Within an hour of each other on Tuesday, our City Council and our SUSD Governing Board will both meet. Both will open up the meeting for in-person attendance, the first time since mid-2020 that has happened.
On that day and at those two locations we will learn a lot about what the next year holds in store for us.
The last SUSD in-person meeting was shut down when the mob that showed up behaved so poorly there was no chance to continue without the conflict escalating, let alone a chance to complete the task of governing our district.
When interviewed about that disruption, the leaders of the protest group innocently claimed that it wasn’t them that did it. Some nasty outsiders intervened and they couldn’t be controlled. Let’s accept that more than questionable explanation for now. The behavior at the meeting on the 22nd will tell us what we need to know.
The City Council meeting will be packed with a similar crowd. It will include those who have loudly objected to the housing of legal immigrants seeking asylum at the former Homewood Suites on Scottsdale Road.
I think back to two of what were previously the most contentious years in Scottsdale history. From the summer of 2016 through mid-2018, SUSD was rocked with the scandals of the Birdwell era. And the city was rocked by the opposition to the Desert Discovery Center.
During those periods of protests, the city continued to respect the process of governing. Mayor Lane made it clear that those who disrupted a meeting would be removed and charged by Scottsdale police. SUSD’s Governing Board made it clear they would do the same. Those threats weren’t really necessary.
While exercising our First Amendment rights to protest, we also respected the need to govern. It was one thing to be loud and noisy outside the Kiva or Board meeting room before the meetings. But inside the meetings we observed the process of governing with respect — and for the most part, in silence.
Much of that respect for the process of governing seems to have dissolved. The politics of 2020-21 are now far too often the “Politics of Destruction-Through-Disruption.”
It is time for us to return to civil debate of the issues — vehement debate when vehement debate is called for — but still civil. It is time to respect the process of governing. If we don’t like the decisions of those we elected the answer is not disruption. The answer is to run a different candidate in 2022.
It is also time for our mayor and our Governing Board to request that Scottsdale police invoke “unlawful trespass” laws for those who refuse to allow our meetings to go forward. Other cities, such as Chandler, have recently done the same thing. Since Arizona strictly enforces an Open Meeting Law statute, the ability to conduct meetings efficiently while the public attends depends solely upon the behavior of those who attend.
Jail is a harsh way to deal with our own neighbors, but it’s time to do precisely that.
Mayor Ortega, please issue the instructions to Chief Walther. Governing Board President Greenburg, please do the same. Treat those who shut down our governing bodies through disruption in the same manner we are treating those who looted the Fashion Square Mall.
Editor’s Note: Mike Norton, long time resident, SUSD parent and executive director of Athena Foundation Scottsdale.