Paradise Valley council candidates offer insights into the public record

Paradise Valley voters Tuesday, Aug. 28 will elect a new mayor and three people to town council.

Paradise Valley Vice Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner, running unopposed, seeks the top spot of the local governing board while four candidates are seeking one of three seats on Paradise Valley Town Council.

The town council candidates are:

  • Ellen Andeen
  • James Anton
  • Paul Dembow
  • Anna Thomasson

The Town of Paradise Valley does not hold district elections as the mayor is directly elected and the council hopefuls run at-large.

The Town of Paradise Valley Independent reached out to each candidate to offer it’s third installment of an eight-part series focused on the issues that matter to local residents.

This week’s installment is focused on what these candidates believe are the hallmarks of local government transparency and what exactly should be considered a public record.

This is what candidates had to say:

Jerry Bien-Willner

Jerry Bien-Willner

•Ideas such as “transparency” and “limited government” seem to permeate often from the halls of the Town of Paradise Valley. Will these two ideals help guide your decision-making process if elected to town council?

Yes, limited government, transparency, and openness in our Town’s government are all principles that I value greatly, and they have guided and will continue to guide my decisions.

•What do you believe to be a public record?

Documents and other items that constitute public records are defined by state and federal law.

• Do you believe the public should have access to any and all information regarding the business of the Town of Paradise Valley or do you think some things should be kept from the limelight of the public arena?

I believe that the public should have full access to all of the public records required under the law. This level of disclosure is quite broad, but does not include “any and all” information, as the law protects certain information from disclosure when necessary – for example, materials related to ongoing criminal investigations, victim records, and other information where the relevant law at the state and federal level has considered certain information outside the scope of a general records request.

Anna Thomasson

Anna Thomasson

•Ideas such as “transparency” and “limited government” seem to permeate often from the halls of the Town of Paradise Valley. Will these two ideals help guide your decision-making process if elected to town council?

Absolutely. During my 30 years of communications and change management consulting to major global brands, I often advised my clients, “The truth tells the best story.” People are smart and well connected. They figure it out. The more information we share with people, the better.

A key element to building community is sharing information with our neighbors and inviting involvement. As a council member, you will find me actively working to get information out to residents and seeking opinions on key issues.

•What do you believe to be a public record?

Three years serving on the Arizona State Bar Board of Governors gave me experience working under the Arizona open meeting laws, so I am familiar with the statutory requirements of our public meetings and public records.

I believe discussions among council members on scheduled agenda items are subject to pubic meeting laws and therefore, public record.

• Do you believe the public should have access to any and all information regarding the business of the Town of Paradise Valley or do you think some things should be kept from the limelight of the public arena?

Yes. Generally, I believe that the greater the level of transparency, the better. Our town’s decision to not only make our council, commission and committee meetings and documents public, but very accessible via online and recorded broadcasting is excellent. Additionally, the town’s decision to make every relevant document accessible to the public is very helpful to citizens who want to get involved.

As I prepared to attend numerous town council and Planning Commission meetings, I was able to preview the agenda and all the relevant documents. I read every document and previewed them prior to the meetings in order to be an active listener.

I believe there are a few instances when documents related to town business do not need to be publicly available. Detailed pricing from vendors associated with town contracts and selected staff pay and performance information are examples that come to mind. However, even with these examples, there are opportunities for citizen advisory committees to review key documents and work with staff to make recommendations.

Paul Dembow

Paul Dembow

•Ideas such as “transparency” and “limited government” seem to permeate often from the halls of the Town of Paradise Valley. Will these two ideals help guide your decision-making process if elected to town council?

The town was founded on limited government and I am consistently committed to limited government. To define my vision of limited government, my test is whether there is a compelling reason to involve the government. My litmus test is whether government involvement results in a gain for everyone affected.

If the answer is a “no” I don’t try to find ways to get to a “yes,” which happens all too often with elected officials and staff. Ronald Reagan said, “I hope we once again have reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There’s a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: as government expends, liberty contracts.”

Thomas Jefferson said, “Most bad government has grown out of too much government.” As long something does not harm another resident’s enjoyment of their property, less government is better.

Having a government that does less legislating rather than more seems to be a great way to keep the Town of Paradise Valley the paradise that our residents love. Our community is populated with successful people. I believe Paradise Valley residents are more capable than government in making decisions for their lives.
Transparent government, which means more than being able to watch a meeting online. I will make sure we have public input for all major projects. Any project that affects you directly I assume residents will believe is a “major” project.

Making decisions the council could make with little or no community outreach is not my idea of transparency. If a road is going to be redeveloped in front of your house, I think several meetings with public input is in order. For one pocket of our community, people are facing the exercise of an easement in their front yards for a road.

There are rights, and then there is what is right. People need to feel a sense of fairness, even if the outcome is a variation from their ideal. Having your front yard taken away for a road that is beautiful may not be a benefit to your property.

•What do you believe to be a public record?

A public record, as a general rule, is defined as “all records required to be kept under A.R.S. § 39-121.01(B), are presumed open to the public for inspection as public records.”
The Freedom of Information Act has been an eye opener for many voters and reporters. Looking at what is happening at the national level with disclosure, or lack there of, from FBI and DOJ staffers, I am horrified. We’re lucky that at the state and local levels in Arizona we have better compliance and the public can see what is going on.

I’m fully in support of the public records laws.

• Do you believe the public should have access to any and all information regarding the business of the Town of Paradise Valley or do you think some things should be kept from the limelight of the public arena?

I’m for transparent government. This said, if the town has a legal issue, having that discussion in public would not make any sense. Legal advice needed to legislate, during a lawsuit or threatened lawsuit, an executive session — a private meeting with the council and an attorney or legal team — makes sense.

One other area is a clear candidate for a private meeting (executive session) is discussing an employee. If the council is going to be meeting with an employee about their job performance it make sense to ask the employee if they want the meeting public or private. If the employee does not want their job performance review discussed in public, that is their choice.

James Anton

James Anton

•Ideas such as “transparency” and “limited government” seem to permeate often from the halls of the Town of Paradise Valley. Will these two ideals help guide your decision-making process if elected to town council?

Transparency and limited government are great symbols that explain how Paradise Valley government functions. All of the Paradise Valley government officials I have ever met, including myself, support this concept.

While attending the first presentation on Visually Significant Corridors early in 2017, I was presented with a comment on the lack of attendance from the residents. My response was that Paradise Valley residents are generally pleased with their town government and trust their judgment. No protests, no marches, no wonder we love our town.

•What do you believe to be a public record?

Public documents are generally considered to be information that is not confidential and generally pertain to conduct of government.

• Do you believe the public should have access to any and all information regarding the business of the Town of Paradise Valley or do you think some things should be kept from the limelight of the public arena?

If everything about everything was available to everyone, our government’s ability to function would come to a halt. Serving on the Planning Commission has revealed to me just how open and welcoming our Town government is to our residents. Our meetings are open to all and available to view online. Those who wish to speak are given that opportunity at the scheduled time.

Our transparent and limited government functions very efficiently and makes us all proud to live in Paradise Valley.

Ellen Andeen

Ellen Andeen

•Ideas such as “transparency” and “limited government” seem to permeate often from the halls of the Town of Paradise Valley. Will these two ideals help guide your decision-making process if elected to town council?

Live streaming and the availability of videos of council, planning and Board of Adjustment meetings are great tools for our community to learn and stay involved. I am a strong proponent of transparency and believe these are great tools for a municipality to use. I would like to see the town website upgraded to ensure historic videos, agendas and minutes are available to our community.

Our model of limited government speaks to being financially responsible to ensure no property taxes, respecting the values of our town and limiting government intrusion when possible. Our town is lucky to have such a broad base of residents willing to volunteer their time — these volunteers exist all the way to our judicial bench.

•What do you believe to be a public record?

Public records are defined by law – within the state and federal framework.

• Do you believe the public should have access to any and all information regarding the business of the Town of Paradise Valley or do you think some things should be kept from the limelight of the public arena?

I believe we have a broad-based transparency portal available to the public. In the previous questions I noted what I’d like to see improved. Items protected should be executive session materials, attorney-client privileged information or items protected by law.

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment