Beneath Paradise Valley, one of the greatest small towns in America, lies political acrimony. It’s surprising. In a community where so many are happy with its direction those who serve and help make it so are often at each other’s throats.
Much of this in recent times was caused by council cancer Paul Dembow. He had a terrible relationship with Councilman Mark Stanton, was coddled by Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner and was reviled by Councilmembers Pace and Andeen. In short, Dembow was a lightning rod of controversy and dissension.
But he is now former Councilman Dembow, with just a few months before his baggage is unpacked.
It’s an important moment for the Town Council who will see Christine Labelle replace Dembow. Besides the departed there will be another key dynamic.
Councilwoman Julie Pace unwisely chose to take on Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner, who soundly defeated her in the August election. Because councilmembers in Paradise Valley are unpaid Pace – whose term has two years left on it – did not have to resign per state law. This creates not only an unusual and uncomfortable situation but one that on its surface could exacerbate the tensions of recent years. Pace should resist this for the good of the town and at all costs.
First, she lost. Badly. Her campaign against Bien-Willner was specious. Paradise Valley has been competently and effectively led by the incumbent. Voters agreed. For Pace to now foment ferocity rather than seek a more collaborative and cordial tone would be to ignore the verdict just rendered by voters.
Second, due to the poor relationship between Pace and Bien-Willner it would seem natural that controversial 4-3 council votes, one way or another, might become the norm. But there is just no need for such power seeking or acrimony. While dissent is understandable Pace and this Council should seek to work with the Mayor towards more consensus and unanimity.
Third, Dembow is gone. By removing such a divisive figure everyone on the Town Council should be able to move forward with more collegiality.
Fourth, elections matters. Bien-Willner won big. Pace did not. Bien-Willner is the Mayor. Pace is not. Mayors are not dictators but they are the Chief Ambassadors and agenda setters. Bien-Willner should be given every opportunity to have the space he needs to lead with aplomb. That would be the best way to set a good and proper pace for such an amazing Town that deserves far less drama.