Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The coarsening of public discourse in Scottsdale

Tuesday's meeting of the Scottsdale City Council was notable for some of the actual work (appointing David Richert as acting City Manager).

However memorable as that may be, the meeting will be best remembered for the very snarky personal attacks from the floor on Council members and their families.

Michael Fernandez, owner of the Pottery Paradise business in Scottsdale, spoke during the public comment part of the agenda.

He used his three minutes to take continued shots at now-former City Manager John Little (whom he accused of "looting" the City's treasury). And those shots were used, in turn, to criticize the three members of the Council who most often oppose his friend, Mayor Jim Lane.

Now criticisms of public officials are an integral part of our system of governance, and any elected official who feels that they shouldn't have to at least listen to such criticisms shouldn't bother with running for elected office.

However, Fernandez' criticisms went far past the normal bounds of civility.

The snarky and sarcastic tone of his comments (awarding a "John Little Memorial Goldbrick Award"??) meant that they were less "honest criticisms" and more "petty insults".

Still, one must have a pretty thick skin when serving in public office.

Then Fernandez got unforgivably personal with his bestowing of his "Goldbrick Award" on "Wayneroo" (Councilman Wayne Ecton) and "Martha, too" (Councilman Ecton's wife, Martha.)

I've disagreed with each of the members of the Council, as well as elected officials at all levels, and frequently have used snark and sarcasm to do so.


Not in the Council Kiva, or a legislative hearing room, or any place where official business is conducted.

And I never have used this or any other forum to attack someone's family members simply because they were related to a public official.

Even in a venue as unregulated at the political blogosphere, anyone wishing to maintain their credibility doesn't go there.

When he did so, Mr. Fernandez demonstrated that credibility wasn't and isn't his objective.

Which is something that I wouldn't care about, except that his behavior and the fact that he wasn't called on it right then and there both undermines the credibility of other, more relevent, public speakers, and encourages further personal attacks.

Toward the end of the meeting, Councilman Ecton finally gave voice to his objections to the tone of the earlier comments. He understood that as an elected official, he was subject to criticisms, even unfair ones, but he was offended and outraged at the attack on his wife.

Mayor Lane hemmed and hawed a little bit at that, stating that it was difficult to know what people were going to say before they say it. He then promised to "be more sensitive to that" however.

Mayor Lane's credibility is lacking on this issue, however - he may not have known *exactly* what Fernandez was going to say, but Fernandez was one of his biggest supporters during Lane's mayoral campaign last year, doing a lot of his work through third-party hit pieces targeting then-Mayor Mary Manross and council candidates Ron McCullagh and Suzanne Klapp.

Add in the fact that the targets of Fernandez' invective were Lane critics McCullagh, Klapp, and Ecton (and that Ecton's seat on the Council is up for election next fall), Fernandez' "speech" has all of the hallmarks of a scripted salvo of a smear campaign for next year's elections.

The thing is that Lane and his cronies don't seem to understand is that by undermining the respect that folks have for their elected officials (even if that respect is of the "respect the office, if not the person" variety), they are undermining themselves.

If a "throw all of the bums out!" wave sweeps forth over the Scottsdale electorate next year, it won't be picky about which political careers are drowned.

Video of the meeting can be found on the City's website here. Fernandez' attack starts around the 12:00 mark; Ecton's response can be found at approximately the 3:53:00 point.

Some background on Fernandez' involvement in Lane's campaign here, here, here, here, and here. Info on his post-election ties to Lane here - Fernandez was one of Lane's appointments to the McDowell Corridor/South Scottsdale Economic Development Task Force.

Also, Fernandez' name can be found all over the City of Scottsdale's elections finance reports (start here) - treasurer of No More Manross In 08, treasurer of Republicans For A Bright New Day In Scottsdale, treasurer for No Light Rail For Scottsdale, and others, and financial contributor to those committees and a number of candidates.

Something tells me that this bit of bile won't be the last we hear from Mr. Fernandez and Lane's other surrogates.

It used to be that Mesa was the laughingstock of municipal politics in the Valley; that has changed, partly because Mesa's leaders have improved, and Scottsdale's leaders have degraded.

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