Lessons in Leadership: What Really Happened to the Rio Verde Foothills Water Plan

You are very likely aware of the ongoing Rio Verde Foothills water crisis; hopefully you’ve read some of our coverage, but regardless you’re likely aware of the highly concerned citizenry in the unincorporated town on the outskirts of Scottsdale, as well as the political bickering between the city of Scottsdale and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.

A new story from the Scottsdale Progress shines a light on some of that bickering and who may be to blame. And what we see is a lack of cooperation and perhaps some ego and hard-headed politics coming into play. While politics rarely has a shortage of ego, to see it surface in such a critical issue with major real-world ramifications, the sort of situation that you would hope leaders would rise above and lead others down the high road, is unfortunate.

One thing that was presumed before based on public statements is now even more certain: Mayor Dave Ortega was the ringleader in the Council regarding the efforts to quell the conversation about the proposed water delivery deal. What is less certain is how he was able to get a majority to go along with his plans, be it incentives, threats, or something in between; most of the really telling information was apparently resolved in Executive Session and not to be spoken of. Alas, we were not a fly on that wall.

There could certainly be a case made regarding the Mayor’s desire to protect the city’s water source for the use of Scottsdalians. You vote for someone under the assumption that they will fight for you after all, and this move could have easily come off as just that. But the revelation that the city is banking upwards of 15,000 acre feet per year, compared to 120 acre feet used by the Rio Verde Foothills community, is extremely telling. It would have been about 1% of the city’s excess water…a footnote.

So then why not be a savior and broker a deal? Aside from a serious political miscalculation, which this does seem to be, it has the feel of a stance born in principle. Yes, growth there was reckless. Yes, at some point you need to put your foot down. But a sober weighing of risks versus rewards would have been more beneficial. That sometimes laying off the gas of your principled stance is the best decision for everyone involved.

Indeed, it seems as though the Mayor is now known much more widely around the state, and not in a good way. When Supervisor Steve Gallardo, a Democrat and Hispanic man (i.e. someone who should align more with the Mayor) is calling you out, that’s a problem. It’s not unreasonable to think that Governor Hobbs now sees this situation through the prism of one man who dug his heels in instead of brokering a deal.

And while kudos should be given for the Mayor’s ability to get a majority vote and exert some influence on Council, one has to wonder if that has collateral damage attached to it. Perhaps supporting him and being on the wrong side of public opinion is an anchor that other councilmembers wish they didn’t have around their ankle.

As with every mess however, there comes a lesson. And for the sake of the city of Scottsdale as well as for his own re-election chances, it would behoove the Mayor to learn a few lessons from this. That collaboration is preferred over battles. That the principled stance is sometimes not the best stance. That friends are preferable to enemies. And that compassion is compelling. Mayor Ortega should heed such, because he is well positioned for re-election, especially if he avoids more blunders like Rio Verde.