Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Some interesting facts that I learned during Scottsdale City Government 101

I've spent the last 8 Wednesday evenings in the company of more than 20 (mostly) fellow Scottsdale residents who were interested in learning more about the functions of their city's goverment. We were taking a course offered by the city, Scottsdale City Government 101 (webpage here).

Meeting at various locations throughout the city (Granite Reef Senior Center, One Civic Center, Witzeman Building, Arabian Library, the City's Human Resources meeting room), the group received presentations on city functions from various department heads, charter officers, Council members and the Mayor.

I won't try to cover every bit of the course - that would take too much time - but I can share some of the more interesting facts that I learned during the course.

- The City of Scottsdale has approximately 2800 employees.

- The City's Official Food is chili (oh, wait - that's not really that interesting. Never mind. :) )

- Generally speaking, Scottsdale's unemployment rate is 1/2 - 2/3 that of Arizona's as a whole.

- The City's Intelligent Transportation System/Traffic Management Center is 'da bomb' (at the end of this post, I'm going to urge any interested residents to take this course because of the wealth of information offered, but the entire 8 weeks was made worthwhile because of the one hour in that room).

In Scottsdale, there are somewhere around 50 traffic intersection cameras (not to be confused with red-light and photo radar cameras, which are separate and unrelated to the traffic control system), as well as buried road sensors at every intersection with traffic signals (285 of them). The engineers and operators working in that room can monitor (wall-sized multichannel video monitors) and adjust the signals' timings and cycles in response to out-of-the-ordinary traffic conditions (accidents, events, flash flooding or other weather issues, etc.)

At the risk of playing into every comedic stereotype about men and remote controls, I'm channelling Tim Allen of "Home Improvement" fame - "Arr arr arr arr" (best approximation of a simian grunt there. Just work with me on this one, OK? :)) )

- Approximately 50,000 people work in the Scottsdale Airpark.

- The City has approximately 1955 miles of water lines, and over 1300 miles of sewer lines. (For most people, that's even less interesting than the chili factoid, but given the recent history of drinking water issues in parts of Scottsdale, that one may be important to some readers.)

- The biggest chunk of the City's capital improvement funds go to water and wastewater projects, not City office buildings or even roads.

- Scottsdale's crime rate has dropped almost as steadily as its population has risen.

- According to the City's Human Services Division, 7.1% of Scottsdale residents live in poverty.

- The City's libraries have over 1.4 million visitors per year.

- Scottsdale has 962 acres of public parks, including 3 'off-leash' areas for dogs.

- Nearly 150,000 people attended spring training games in Scottsdale this year (the spring home of the SF Giants).

- More than 60,000 Scottsdale voters are on the Permanent Early Voting list; according to the Maricopa County Recorder's latest registration numbers, there are just over 123,000 registered voters in Scottsdale. That means that 50% of Scottsdale's voters have already chosen to vote early, and more will do so as the elections near. The most recent elections in Tempe saw 79% of ballots cast as early ballots; Scottsdale may approach that figure.

- The presentation about fire service coverage actually had some information that is relevant to political geeks like me - the southernmost part of the city (from the Tempe line north to Indian Bend Road), encompassing 7% of the City's land area, is home to 43% of the City's population. I'm not sure how close that distribution of population matches up to the distribution of registered voters, but it's still eye-opening.

- Starting next month, Councilman Bob Littlefield will begin an eight-month term as Mayor Pro-tem, better known as Vice Mayor. Councilman Wayne Ecton in the current Vice Mayor.

- As of the close of business on Wednesday, no candidate for City office has turned in petitions. Normally, there's at least one show-off who tries to get their signatures in at 8:00 a.m on the first day that they can be turned in. In Scottsdale's case, that was Monday, May 5th.

- When the ballots for the elections in September and November come out, the contests that have the most direct impact on people's lives, the races for municipal offices, will all be at the bottom of the ballot, as will an municipality-based referendum questions.

The combination of increased turnout due to the inclusion of Scottsdale's races with the federal/state/county races and referenda with the inevitable ballot exhaustion (depending on the number of ballot questions, the ballots this fall could be 3 or 4 pages long even before getting to the local races) could lead to some interesting results, depending on which factor turns out to have a greater influence.

- An unheralded but potentially highly significant side effect the increased turnout due to the merging of large municipality elections from a March/May cycle into the September/November cycle could be making it tougher for potential candidates to get on the ballot in future elections.

Current rules in Scottsdale (and many cities) base the number of nominating petition signatures required to make it on the ballot on the number of voters in the most recent mayoral election.

Right now, that means 1,652 valid signatures, based on 5% of the turnout of 33,039 in the mayoral runoff election in May of 2004.

Compare that to the more than 109,000 ballots cast in the November 2004 general election by Scottsdale's voters.

A similar turnout this November could lead to a tripling of signature requirements, to more than 5400, for the 2010 and 2012 municipal elections.

A bill to address this, HB2385, was introduced in the Arizona Legislature this session. It died when the House Rules Committee failed to consider it. (I'm not sure why - both the chair and vice-chair of the committee were sponsors of the bill, as were the entire delegations from LD17 and LD8.)

Whatever the reaspn for the measure's failure this session, look for it to come back next session so that it can be in place before the start of the 2010 campaign season.

While I had some familiarity with the political side of Scottsdale's government, before the course started, I had almost no knowledge of the 'nuts and bolts' side of it.

Now, even more important than the info the presenters imparted to the class, I've got a really cool three-ring binder full of names, phone numbers, and emails when I've got specific questions.

For those who are interested in finding out more about how their city actually works, I heartily recommend signing up for the fall session of the class when it is offered - all lame jokes notwithstanding, it's a great way to get a crash course in what the City does and what it has to offer to its residents.

While all of the presenters and speakers did a great job with their parts of the course curriculum, special thanks go out to LaTricia Harper Woods, Assistant to the City Manager, and John Shultz, Citizen Liaison (for now anyway, he's rotating to a different department soon). For eight weeks, they facilitated the course, kept us focused (most of the presenters were happy to answer every question, but those questions could have kept going well into the night, and there were 2, 3, or more presenters every night) and most importantly, they fed us well.


Without the enthusiasm, experience, and knowledge of LaTricia and John, the course wouldn't have been anywhere near as interesting or useful.


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