Paper of Record: The stories that defined Paradise Valley in 2018

The Independent is the paper of record for the Town of Paradise Valley and in that function, the publication — and its dedicated reporting staff — covered extensively the municipal happenings of calendar year 2018 with a conscientious approach to journalism.

Calendar year 2018 in the Town of Paradise Valley saw the election of a new mayor, who ran uncontested, meanwhile two fresh faces will take the helm atop the local governing board.

From the divisive single-hauler trash and recycling pursuit, to questions surrounding the Ritz-Carlton Paradise Valley resort community to a better understanding of police surveillance — and the revenue generated from those efforts — to the abrupt resignation of a town manager the politics of Paradise Valley led the pages of the Independent in 2018.

A constant pursuit of curbing the powers of Senate Bill 1350, the establishment of both new Hillside regulations and storm water management retention efforts, Paradise Valley Town Council remains steadfast to the ideal of maintaining tranquility in paradise.

And, as the fallout continues to be realized at the Scottsdale Unified School District, the Paradise Valley community now has a very succinct understanding of the inner-workings of the local school district thanks to the intrepid reporting offered by the Independent.

Aside from political fallout atop local governing boards embodied by orchestrated soliloquies, the Independent also offered a salute to the accomplishments of local students, student-athletes and local residents making a difference in Paradise Valley, but also the Valley of the Sun.

No matter the issue — big or small — if a resident had an opinion, critical or otherwise, the hometown newspaper for those who call Paradise Valley home made sure the little guy got to have a say on municipal happenings that matter.

As new leadership takes hold of Paradise Valley in the New Year, leading up to that transition of power this is how the biggest stories of 2018 unfolded.

1. Jerry Bien-Willner elected next mayor

At the time of press, election results showed Ellen Andeen, Paul Dembow and Anna Thomasson as the front runners for the Paradise Valley Town Council, which turned out to be true.

Mayor-elect Jerry Bien-Willner addresses the crowd at Mountain Shadows on Aug. 2. (Photo courtesy of: Matt Young Photography)

Vice Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner was also elected to serve as mayor. He was running unopposed.
“I am humbled, honored and excited to win election as the next Mayor of Paradise Valley,” Mr. Bien-Willner said following his election.

“As I move into this new role in public service, I will remain dedicated to ensuring that our exceptional quality of life and our Town’s wonderful character continue to thrive well into the future. It is a great privilege to serve our Town, and I appreciate your support.”

The race for three town council seats was sought by residents Ellen Andeen, James Anton, Paul Dembow and Anna Thomasson.

Final results posted by the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office show each candidate received:

  • Ms. Andeen: 2,314 votes cast;
  • Mr. Dembow: 2,131 votes cast; and
  • Ms. Thomasson: 2,460 votes cast.

The new mayor, who received 3,387 casted votes, and council members will take office on Jan. 10, 2019.

Paradise Valley Town Manager Kevin Burke has tendered his resignation. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

2. Burke calls it quits

Paradise Valley Town Manager Kevin Burke announced his resignation from the municipality just before noon Tuesday, June 12.

He is reportedly taking a position with the city of Peoria, as that entity’s future public works director.
Mr. Burke’s official resignation signifies a 60-day notice, with his last day being Saturday, Aug. 11.

“Thank you for the opportunity to serve the Town of Paradise Valley. I look at our accomplishments over the last 3.5 years with a lot of pride,” Mr. Burke said in his resignation letter. “We have overseen the absolute revitalization of the resort industry including the demolition and reconstruction of Mountain Shadows and the associated housing.”

However, a full-time replacement for Mr. Burke has proven elusive to the Paradise Valley Town Council as his reported predecessor, Mark Perkins, backed out of the job offer in recent weeks.
Paradise Valley leadership has remained mum on the future of the town manager position — one that has been successfully filled by Brian Dalke since last summer.

3. Alarms, alarms and alarms

In early 2018, the Independent reported on the police department’s admission of the massive amounts of false alarms regularly occurring within town limits.

The Paradise Valley Police Department responded to more than 3,000 false alarms in 2017, but local leaders are looking at developing strategies to address the significant drain on department resources.
Local officials estimate there are about 5,000 lots or properties within Paradise Valley town limits.

Since 2008 the amount of alarm calls that turn out to be false has fluctuated, police data shows, but it reached a peak of 3,682 in 2017.

In 2017, 99.86 percent of the 3,682 security alarms the police department responded to were false, or didn’t result in the discovery of criminal activity.

At the Tatum Drive and Lincoln Boulevard intersection the Town of Paradise Valley employs both photo radar and vehicle license plate readers. (Independent Newsmedia/Arrianna Grainey)

4. An examination of police surveillance and public record

The Police had a hit in 1983 with the popular single, “Every Breath you Take.”

But in the 21st Century, police in the Town of Paradise Valley — thanks to cutting-edge surveillance technology — are aware of moves a motorist may make and every turn they might take within town limits.

Over the past several years, the Paradise Valley Police Department has embarked upon a technological revolution that replaces antiquated systems with top-of-the-line hardware.

A marriage between technology and policing has long been part of the local police department narrative. After all, the municipality is known for being one of the first in the nation to use photo radar, which was first implemented in 1987 and continues to this day.

During the last fiscal year, the Town of Paradise Valley issued 47,651 photo radar tickets, which accounted for $2,195,989 in gross fine remits — with $606,726 provided to the state and county, and $572,057 paid to Redflex Traffic Systems.

The amount retained by the town was $1,017,206, court records show.

5. The pursuit of a single-hauler trash contract

Apparently, you can fight Town Hall.

After several months debating the merits of allowing only one trash hauler to serve town residents — a debate that attracted stiff opposition from residents — the Paradise Valley Town Council unanimously voted Feb. 8 to reject any change and leave things just as they are.

Residents have always been able to choose from a variety of trash haulers. The town had proposed allowing only one company to provide service in the town — and had even chosen the company to receive that contract.

6. A public call for resignation denied

Paradise Valley Councilman Paul Dembow is calling for the resignation of Mark Stanton, a fellow elected leader who serves on Town Council.

Paradise Valley Councilman Paul Dembow (File photo)

Mr. Dembow delivered a prepared statement at about 9 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15 telling the public a lawsuit against him, his family, town and police officials has been dismissed.

But also discovered during the course of the court proceedings, Mr. Dembow contends, is a fellow elected leader — Mark Stanton — had provided harmful comments and incendiary statements to the plaintiffs of both the criminal and civil lawsuits stemming from the 2015 tragic death of a Paradise Valley resident.

Paradise Valley resident Howard Brown was struck and killed by a car operated by Mr. Dembow’s daughter on Nov. 15, 2015; However, no charges were filed and the Paradise Valley Police Department — early in the process — had been cleared of any wrongdoing.

The Honorable Jo Lynn Gentry of the Maricopa County Superior Court in July 2017 ruled in a criminal case against the Paradise Valley Police Department that the law enforcement entity had no duty of care to perform an investigation into the fatal accident at the intersection of Invergordon and Horseshoe roads that resulted in the death of Mr. Brown.

The Maricopa County Superior Court has cleared the Town of Paradise Valley — and its subsequent defendants — of any and all civil negligence claims that could leave taxpayers liable.

Mr. Stanton is not resigning his post.

7. A parent’s guide to SUSD’s transgressions

Like a butterfly spreading its wings for the first time, the Scottsdale Unified School District is attempting to muster its energy, courage and strength to emerge anew as it heads toward a new beginning.

While children attend summer camps, teenagers go off to their first jobs and teachers delve in to much-deserved time off, Scottsdale Schools’ officials are seeking to move forward after a tumultuous school year.

The district’s administration team dismissed its superintendent, chief financial officer, chief business and operations officer, and longtime personnel director. Meanwhile the same top officials were embroiled in a public scandal surrounding the architect hired to rebuild several elementary schools.

In all, Scottsdale Schools saw the departure of employees within the administration and classroom levels due to the build-up and fallout over the events.

More than one year ago, rumblings within Hopi Elementary School revealed parental dismay of its rebuild, which was the first school chosen to be reconstructed following a successful $229 million bond in the November 2016 election. A petition emerged that garnered over 1,000 signatures within hours.

SUSD officials found themselves treading through investigations, internal reviews, staff changes and periods of uncertainty for the majority of the school year, while legacy systems came crumbling down in district departments.

An Arizona Attorney General Investigation began percolating, and was announced in November 2017.

The picturesque landscape that is the Town of Paradise is something the hillside development regulations were created to protect. (File photo)

8. New Hillside development standards emerge

Earlier this year, Paradise Valley Town Attorney Andrew Miller delivered to Town Council a formal update to Hillside Development Regulations.

The presentation served as an outline for Paradise Valley Town Council defining Hillside code definitions, a new pre-application process and defined criteria for removing a property from the Hillside development designation.

Hillside lots within Paradise Valley town limits are those found in areas with a slope of 10 percent or greater, or designated as Hillside by town code.

According to town officials, the ongoing Hillside update dates back to 2015, when it was re-emphasized and included in the 2016 Town Council Quality of Life Initiatives. As part of that effort, a community conversation was held in April 2016 where safety was a central theme.

Throughout 2017, the Planning Commission worked on a Hillside code update, ultimately forwarding the draft to town council with a 5-1 recommendation vote.

Major tenets of the Hillside code update hinges upon new safety standards and a formal pre-application process meant to define development timelines, town officials say.

9. SB 1350: Every day is a party in Paradise

Examining the practices of Arizona’s three collegiate towns — Flagstaff, Tempe and Tucson — the Town of Paradise Valley has set its sights on implementing an ordinance to address unruly gatherings.

Paradise Valley Police Chief Peter Wingert and Town Council in late February 2018 discussed and gathered input on proposing a town ordinance for gatherings that leave neighbors irritated.

10. SmokeTree resort to be reborn

Not since Adam West first dawned the cowl of the Dark Knight on the American Broadcast Company has much thought been given to the breadth and scope of the SmokeTree Resort in the Town of Paradise Valley.

A concept image of what a revitalized SmokeTree Resort in Town of Paradise Valley. (Submitted graphic)

But earlier this year the legacy resort property at 7101 E. Lincoln Drive changed hands for a reported $10 million and new ownership is eying a new chapter for the boutique resort on the edge of paradise.

The original resort, which was established in 1966 and maintained in perpetuity, is now under the guise of a partnership between Phoenix-based Geneva Holdings and Scottsdale-based Ventana Hotels and Resorts.

The property owner’s request for redevelopment includes 150 traditional hotel guest room keys, 30 resort residential units, a restaurant and bar/lounge, and accessory uses such as a cafe, pop-up retail and a bakery.

The current SmokeTree revitalization plan is under the guise of the Paradise Valley Planning Commission as Town Council is expected to render a final vote on the matter this in early 2019.

Independent Newsmedia Arizona Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at

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