s Note: A 45-year Scottsdale resident, Larry Kush is Senior Vice President of Scottsdale based Orion Investment Real Estate; he currently serves on the Scottsdale Planning Commission and is a member of the SCOTT 2020 executive committee.

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