In a May 26 article in the Independent, we discussed the implications of the ethics hearing on the anonymous gifting to Guy Phillips for assistance with hospital bills.
There was agreement that the Scottsdale Ethics Code is outdated and needs to be revised. Specifically, the loophole of anonymous gifts should be closed.
The names of those gifting to City Council members, mayor, and members of other boards and appointed advisory groups need to be disclosed. However, we found deficiencies because the “city officials” mentioned above do not include candidates running for office.
The same conflict of interest exists if candidates receive gifts where the donors are not disclosed and the candidates are subsequently elected to a seat on council. For this reason, we recommend that the Ethics Code be expanded to apply to gifts given within a reasonable time frame to candidates elected to office.
The topic of campaign donations creates an even broader and more complex ethical dilemma. For the past four years the same majority on City Council has voted in lockstep for virtually every developer request for a zoning change resulting in greater density and height for their projects.
An examination of council members campaign donation reports shows a significant number of the donations to council majority came from these same developers, lawyers, and related companies with business before the city. This has the appearance of impropriety, if not the reality.
Quoting Sec. 2-48. Ethics Policy: “It is the policy of the City of Scottsdale to uphold, promote, and demand the highest standards of ethical behavior from its mayor, members of city council, and individuals appointed to serve on the City’s boards, commissions, committees, task forces, and other appointed advisory groups.”
This policy has not been followed in the past and will be in the forefront again.
Case in point is the generous donations made by developers Shawn and Steven Yari of the new Center Point (9-ZN-2020) project, to three current candidates.
Shouldn’t we expect those candidates (if elected) who received the donations to recuse themselves from any discussion or vote on the project or to return the donation?
Don’t the citizens have the right to expect a fair, unbiased decision-making process as promised in the Ethics Code? Yet another conflict is that Bill Crawford, City Council candidate, is listed as a “business activist” for the project. If he is receiving payment for this role, he too should be expected to recuse himself from 9-ZN-2020 discussions/votes if elected to City Council.
We need to insist that refusal to abide by the Ethics Code will not be tolerated.
The City of Tempe solved the problem of ethics violations in elections by limiting the contribution amounts to a small amount ($520 for individuals, $1040 for PACs and Individual Partnership). It is much easier from an enforcement point of view to limit the contribution to a minimal amount making it ridiculous to engineer a quid pro quo.
However, A.R.S 1487 was instituted in 2016, after Tempe established their contribution limits, setting the limits for campaign contributions to a generous $6,450 for individuals, partnerships, and certain PACS. There are legal opinions supporting municipalities with “local concerns” of money buying influence, to adopt their own campaign finance laws outside the limits imposed by state law.
However, for now, Scottsdale is following the state law.
There is more behavior at City Hall that is questionable. The practice of issuing no bid contracts has the appearance of, and the potential for impropriety. This problem can be solved easily. Open up city contracts to competitive bidding.
In some instances, there may be only one company capable of doing the job.
We understand that. However, in most situations, competitive bidding should be the norm.
Since the city budget will be extremely tight this year, we suggest that as contracts expire, the bidding process begin. Cost savings should be realized. It is always good practice to solicit three bids for major home projects. We should expect no less from our city.
Finally, the same four City Council members that control zoning also exert an inordinate amount of pressure on the appointments for City Council boards and commissions. Concerning the Development (Design) Review Board and Planning (Zoning) Commission, the vast majority of members are from the development community, another way to promote certain projects.
This problem is also easily resolved by allowing citizens with no connection to developers/development as a majority on these boards/commissions. Another approach is to reorganize and re-task the Neighborhood Advisory Commission (NAC).
It would be composed of citizen representatives, not developers, from each of five areas of the city --- south, downtown, central, north, and far north. In addition to “preservation, improvement and revitalization of Scottsdale’s neighborhoods,” the NAC would be asked to evaluate all major projects for their impact upon the neighborhood where the projects are proposed. NAC would be encouraged to invite citizen input into its evaluation.
The results of the NAC’s review and approval/disapproval would be presented to City Council before the project is presented or appears on the council’s agenda for final approval. The result would be increased citizen input on ticklish projects earlier in the process, better citizen representation in the final decision, and finally involvement of areas of the city that feel their voices are ignored.
It is time to tip the scale to a citizen friendly majority on City Council. Vote Janik, a voice for you, and Durham for the citizens.
Editor’s Note: Betty Janik and Tom Durham are both City Council candidates in the Aug. 4 primary election.