Because local politics these days is mostly about not offending voters, Scottsdale City Council meetings rarely create televised drama that stops you in mid-remote.
If they did, more people might know as much about Scottsdale’s cable Channel 11 as they do about the national networks.
Once in a while, though, there’s an unscripted, unplanned moment — which means it almost always happens when a resident, not a city official, takes the City Hall Kiva microphone.
During these moments, some selfless, deeply felt words are spoken. They are words that demand action by their integrity.
Earlier this month, Bert Cutler uttered such words.
They weren’t too eloquent, and at least once he lost his place. He apologized for having a “senior occurrence,” something that, at 86, he knows about.
Mayor Mary Manross, normally a stickler for each speaker’s three-minute limit, allowed him some more time.
Bert’s not a fellow who spends a lot of time on local politics. A retired water resources engineer who has lived in Scottsdale since 1967, he’s traveled the world to 27 countries.
But today, Bert has more pressing matters than globe-trotting. They are at home, involving his wife of 65 years, Janet, which is why he went to City Hall that night.
I joined whomever else was watching Channel 11 in watching Bert Cutler talk about how he became Janet’s caregiver in 1998, the year of the onset of her Alzheimer’s disease.
'In way over my head’
He spoke slowly and paused frequently. At first caregiving only involved driving her around town. But over time, it became much, much more involved as he took over more and more things Janet used to do herself.
“By 2005, I knew I was in way over my head,” he said.
Bert talked about how badly Scottsdale needs to once again have some form of adult day health care.
The one and only such facility in the city, a storefront run by the nonprofit Foundation for Senior Living, closed in July.
As the Tribune has reported, its officials said the cost of serving 35 seniors was outpacing its income. The best the foundation could do was offer its services at its Tempe and north Phoenix locations.
Today, 22 of those Scottsdale seniors go to the Tempe facility. Staff members there have handled their additional clients fabulously, Scottsdale resident Margery Rose-Clapp, whose 92-year-old mother is one of them, told the council. But she said it’s a long ride for many of them who are quite frail.
I got Bert’s phone number from a colleague and wanted to talk to him the next day. But I was unable to meet him at his Scottsdale home until two weeks after that council meeting, because hours after he made his remarks to the council he suffered a mild heart attack.
“I was feeling it as I was sitting down,” he said of the minutes after speaking to the council. He spent a few days in the hospital. He has a small oxygen tank and uses a walker to get around, but he said he’s doing all right. A physical therapist worked with Janet while Bert and I spoke.
He said he found that after he and Janet joined more than 20 other caregivers and their partners at an Alzheimer’s Association-sponsored six-week course about dealing with the disease, she and the other patients were much more interactive.
Into their own hands
So after that, he and fellow caregivers took matters into their own hands. They started a support group, called “Partners,” which has so far held about 10 meetings at the Via Linda Senior Center.
Janet is a former journalist, a friendly woman with a strong voice and a big smile. She gets quite a bit out of the meetings and is the most talkative one there, Bert said. He had written down what she recently said about it: “I like 'Partners’ because it empowers me as a member of the group, rather than the subject.”
But caregiving also has to be a community responsibility.
“It’s that burden that I want the City Council to recognize and build on,” Bert said.
The council did the right thing that night. Rather than sell the old 17,000-square-foot downtown Civic Center Senior Center or to convert it to more government offices, council members voted 6-1 to allow the building to be used for certain social services. Adult day health care could well be one of them — and should well be the first of them.
City human services director Connie James said Wednesday that in early December the city staff will ask eligible social service groups to apply for space in the building. The city Human Services Commission and the council will vote on the requests in February, James said. Services could be offered there not long afterward, she said, depending on the occupant.
Grateful as Bert is for the help he’s received from the city and from the Alzheimer’s Association, the “Partners” group was his and other caregivers’ own creation. Scottsdale’s city government needs to step up, maybe by offering reduced rent, something to make providing these services more affordable.
As Bert reminded those at the meeting that night, “There is not a person in this room who might not come down with Alzheimer’s in their lifetime.” Those who reach their mid-80s, he said, have a 50 percent chance of contracting it.
These aren’t just our grandparents or our parents. These folks are us, sooner than we think.