Opinion

Liebner: Takeaways, impressions following Phoenix Rising, SUSD meeting

Posted 5/17/21

To the Tonalea community:

Having attended the most recent May 13 SUSD community meeting, and having reviewed the publicly available video replay of the event, I wish to share my impressions of …

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Opinion

Liebner: Takeaways, impressions following Phoenix Rising, SUSD meeting

Posted

I wish to share my impression of failures in the process of giving transparent and full consideration of the proposed lease of the Tonalea School property to the Phoenix Rising Football Club (“PRFC”) organization for the next 20 years.

The obligation of SUSD is to make the best use of a school property as determined to be in the “best interest of the community.” SUSD representative(s) have made statements at several of the community meetings that “today” the Tonalea School site is not needed to accommodate the present student population demand.

However, isn’t it responsible governance by SUSD to fully study the demographic pattern trends of the neighborhood for the next 10-20 years forward? The details of this pattern will become more evident when the 2020 census records are made available.

Importantly, this parcel of land is the last remaining site which can accommodate a neighborhood school for the “Community.” When I hear an evasive non-response to this fundamental issue regarding SUSD’s responsibility to plan for future student needs it smacks of NIMTOF: Not In My Term of Office.

Remember that we faced many of the same issues when a new stadium of the Coyotes hockey team was deemed inappropriate for this same area of Scottsdale and a much better solution for the Community emerged when alternative uses were seriously considered. When I hear that an RFP process is not required by law, I seriously wonder if common sense is also not a requirement of the SUSD fiduciary duties to our Community?

Has Herb Drinkwater’s legacy of insightful development been completely lost in Scottsdale?

Clearly far and away the primary concern voiced by community members is that the proposed soccer facility will become a significant traffic and parking issue in the surrounding neighborhood. There are significant issues of public safety, air quality, housing values, etc. all negatively impacted by excessive traffic in a small neighborhood.

Sadly, the heated discussion on this topic cannot be replayed on the SUSD website video, because the format of the public meeting, which was a “standing-room only” event with likely over 100 people in attendance, did not provide a microphone for the audience to use. But you can hear the SUSD “Master of Ceremonies” who was guiding the meeting, tell the audience during the parking debate that “...we are going down a rabbit hole…” (See minute 47 of the video).

So I wonder if SUSD is taking the community’s traffic and parking concerns seriously or are the public discussion forums a charade?

To be fair, PRFC representatives did respond to the obvious traffic and parking issue. They concluded that a maximum number of 80 parking spaces are required for the size of the proposed soccer operations. (See minute 41 of the video).

So with a “promised” 100 parking spaces available by design, the commitment made by PRFC in their formal presentation: “Keep parking on-site” is clearly contemplated. Is this a “commitment” to be believed, or did a subsequent reference to the need to clarify the issue with City of Scottsdale Traffic Department advice, (not solicited or yet shared with the community) sounded a lot like a “promise easily made … easily broken”?

My personal concerns taken away from the meeting of May 13 are items not really discussed, but which are central to the “interests of the Community.” One being the economics of the lease proposal which are to be determined by “a Realtor.” Certainly no controversy in that type of appointment?

Remember this is a community which won’t see a dime of the rental payments.

Moreover, the critical details of the Made As Instructed (“MAI”) appraisal are non-economic issues that are of most significance to the community. Moreover, will SUSD require a performance bond before accepting credit risk of this nature for a 20-year period with a high-risk business operation on a do-or-die mission to gain access to the MSL as their top priority?

Most importantly, very little has been discussed during the last six months about the most significant issue, that being the best interest of the neighborhood children. The “PRFC Youth Soccer Core Values” statement was flashed on the screen and can be found on their website. It cleverly spelled out “Rising” when combining letters from their various words.

What deeply concerns me is that core values that our children hopefully take away from the soccer field, such as “Sportsmanship” - “Teamwork” - “Effort” etc are not part of the PRFC slick marketing statement of “values.” Perhaps worse, when the head of the youth program went to the microphone, he enumerated his top three values… “Foundation ($$$) - Facilities (locker rooms) - Fields.

SUSD needs to step up to their core fiduciary obligation in the full development and education of our children. Child development professionals need to write the rules for the training and enforcement of coaches and parents behaviors, just as those that exist for school athletics. This is only one of many strong covenants that will need to be included in the operating lease so that a resulting public-private partnership, with SUSD audit oversight, assures proper conduct of PRFC in accordance with the best interests of the Tonalea Community.

Note: My past business experiences gave me insight into how public-private partnerships can succeed. I was CFO of two Scottsdale community-based healthcare service companies (RuralMetro and VistaCare) and there was active oversight to hold our feet to the fire if/when necessary… “trust but verify” comes to mind.

If, as I suspect, the PRFC deal is already a fait accompli, SUSD needs to at minimum transparently build covenants into an operating agreement to be seen and discussed long before the “final draft” is presented to the community for “approval.” The relevant covenants to address fundamental community concerns and the not insignificant credit risk, will require serious enforcement provisions. This is not something to be created in a legal vacuum by the attorneys drafting the documents.

Full transparency of the details of covenants is where the devil in this deal resides and where a true public-private partnership rises from if proper processes are followed.

I would have liked to have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time…(Mark Twain).

Sincerely, on behalf of my son and grandson, and the silent majority of the Tonalea Community;

Mark Liebner

Editor’s Note: Mark Liebner is a resident of Scottsdale.

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