One of the worst city managers in Scottsdale history was Jan Dolan. She intimidated staff and fought so much with Barrett-Jackson she almost forced them away. Space, even online, does not permit her laundry list of errors. But we would like to focus on one, for Scottsdale history may be repeating itself at great consequence to taxpayers.
Following the landmark McDowell Mountain preservation vote a “Gateway” was long contemplated. There would be the front door to Sonoran majesty. There today just off Thompson Peak and north of Bell exists a parking lot, terrific trailheads and low-impact structures, as envisioned.
But that wasn’t always the case. The land was once owned by Toll Brothers, a national homebuilder. It wanted to build what became known as Windgate Ranch but was also agreeable to selling land the city wanted for its gateway at a reasonable price. But Dolan The Dictator didn’t want compromise and rejected the company’s offer to sell the land for $124,000 per acre. Toll Brothers was left with little choice but to sue and argue for the highest price possible for its land. The result? The Municipal Mussolini lost in court, badly. The city was forced to pay nearly three times what nearly all had considered a reasonable purchase price. The consequence to city taxpayers was enormous. And to the preserve. For the city had tens of millions fewer dollars to purchase preserve lands elsewhere thanks to Dolan’s folly.
Fast forward to today.
We have already written about the merits of a proposed BASIS school at 128th and Shea. BASIS is the highest ranked public school in Arizona and one of the top performing schools in the United States. Scottsdale likes to be best in class. This is another opportunity. We have already likened the case to that of the Ice Den in north Scottsdale. Once opposed due to inane concerns it is now an area point of pride. See our previous post here.
We understand the questions of neighbors. But a school so renowned is also smart enough to know that mitigating them is smart business, and probably a lesson conveyed in their classrooms.
But there is also a state law that permits public schools to build where they like – and charter schools are such despite the weird logic of Scottsdale City Councilman Guy Phillips who may be the only Republican in the state who thinks they are not, and otherwise views them with disdain. Upcoming city council candidate rival Dan Schweiker likely feels otherwise, and relishes the Phillips political screwdriver just handed him.
Now, such a state law may be a bad law. Or a very good one. But it is the law of the land. And as such Scottsdale has very little discretion, if any, to deny the nearly 2,000 BASIS parents in Scottsdale the right to have their children enjoy a new school at 128th Street.
If Scottsdale actually denies this best in class with some specious, purported latitude expect a large lawsuit by the school, its statewide association or maybe even Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich. It will win. And like the last time the toll on taxpayers will be significant, not to mention the deleterious impact on city economic development as companies existing and prospective learn that BASIS the Best was chased away by bombast, and a blinding indifference to the law. The good news is that while Scottsdale governance often has to babysit illogic, the adults in charge nearly always do the right thing.