Records: Scottsdale tracks political gifts meanwhile Paradise Valley does not
By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press
The political gift is as old as the idea of politicking itself — and as the public-facing nature of elected leadership trumps most other core requirements — the gala invitation, the public speaking engagement and keynote appearance is a certain nature of the political beast.
The Arizona Digital Free Press, through a public records request, asked Scottsdale and the Town of Paradise Valley for the last two calendar years, and thus far this year, of ‘declared gifts,’ which in Scottsdale must be filed no later than 10 days after receiving the gift, according to city code.
Any political gift over $50 must be declared by an elected leader of Scottsdale, but in the Town of Paradise Valley, Town Clerk Duncan Miller reminds Arizona cities and towns are creatures of state government.
“Arizona law requires elected officials to file an annual financial disclosure report,” Mr. Miller explained of state law. “In Section 6 of that report, elected officials disclose gifts received during the preceding calendar year with a cumulative value over $500. There is no local ordinance requiring elected officials to disclose gifts received with a value less than $500.”
However, Mr. Duncan provided reimbursements pursued by members of Paradise Valley Town Council whereas while conducting business as an elected leader of the town he or she is able to seek reimbursement.
Of note: All members of Paradise Valley Town Council are volunteers and are not provided a credit card for incidental costs like lunches, dinners or official hosting capacities, Mr. Miller explained.
The Arizona Digital Free Press was not charged for records received.
Scottsdale City Council declared gifts reported
Records show 2021 is the year where the most gifts were accepted — things like attendance to keystone community events like the Fourth of July celebration at the Scottsdale Fairmont Princess, HonorHealth and Scottsdale Arts annual fundraising galas among several other lauded events.
Records show in calendar year 2020 then-Mayor Jim Lane accepted $3,034 to attend events including the 2020 Honor Ball, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Scottsdale Youth Gala, Harkins Theater movie passes and a Miranda Lambert concert. Mr. Lane was the only member of Scottsdale City Council to accept any gifts in 2020.
Records show in calendar year 2021 a total of 30 political gifts were accepted by members of Scottsdale City Council with the following breakdown:
- Mayor David D. Ortega – 14 disclosure forms with a total $8,151 in declared gifts.
- Councilwoman Tammy Caputi – 2 disclosure forms with a total $550 in declared gifts.
- Councilmember Tom Durham – 5 disclosure forms with a total $700 in declared gifts.
- Councilwoman Betty Janik – 4 disclosure gift forms with a total $1,116 in declared gifts.
- Councilwoman Kathy Littlefield – 3 disclosure forms with a total $230 in declared gifts.
- Councilwoman Solange Whitehead – 2 disclosure forms with a total $600 in declared gifts.
Records show one outlier in political gifts accepted — a gift outside of attendance of local community events — was filed Oct. 8, 2021, by Scottsdale Mayor Ortega.
The description of the gift was an invitation to represent Scottsdale at the September 2021 Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative Program in New York City. Records show the gift was provided by the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Program Initiative event from Sept. 25 through Sept. 29, 2021, with value derived from the following costs:
- Hotel Accommodations: $3,360.12
- Flights: $700.80
- Ground transportation: $365.86
- Meals: $300
In calendar year 2022, records show a total of six gifts declared by members of Scottsdale City Council with the following breakdown:
Mayor David Ortega – 1 disclosure form with a total $450 in declared gifts.
Councilwoman Tammy Caputi – 2 disclosure forms with a total $700 in declared gifts.
Councilwoman Betty Janik – 2 disclosure gift forms with a total $365 in declared gifts.
Paradise Valley Town Council reimbursements reported
Paradise Valley Town Council has an ethics policy that does speak directly to political gifts and state disclosure requirements, Mr. Duncan explains.
“The council ethics policy discourages acceptance of gifts of any kind or amount,” he said. “Beyond that, the town does not have a specific requirement to disclose gifts under $500 or report hospitality expenses such as receiving a meal while attending an Experience Scottsdale meeting or similar event.”
But what the town does track is records of reimbursement for incidental expenses occurred — and other items, records show.
The Arizona Digital Free Press, through a public records request, obtained Town Council reimbursement documents for the past two calendar years including this far this year. The request generated: six records.
Four of those records are reimbursements provided to Paradise Valley Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner:
- On Jan. 19, 2023, Mayor Bien-Willner was reimbursed for hosting at Town Hall the MLK Luncheon on Jan. 9 and the East Valley Mayor’s Luncheon on Jan. 5 with a total cost of $1,024.
- On June 25, 2021, Mayor Bien-Willner was reimbursed for hosting at Town Hall the PVPD Foundation lunch on June 17, 2021, and for hosting the MLK Committee lunch on June 2 with a total cost $503.
- On Nov. 11, 2022, Mayor Bien-Willner was reimbursed for a lunch meeting with a fellow volunteer with a total cost of $71.75.
- On Oct. 14, 2021, Mayor Bien-Willner was reimbursed for a lunch meeting with Mayor David Ortega with a total of $31.29.
One of those records is a reimbursement request from Councilwoman Anna Thomasson, who received a $65.87 check for a lunch meeting with Town Manager Jill Keimach in October of 2022.
One of those records is a reimbursement request from Councilwoman Julie Pace, who received a $2,700 check for commemorative ball caps in honor of the town’s 60th anniversary in November 2021.