Scottsdale voters can change their city government structure of 52 years with a March ballot vote.
The City Council voted 6-1 Monday to place an initiative on the March 9 ballot asking voters if they want to create six districts and six council seats to replace the existing at-large council system. Mayor Mary Manross voted no.
Districts are geographic areas of the city cut up by population and race/ethnicity. Once an initiative is approved, district boundaries have to be drawn and approved by the U.S. Department of Justice.
In a district form of government, residents in a district vote for their own representative and the mayor, who is decided in a citywide vote. Under the existing system, all seven members including the mayor are elected by all voters.
Scottsdale is Arizona’s fifth-most populous city and the only one in that category without council district seats. The 185-square-mile city is approaching 220,000 residents. Two grass-roots groups have collected about 3,000 signatures so far toward the required amount of 16,531.
Manross said she would like to honor the initiative signature collection process by having residents interested in the “Straight Six” initiative continue gathering signatures.
“I still believe in the principles of the initiative process,” Manross said. She said it is important to demonstrate a widespread community concern for an issue. Scottsdale also should treat all organizations the same.
Paula Pennypacker of the Arizona Grassroots Coalition told the council that district supporters were receiving preferential treatment by not having to collect voter signatures to force the “Straight Six” question to a ballot vote.
“Somehow their concerns seem more important than others,” she said.
Pennypacker called the district plan “inferior” and said there are other solutions for better government.
Councilwoman Cynthia Lukas said that the district issue is different than the fire initiatives, where firefighters had to collect signatures twice to force measures to a ballot vote in May 2003. The district committee recommended a change and the Fire and EMS Advisory Committee did not, she said.
Councilman Bob Littlefield said firefighters should not have had to collect signatures and neither should the district supporters. He said the mistake should not be repeated.
The majority of people who spoke at the council meeting, many of them wearing white T-shirts that read “Districts for Scottsdale” in red, said they favored asking voters if they want to change the government.
Christine Schild, a Scottsdale Unified School District board member who spoke on her own behalf, said Scottsdale is the most divisive place she has lived. Schild has lived in a handful of cities throughout the nation before moving to Scottsdale, where she has lived for the past 10 years.
“I honestly believe the only way to unite the city is to divide it into districts,” Schild said.
Others said they like the government structure the way it is.
“I don’t care where my council members live,” said Sonnie Stevens. She now has six council members to contact and with districts she fears she would only have one.
“It’s leadership. It’s not a postal address,” Stevens said.
Activist Patty Badenoch said the at-large system is not broken and the city shouldn’t be split up to provide “little kingdoms” with districts. Scottsdale needs voter registration and education to improve its government, Badenoch said. South Scottsdale, she added, is a victim unto itself.
“They have the voter advantage but don’t exercise it,” she said. Mesa was the last East Valley city to move to a district system with a citywide vote in 1998.