If there’s one thing recent Scottsdale history has proven, it’s that residents are — for well or ill — not patient with their elected City Council when it dawdles — as it too often does — on issues. Voters are unafraid to take matters into their own hands via petition drives.
When council members refuse to hear, residents react. And yet there is only thing more embarrassing than a council member who stands there with his arms folded when the public runs right over him: a council member who then gets up, tries to remove the tire marks from his face, and starts chasing after the crowd, trying to catch up.
This is what Councilman Wayne Ecton is trying to do as he shops a plan to offer voters three choices for City Council representation: continue to elect all council members at large, and possibly some from districts.
Ecton and five of his six council colleagues, however, had their chance to lead on this issue. In June a 14-member commission — appointed by the council itself — reported to the council results of months of research and hearing dozens of residents’ views.
Twelve of the 14 recommended a “straight-six” council districts plan — council members elected from each of six districts plus an at-large-elected mayor.
Only Councilman Bob Littlefield expressed support for the straight-six plan. Other council members responded with hard-line critiques and made no secret of the fact that they were shelving the recommendation. Councilman David Ortega said he would like to take a look at it this fall.
The error made by the majority — including Ecton — was failing to realize that this was an issue Scottsdale residents cared about, or cared about enough to start an initiative petition drive during what was turning out to be one of the hottest summers ever.
They were wrong. Targeting a March election date — the same date as the election in which residents will select council members — pro-straight-six forces are going at it hammer-and-tong, and have time to gather enough valid names.
We favor the straight-six plan, but were not averse to voters getting to select from more than one. Of course, this view contemplated a council with enough backbone and vision to hear out the commission fully, then, seeing the proven need for change, perhaps putting both the straight-six and hybrid plans on the ballot.
Now that the initiative process has begun in earnest and with quite a serious chance of success, however, it would be interference with one of the most sacred principles of the Arizona Constitution — direct democracy — to fasten other plans to the March ballot now. Let the signature drive go on unimpeded.
If it makes the ballot and is turned down by voters, then suggest alternatives.