Either the people of Scottsdale have the will to decide to change how they elect City Council members or they don’t. Council members who once correctly saw such will intensifying over the years now want to deny it exists.
Rather than go where council members appear to be heading — seeking more study of an already well-researched proposal to elect council members from districts — they should quickly put the matter where it belongs: in the hands of voters.
The council correctly saw Scottsdale’s growth to 220,000 residents required a change in the process when it appointed a 14-member citizens’ task force to recommend action. After hundreds of hours of study, the panel recommended Monday to create six council districts.
But it’s obvious that sometime since the task force was commissioned, current council members began to soften. It’s easy to see how comfortable incumbents can become once they’ve mastered the current, outmoded system that elects all seven members citywide. But incumbent comfort is not the issue. More responsive representation is.
This is admittedly a question of process, not results, and so evokes little vocal reaction. But that is no sign of lack of public will for better representation. That is to say, for a long time since Scottsdale was incorporated in 1951, the at-large system has worked reasonably well. Today we find ourselves in a position to make a process change before the need becomes so acute — after suffering from results that residents would not have wanted — that drastic measures are needed.
We favor the task force’s plan, which still allows for at-large election of the mayor. But as this is the public’s decision, the council could also consider putting a hybrid system before voters as well, one that would allow for some members to be elected from districts and some at-large.
City Attorney David Pennartz told us that if voters approved both, hypothetically the one getting the most votes would be what is implemented.
Mesa’s council experienced similar cold feet at his juncture in the process; but it moved the question to the ballot, and voters approved it in 1998.
You’d think by now that any Scottsdale elected official uttering the words “more study” would face an automatic berth in a political retirement home. By avoiding delays (for a November public vote, the council must act by July 7), not only will council members avoid that, but they will be giving all Scottsdale voters their deserved opportunity to determine their own.