When you’re put into city office by only a 14 percent voter turnout, it’s hard to point to direct evidence of what most of the community wants of you. In Scottsdale, the City Council tends to hear from two types of residents: Perennial complainers, which are few, and occasional complainers, which are many.
The former complain so much it’s tough to pay attention. The latter usually speak up on a single issue, which means by default that most of the time they find life here to be pretty good.
Unfortunately, the resulting input gap is prone to be filled by ideology-based crusades of an elected official’s own making. City government, however, chiefly involves decisions that are not that broadly defined that one-size-fits-all philosophies are easily applied to them.
Only a few hours into the new council term on Tuesday, ideology became more important than results. About to approve a $236 million annual city budget, council members decided to take more than an hour debating the philosophical merits of spending a little more than $500,000, or 0.23 percent of the total, on two items that received little public criticism:
• When considering whether to turn down giving the quasi-public Scottsdale Cultural Council $250,000 next year to subsidize downtown’s Theater 4301, council members asserted the city should not be funding it because the theater is not making enough money.
• A few minutes later, when considering whether to turn down giving the Scottsdale Motor Mile consortium of auto dealers $300,000 next year to subsidize its annual marketing campaign — and to keep them from leaving town — council members asserted the city should not be funding it because the dealers are making too much money.
While it is generally a good idea that government not subsidize private business, it is not universally true. Ideology is one consideration. Economic stability is another.
The council spent about an hour debating, then retaining in the budget, these two ideology-based items costing $550,000. Of course, a few months ago it approved spending tens of millions of dollars to buy land for more parking at WestWorld of Scottsdale designed to prevent a private business, the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction, from leaving town. Guess Barrett-Jackson’s cars are more desirable economic, um, engines than the Motor Mile’s.
Ideology dominated the council’s last Dark Ages, the period from 1998 to 2002, when the “politics of no” sent many amenities scurrying from Scottsdale to other Valley cities. It doesn’t bode well for this group to start hoisting battle flags as soon as their right hands were free from taking the oath of office.