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Paradise Valley Town Council agenda process under scrutiny at Town Hall

Photo of Paradise Valley Town Complex
A view of the Paradise Valley municipal complex. (Photo: Arianna Grainey/

Paradise Valley Councilwoman Julie Pace cries foul over timing

By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press

The nuanced nature of how Paradise Valley Town Council determines what items of public debate appear on Town Council meeting agendas was on full display during the afternoon hours of Thursday, Oct. 13.

“This was a request from the mayor to revert back to the previous rule that was changed in March 2012,” said Paradise Valley Town Manager Jill Keimach at the onset of the work session discussion at Town Hall, 6401 E. Lincoln Drive.

Paradise Valley Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner introduced the internal mechanism change at Town Council’s Sept. 22 meeting at Town Hall.

Paradise Valley Town Council — by a vote of 5 to 2 later that evening — approved the change part of the Town of Paradise Valley rule of procedure VII(b)(13) that, among other things, requires only three members of Town Council to agree to an item being added to a meeting agenda during a formal public hearing.

Led by Paradise Valley Vice Mayor Anna Thomasson, the Town Council debate offered a snapshot inside the common deliberations around how agendas are set at Town Hall.

This change, however, speaks to only the portion of the regularly scheduled meeting open for future agenda items where an elected leader has the opportunity to bring forward matters under the purview of the local governing board.

Prior to Thursday, Oct. 13, a total of three Town Council members had to agree to the matter to be placed on a future agenda — now, following a 30-day legislative period, that action will require four votes in the affirmative. Furthermore, there is a routine agenda-setting meeting between the mayor and town manager leading up to every Town Council discussion of which each member of Town Council participates in a rotating manner.

Paradise Valley Town Councilwoman Julie Pace brought up the timing of the municipal mechanism change.

“I remember that in 2017, we had quite a robust discussion,” Ms. Pace said following the town staff presentation pointing out Town Clerk Duncan Miller provided a table of pros and cons years ago when the agenda discussion item emerged then.

“When we have something available, and we made decisions and changed it, I would like to have staff provide us that background if that is OK. Can town staff do that?”

Councilwoman Pace called into question the timing of why the change in rules as a yet-to-be-seated member — primary election winner Christine Labelle — of the local governing board will have to live with.

“Why are we doing this before the newly elected council member is here?” Ms. Pace asked. “Is there some reason why we are not including her here? These are rules that she will have to live with. Is there anyone? Whoever can explain to me why we are excluding and precluding Christine Labelle from participating in this discussion.”

The new Paradise Valley Town Council will be sworn in January 2023.

Paradise Valley postulation abound

Paradise Valley Councilman Scott Moore appeared to not find Ms. Pace’s line of questioning appropriate for an elected leader.

“Because she’s not a council member,” Mr. Moore said of why Ms. Labelle was not part of the work session discussion. “I don’t appreciate you treating this like a court of law or something. You are entitled to your opinion, and you are entitled to your vote.”

Mr. Moore offered a perspective that Ms. Pace’s line of questioning was out of bounds under the letter of town code.

“If you have questions, ask your questions,” but don’t include us in all this. Saying, ‘we’ did or ‘we’ did that,” he said. “This is not a court of law.”

Furthermore, acting Town Attorney Andrew McGuire prefaced this change from three votes to a simple majority of four is solely for when the business meeting is in session.

“The vote that is getting voted on is on the agenda item itself,” he explained. “It is just adding on that agenda item but what typically happens here especially here in Paradise Valley, is there hasn’t been requests to put items on the agenda during the regular meeting. Generally, when a member of council asks for something to on an agenda, we do it. I don’t see this being a significant change in the future.”

In Paradise Valley the Town Council agenda is set in concert with the mayor and town manager, according to town code.

“Technically, the mayor and manager are the ones who set the agenda,” Mr. McGuire explained, pointing out the new provision only changes the vote rule during a regular business meeting portion of the allocated public hearing at every Town Council meeting.

Councilwoman Pace explained in previous years discussion revolved around pro and cons of majority rule while setting agenda items.

“The con is that if four people commit to putting something on the agenda it questions the deliberation of an agenda item because the majority has already stated its intent with an outcome already a forgone conclusion,” she said of a hypothetical scenario.

However, Mr. McGuire explains the sentiment suggested was a misinterpretation of open meeting law as the debate to be had is on the agenda item itself — not the substance of the issue of which the agenda item would explore.

“The only time four people can discuss it is in a public meeting. That is, was and always will be the rule,” he said explaining this item is for the allocated time during a public meeting assigned for future agenda items. “The change is that if one person cannot convince the mayor or the manager to put an agenda item then they can take the matter to the public meeting.”

Mayor Bien-Willner says from his perspective, in the case of a public hearing agenda setting item, simple majority ought to rule the day.

“Through the time I have been mayor, I have fully supported including the vice mayor and a rotating council member be present at that meeting with the agenda setting,” he said. “I tend to think that is good practice and that would be my intent moving forward.”

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