Paradise Valley leaders eye feats of local stature in 2018

The Paradise Valley Municipal Complex is at 6401 E. Lincoln Drive. (File photo)

The improvements of cell phone coverage, a possible shift away from the free-market approach to local trash and recycling services and a continued focus on public safety top the list of importance for elected leaders in the Town of Paradise Valley.

The Town of Paradise Valley Independent reached out to three members of Paradise Valley Town Council to better understand what they believe to be items of importance headed into the new year.

This is part one of a two-part series.

“Cell phone signal strength. Cell phone signal strength. Cell phone signal strength,” Paradise Valley Mayor Michael Collins says of his top priority heading into the new year.

“We have made so much wonderful progress on a number of other important community issues, that in my opinion it is time to bring the cell phone signal strength crisis to the front. It’s time to properly respond to the No. 1 complaint of Paradise Valley residents and visitors alike: poor cell phone service within town limits.”

Michael Collins

Mayor Collins says, along with Town Manager Kevin Burke and Vice Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner, the dynamic trio may have a workable solution to a major inconvenience of living in paradise.

“The town manager and I have been working on this for the past year now, with help from the vice mayor, and I am cautiously optimistic that a solution is on the horizon and can be in place and operational by the end of 2018,” he said. “It will be a complicated process and require a significant amount of council discussion and public involvement.”

The pinpoint focus on public safety — and those who provide it — also tops Mayor Collins list for top priorities within the Town of Paradise Valley, he says.

“Without question public safety is the most important thing that our town does, and I commit to working with my council colleagues to ensure that public safety remains our No. 1 focus,” he said.

The mayor also points to the development of the Ritz-Carlton and two capital improvement projects as things for residents to keep their eyes on as calendar 2018 unfolds.

“Working to get the new Ritz-Carlton Paradise Valley resort out of the ground, finding a way to provide all Paradise Valley residents and visitors with good cell phone signal strength, and completing two long-awaited and overdue Capital Improvement Projects: traffic calming and beautification of East Doubletree Ranch Road and traffic calming and beautification of Mockingbird Road.”

As an election year looms for the Town of Paradise Valley in November 2018, Mayor Collins is looking to step away from the local limelight.

“As I announced publicly last March, this is my final year in office as the mayor,” he said.

“As I start to think about succession planning next year, I am excited to see leadership arise from within our existing town council to show interest in being the next mayor. I’m encouraged that town residents could have at least two good choices in Mark Stanton and Jerry Bien-Willner if they both choose to run for this office. And you never know who else may jump in.”

Paul Dembow

Paradise Valley Councilman Paul Dembow says he is thanking his lucky stars he calls the Town of Paradise Valley home.

“Thank goodness we don’t have critical issues! When I think of Oakland and Chicago’s crime or the fires in several California cities, I think how blessed we are to live in paradise!” he said.

Paul Dembow

“The No. 1 issue will be trying to keep government out of trash collection. With what has been pushed by the mayor of the mantle of ‘identified in the General Plan’ is something that will cost our residents more and take away their ability to choose who they want to use and what services they wish.”

Councilman Dembow does not like the idea of moving to a single-trash hauler model for local garbage and recycle pick-ups.

“Think of your cable or cell phone bill the next time you think it makes sense to hand a monopoly over to a company,” is the conclusion he drew between consumer and service-provider.

While the Town of Paradise Valley touts itself as a model of limited government, its local governing board is embarking upon the creation of municipal rules determining how, when and by whom local rubbish can be delivered to local landfills.

Aside from talking trash, Councilman Dembow, a longtime elected volunteer at Town Hall, says he is seeing great teamwork within the governing board’s ranks.

“We have a great group of people who, for the most part, are rowing the same direction,” he said. “Usually there is a ‘right’ answer even if it’s not the ‘perfect’ answer,” he pointed out.

Although Councilman Dembow found value in the town’s series of governance discussions, he felt like one item was missing: a formal direction of council structure.

“The residents spoke clearly that they wanted a direct-election of their mayor. The part that was not addressed was the governance to go along with the new structure,” he said.

But aside from the nuanced council substructure, Councilman Dembow says he continues to be impressed with town residents ready and eager to aid the municipality.

“One of the best things I like about the new structure is that the council is involved in all selections of our volunteers and their interviews,” he said.

“If you want to be uber impressed, watch the residents who have interviewed for various positions in the town. We have a town full of ‘successful and more successful’ and ‘smart and smarter’ people. It is an honor to serve them and to meet them.”

Councilman Dembow admits some of the votes on the local dais didn’t go his way, but he is quick to point out how proud he is of the body of work atop the local dais.

“I have no regrets,” he said.

“While the council has spent money on some projects I voted against, we have, in general, been conservative as a council. I’m hoping next year our council supports conservatism in our spending. My dad always said, ‘you make your biggest mistakes when times are good.’”

David Sherf

Paradise Valley Councilman David Sherf says he has growth on the mind — municipal growth that is.

“Our town is growing rapidly and residents have come to expect exceptional service from our police department, our public works and development departments and other departments that keep our town functioning smoothly,” he said in a Dec. 19 statement to the Independent.

David Sherf

“We have been dealing with providing more of these services through our extensive and valued volunteers, but we may now be facing the need to hire more paid employees to meet expectations.”

A major question that is emerging in Councilman Sherf’s mind: “in a town that values limited government how do we balance the need for more employees with our high service culture?”

Aside from internal grumblings of stiff municipal workloads, Councilman Sherf agrees cell phone issues need to get better in the new year.

“Cell phone coverage continues to be a big problem in town — and because of our relatively limited citizen base as compared to our neighbors in Phoenix and Scottsdale — the cell providers are not too interested in investing their efforts and money to rectify the problem,” he said.

“We have been having ongoing and active conversations with these firms and we need to bring these efforts to conclusion and more forward with a workable plan.”

A major accomplishment for Councilman Sherf in 2017 was the continued effort to pay down unfunded liability at the Public Safety Pension Retirement System.

“Our public pension liability was $22 million and growing and town council decided this large liability needed to be aggressively paid down,” he pointed out. “We decided to pay $5 million in 2017 and developed a plan to hopefully pay off this large liability in the next three years rather than continue to pay a minimal amount and incur large interest expenses.”

Councilman Sherf says he is finding a solid camaraderie between he and his fellow member so council — and he says he hopes feel that momentum into the new year.

“The town council has seven elected officials and our accomplishments are done as a body and I do not feel are accomplished individually,” he explained.

“To me, some of our biggest accomplishments were taking the lead that successfully curtailed the ability of cell companies to place large cell towers in our rights-of-way , documenting a storm water management policy, continuing to work on policies addressing party houses and adding highly qualified volunteers to our 15 Paradise Valley all volunteer committees, boards, commissions and public safety support efforts.”

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

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