City Council

Letters: Surprise is still lacking visionary government

Posted 9/18/20

We were dismayed to read the news of [City Councilman-elect Jack] Hastings’ demand for [Councilman] David Sanders to resign early.

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City Council

Letters: Surprise is still lacking visionary government


We were dismayed to read the news of [City Councilman-elect Jack] Hastings’ demand for [Councilman] David Sanders to resign early.

Instead of approaching this office with some forethought and pragmatism, with an eye toward building coalitions, he is setting up conflicts and tilting at windmills ahead of time, claiming that he wants to “shake things up.”

Our local self-proclaimed “rabble-rouser” doesn’t help matters and probably exerts an unhelpful influence on council members. Mr. Sanders was [Mayor] Skip Hall’s prime choice for appointment to his unfinished term in District 5 because Sanders worked on Skip’s election committee when I ran against him for District 5.

We know this because during the proceedings where the 10 candidates for appointment were giving their presentations to the council, my wife and I sat in the back of the Council Chambers after I had given my presentation, and could clearly hear the rabble-rouser himself boasting to a local reporter and others, loud enough for everyone to hear, that Sanders was destined to be the council’s choice. With all the Sunshine rules in place, how did the message get out to the other council members to vote for Mr. Sanders on the first vote, almost unanimously? 

What we truly need on the council are visionaries. What we have presently is more of a caretaker mayor and council, more concerned with pleasing developers than challenging them. No great designs coming forth for City Center, just more public meetings that go nowhere and monies being spent on consultants.

Holding public meetings is not the way to design a great downtown; they are only part of the process. You need a talented, world-class architect/planner (like Andres Duany and his New Urbanism in St. Augustine, Florida) to put forth a sweeping design for the whole downtown. Instead, City Center will indeed get developed, but piecemeal, with more “boxes with crown molding,” no artistic unifying scheme, and an incredible opportunity to build something unique will be lost.

Mayor Sharon Wolcott was a visionary and a true leader because she was the only one with the courage to stand up to the developers of City Center to demand something special for our downtown. She brought Ottawa University to Surprise, got the avigation easements released to allow any development in City Center, and guided the city from red to black ledgers. A lot of good ol’ boys found it hard to deal with a strong, smart woman with vision. Wolcott understood and pursued the bigger picture.

I suppose what goes around comes around. Skip Hall started his political career in District 2 in a recall election to oust Gwen Foro, for donating her discretionary community funds to an animal rescue shelter. In 2016 Hall voted, along with others, to censure Mayor Wolcott for endorsing Jim Hayden for Council, and then turned around and not only endorsed David Sanders but put him on the same campaign sign. Really? Council creates ordinances for their own convenience, then rescinds them when it suits them, i.e., the requirement for commission members to resign if running for office. Facts don’t really matter.

Now we have this latest misstep by Mr. Hastings, which only serves to put Surprise in a less-than-elegant light. All the cities in the Valley are competing for the same prizes. Mr. Hastings, who teaches high school civics, may have squandered what would have been a great opportunity to make an auspicious start.

Being on the council demands a steep learning curve at the onset. You need to build bridges, make friends and allies, learn the ropes and immerse yourself in the process before you start to move to change things. In other words, work smarter, be the wise tortoise.

Building a downtown that will be unique and desirable even 50 years from now is a sure way to prevent the spread of zombie malls to our city. Just look to the east; they’re not that far away. The more rooftops, the more property taxes go up, and the impact fees are not there anymore to support the infrastructure. When is visionary government going to happen here in Surprise?

Editor's Note: Mr.. Mankiewicz is a former Surprise city councilman.