The Paradise Valley Independent offers its top stories of 2017

From addressing an unfunded public pension liability to swirling allegations at the Scottsdale Unified School District, the top stories of 2017 covered by the Town of Paradise Valley Independent were wide ranging in scope and importance.

A better understanding of an intricate development deal that held the financial futures of the municipality in limbo for a time and a focus to understanding where the water flows down the landscapes of Paradise Valley touched upon some of the underlying issues that will define the community in years to come.

Throughout calendar year 2017 the Independent offered a conscientious approach to helping readers better understand the need for a new public safety communications tower while examining the tenets of limited government and how that mindset helps shape the municipality.

The Top 10 stories of 2017 as determined by the staff of the Independent:

1. Paradise Valley continues to
grapple with public safety pension promises

The Town of Paradise Valley is continuing to look at new strategies to pay down old pensions with defined contribution promises.

The Paradise Valley Public Safety Police Retirement Board recently completed a review of its disability claims, which translates to every dollar in salary paid to a police officer an additional 68 cents per hour is paid for previous and continuing pension obligations.

The Town of Paradise Valley is taking an aggressive approach in paying for its public safety pension obligations. (File photo)

Paradise Valley Town Council was provided its latest update in September of last year.

The economic downturn that impacted public safety pension portfolios nationwide has left many public pension plans severely underfunded and unable to keep up with defined benefits expected by retirees.

Paradise Valley has a small police work force due to the size of the community. The town, however, has the highest proportion of disabled police officers in the state, town officials say.

The Arizona Public Safety Personnel Retirement System is a 236-member organization managing the pension plans for eligible public safety personnel entities statewide.

The Arizona Constitution recognizes public employee pensions, while PSPRS and its duties were established in the late 1960s to ensure public safety employees equal footing in terms of pension eligibility, contribution rates and benefit formulas.

This fiscal year the Town of Paradise Valley is attacking its unfunded liability as town council allocated a $5 million payment to that fund in the first of a three-year pay-down model. Town leaders say the effort will save the municipality $11 million over the life of the liability.

The Town of Paradise Valley is carrying $19.7 million in unfunded liability to support public safety pension obligations.

2. PVPD communication services upgraded

The Town of Paradise Valley dedicated a new police communications building in mid-November, culminating an effort that spanned a few years.

The new equipment affixed adjacent to Mummy Mountin provides the Paradise Valley Police Department effective communication throughout the extreme topography of the community and allows the department to become a member of the regional wireless cooperative.

The regional wireless cooperative allows first responders to use existing radio channels to talk with different public safety agencies as needs arise.

To complete tenets of an IGA with the Phoenix Fire Department, the Town of Paradise Valley has to be included in the regional wireless cooperative. The city of Phoenix is the licensed provider for fire safety and ambulatory services through a 2006 IGA agreed upon between both local governments.

Concerns and allegations continue to swirl around the business practices at the Scottsdale Unified School District. (File photo)

3. Scottsdale Schools internal review
claims district procurement process OK

The Scottsdale Unified School District has little-to-no evidence of wrongdoing in their procurement practices, attorney Susan Segal told district leaders in late December.

Following a two-hour executive session — the latest of many other private meetings held in the past week — the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board waved its rights to attorney-client privileges to allow Ms. Segal to present her findings of an internal investigation to the public.

Ms. Segal, a partner at local law firm Gust Rosenfeld, was hired to perform an internal review into the district’s

procurement practices after myriad allegations and questions surfaced.

Throughout the course of January 2016 until now, a series of events led to the community questioning the ethics of their district leaders. The straw that broke the camel’s back came in November when Paradise Valley resident Loyd Eskildson wrote a guest commentary in the Scottsdale Independent unearthing documents showing hired professional Brian Robichaux had been convicted of theft, a class 2 felony in Arizona in 1998.

Mr. Robichaux, former president of Phoenix-based Hunt & Caraway Architects, had been most-recently hired by the district to design elementary schools after approval of a $229 million bond last November. Hunt & Caraway has been involved with other district projects including athletic field improvements at three high schools.

Ms. Segal’s review found two of the district’s Construction Manager-at-Risk procurements did not follow Arizona Procurement Code as it didn’t have a registered architect on the committee. Evidence also suggested Hunt & Caraway was overcharging the district for its services.

The Arizona Attorney General’s office confirmed its involvement in an investigation looking into the business practices of the Scottsdale Unified School District, but cited its policy to not discuss ongoing investigations during a Nov. 29 phone interview with the Independent.

4. Anatomy of the deal: the redevelopment
of Mountain Shadows in Paradise Valley

As the resort that was Mountain Shadows becomes a distant memory and the new resort that is Mountain Shadows begins to establish its own identity, local dignitaries are beginning to come to see the vision that’s taken more than a decade to be realized.

The once proud Mountain Shadows Golf Resort in the heart of the Town of Paradise Valley historically at about 56th Street and Lincoln Drive was left in disarray as the resort was shuttered in summer 2004.

The scene in April 2013 when the deal was struck between Crown Realty and Development and the Town of Paradise Valley for the redevelopment of the Mountain Shadows Golf Resort. (File Photo)

In the early 2000s, the redevelopment proposal was fraught with old records, a complex zoning entitlement process and the property was surrounded by two affluent communities filled with residents who were upset the resort was in disrepair.

But amidst the complex redevelopment scenario and the subsequent life-engulfing municipal negotiation marathon destined to unfold was a document that made it all worthwhile: the 1992 development agreement that ultimately granted extensive density rights to whoever owned the property.

Despite vocal concerns, Crown Realty officials relentlessly contended the underlying issue of the proposed revitalization of the property hinged on two documents: the 1992 development agreement and a 1962 declaration of restrictions placed on attached residential property.

They were right and both parties — Crown Realty and the Town of Paradise Valley — came to a comprise on certain zoning stipulations that have resulted in the boutique luxury resort that now exists in the heart of the Town of Paradise Valley.

5. Anne Frank’s childhood friend
shares story of life, hope at Paradise Valley gathering

Holocaust survivor Eva Schloss kicked off a tour promoting her book, “Eva’s Story,” in early 2017 in the Town of Paradise Valley.

Eva Schloss, Anne Frank’s step sister. (submitted photo)

Hundreds of guests arrived to hear the personal survival story of Ms. Schloss that moved the audience to laughter and to tears by focusing on hope. The Town of Paradise Valley began the evening by honoring Ms. Schloss with a proclamation presented by Vice Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner.

Nearly 90 years old now, Ms. Schloss says she didn’t speak about any of her experiences until she was invited to celebrate a traveling Anne Frank exhibition in London in the 1980s, where she was asked to recount some of her memories.

The Independent attended the event and subsequent coverage offered a stirring tale of despair and perseverance. An excerpt:

Rather than celebrating with friends and family, Eva endured a brutal beating for her 15th birthday before herded onto a cattle cart headed to Auschwitz.

It was May 11, 1944, that Eva Schloss, a childhood friend and later the step-sister of Anne Frank, recalls being taken into custody. Her crime: guilty of being Jewish.

6. Paradise Valley looks to address influx of bicycle enthusiasm

The Town of Paradise Valley is continuing to struggle with how to develop a pedestrian and bicycle master plan everyone can live with.

Paradise Valley Town Council last October hosted a work study session to develop or revise a Statement of Direction on how its Planning Commission — an advisory board to the local governing body — ought to go about evaluating a townwide proposal.

In August 2016, Paradise Valley Town Council authorized a contract with Coffman Studio at a rate of $143,695.02 for the development of a bicycle and pedestrian master plan. The motion carried 5-1, with then-Councilwoman Maria Syms dissenting, and Mayor Michael Collins absent.

Since that time a tremendous amount of resident feedback has been received at Town Hall — both negative and positive — regarding how the local municipality can better accentuate the avid cyclist experience along with an effort to calm concerns of residents who allege certain groups whip through affluent thoroughfares.

Paradise Valley Town Hall is at 6401 E. Lincoln Drive in the Town of Paradise Valley. (File photo)

7. The municipal bounds of Paradise Valley limited government

Any number of phrases could be used to describe the Town of Paradise Valley. Home, for some. Vacation, for others.

For local politicos, that definition might be: limited government.

Home to a handful of world-class resorts, the municipality draws thousands of visitors to its quaint, charming community every year. From the president of the United States to traveling sports teams and business owners, the attraction to stay in the Town of Paradise Valley has sustained the municipality for decades — allowing for residents to live free of local property taxes.

The limited government utopia on the surface is a point of pride for elected officials, and for those who came before them, but answering the question of “what is a limited government” yields different responses from different leaders.

As demand for residential units continues, the Town of Paradise Valley is awakening to its own limited government evolution.

Along with growth comes new problems like building on difficult lots, or regulating the frequency of trash trucks through a new ordinance. The council has been navigating through various issues while seeking to keep its limited government philosophy intact.

8. Water down the hill: retention waivers
plays a role in flooding issues

On Sept. 8, 2014 the Town of Paradise Valley experienced a level of rain exceeding what is known as a 100-year storm event that left an estimated 80 homes flooded in what town officials have coined the Cheney and Cherokee watersheds.

The Town of Paradise Valley realized it had a significant issue: a lack of effective storm water management.
Furthermore, it appeared the Town of Paradise Valley was allowing new or remodeled homes on what town officials designated as a “Hillside property” to skip storm water retention requirements.

Officials at Town Hall say the storm water retention requirements were waived for what is likely a 25-year period.

Town officials today can’t say how many projects were allowed to avoid storm retention guidelines, but one official at Town Hall says prior to the hiring of former Public Works Director Jim Shano, “all of them were waived, likely hundreds.”

The Paradise Valley Hillside Committee was created in 1996 and is governed by Article XXII of the town’s zoning ordinance. Members are charged with reviewing applications for building permits in the Hillside Development Area.

The town has not updated its Storm Drain Design Manual since 1987, but federal storm water mitigation rules have been, town leaders contend.

9. You are not alone: despite taboo
suicide plays role in everyday lives of Americans

Last month alone more than 400 Americans under the age of 25 chose to end their lives.

Suicide was the second leading cause of death for young Americans between the ages of 10 and 24 in 2015, with an increase of more than 150 percent since 1981 for ages 10-14.

Maricopa County recorded 683 suicide deaths in 2016. The youngest suicide recorded was age 9. Arizona is seeing a 60 percent increase in its suicide rate compared to the rest of the country.

“If there was a virus or bacteria taking 100 of our youth each week, what would be happening? You would hear about this virus on the radio. Nightly news broadcasts would be covering the topic extensively,” said The Jason Foundation Director of Business Development and Public Relations Brett Marciel in a Nov. 16 statement.

“We would have legislators coming out to talk about what we can do to stop this virus that just took 100-plus lives this week.”

Numbers show, on average, about 113 suicides occur weekly in the United States of America.

The Town of Paradise Valley hosted a Dec. 7 work session discussion on the prospects emerging of a single-hauler trash and recycle collection contract with Republic Services. (File photo)

10. Single-hauler trash contract
emerges at Paradise Valley Town Hall

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 collected and delivered to local landfills.

Paradise Valley Town Council last month discussed the parameters of negotiated terms for a seven-year, single-trash-hauler contract won by Republic Services following a bid process evaluated by a five-person panel at Town Hall.

The Town of Paradise Valley historically has a free-market system offering residents the ability to choose their own trash hauler. Every few years the idea of how trash is collected and carried away from the Town of Paradise Valley permeates through the minds of elected leaders. The latest iteration began with an April 2016 Community Conversation.

A change was made in the ordinance last October, which precipitated the issuance of a formal bid for one company to take over the municipal rubbish needs. On July 6, 2017 a formal request for proposals was issued by the Town of Paradise Valley with responses hitting Town Hall Sept. 6, 2017, officials say.

Paradise Valley Town Council is expected to launch a public relations campaign alerting residents to its plans on exploring the single-hauler contract culminated by a 4 p.m. Community Conversation Thursday, Jan. 25 at Town Hall.

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

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