Friday, October 02, 2009

Scottsdale looking to turn its charter on its ear

The City of Scottsdale has a task force reviewing its charter, looking toward voter approval of changes at a special election in March. Most of the changes suggested are of the "technical correction" variety (updating language for current usage or for clarification purposes, etc.)

However, some of the proposed changes that they are considering are somewhat less innocuous.

Here is the public comment that I submitted to the Charter Review Task Force regarding some very specific language proposed for the charter -

Good afternoon,

At the Charter Review Task Force meeting on September 28, I submitted a written comment on the appropriateness of inserting into Scottsdale’s charter language written by the “ORANGE Coalition”. At the time, I advised against doing so, but because of the short notice, that comment wasn’t quite as specific as it should have been.

The Charter Review Task Force was established to make recommendations for updates to the City Charter, with an eye toward making it more citizen-friendly, among other things. More generally, the Task Force is charged to work on improvements and updates to the Charter that benefit Scottsdale’s citizens as a whole.

However, the language suggested by the ORANGE Coalition has only one beneficiary - American Water.

American Water’s subsidiary, Arizona American Water (AZAm Water), has a small but troubled presence in the Scottsdale water market. Its approximately 2000 customers and their families have repeatedly been faced with TCE-contaminated water pouring from their taps. This situation has led to some residents, including members of the Scottsdale City Council, to call for looking into acquiring AZAm Water’s system and adding those customers to Scottsdale’s water system.
Naturally, American Water objected to this, and while the movement to acquire AZAm Water has fizzled, American Water is taking no chances. The ORANGE Coalition seems to have been created specifically to ensure that such an idea is removed even from the realm of possibility.

- The ORANGE Coalition was incorporated as a non-profit corporation on November 12, 2008 with two directors listed as having the address of 1025 Laurel Oak Road in Voohees, New Jersey. (

- That address is the same address as that of the corporate headquarters of American Water. (

- One of the directors listed on the incorporation paperwork, Daniel Kelleher, is a retired American Water executive and currently serves as a consultant to American Water on defending it against condemnation initiatives. (

The members of the Charter Review Task Force are attorneys, professional lobbyists, and current and former elected officials. To a man and woman, you all
are familiar with the idea of representing the interests of others. As Task Force members, your chosen duty is to represent the interests of the people of Scottsdale.
If any member of the Task Force (or, for that matter, the Mayor or the City Council) wants to stand before the community and argue that the residents of the City are best served by protecting the revenue stream of a corporation that has a documented history of poor customer service and threats to public health (as if forcing overpriced and contaminated water on its customers is merely “poor” customer service), of course they are free to do so.

However, it isn’t the place for the Task Force members to provide political cover for such a scheme by burying the ORANGE Coalition’s charter changes among a large number of innocuous technical corrections and housekeeping changes, expected to be the subject of a special election in March.

I urge you to reject the ORANGE Coalition’s proposed changes. If there is enough support in the community for the changes they desire, they should have no problem gaining the signatures needed to place a stand-alone referendum question on the ballot next fall.

Thank you for your consideration.

Among the fine observations that I left out of the comment that one of the benefits of creating the ORANGE Coalition at a non-profit corporation instead of a political committee is that political committees have to disclose their donors while non-profit corporations do not.

Why bother though?

Using the same address as American Water's corporate HQ shows that they don't really care if people know who is behind the ORANGE Coalition.

Mayor Jim Lane and his friends are being as subtle as baseball bats in their quest to consolidate power in Scottsdale and to protect their friends' profits, both at the expense of the best interests of Scottsdale's residents.

Lane and his supporters may rail against the influence that the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce had during the Manross administration (complaints that have more than a little merit), but the only thing that has changed with his election has been the names of those pulling the strings, not the facts that strings *are* being pulled, and that enough money gets you a turn at tugging on one of the strings.


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