Town council hopefuls offer political insights at candidate debate

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

The Paradise Valley residents running for town council discussed top municipal issues and topics at an Aug. 2 forum at Mountain Shadows, giving folks an opportunity to gain insight into the local candidates perspective before casting their vote later this month.

Uncontested mayoral candidate, Jerry Bien-Willner gave a statement on his likely appointment, before candidates Ellen Andeen, Jim Anton, Paul Dembow and Anna Thomasson answered questions ranging from the Ritz-Carlton Paradise Valley Resort to road work on Doubletree Road.

The Paradise Valley Town Council election is Tuesday, Aug. 28, and there are three town council seats up for grabs in addition to Mr. Bien-Willner filling the mayor’s seat, which is uncontested.

Mr. Dembow and Mr. Bien-Willner are both incumbents, while the other three running for council serve in volunteer capacities throughout the municipality.

Ms. Andeen is a volunteer for the Paradise Valley Police Department; Mr. Anton serves on the Planning Commission; and Ms. Thomasson serves on the Board of Adjustment. Ms. Andeen has lived in the town since she was a child, while Mr. Dembow, Mr. Anton and Ms. Thomasson all moved to Paradise Valley in their 30s, they said.

Inside the Paradise Ballroom South at Mountain Shadows, Mr. Bien-Willner took a few minutes at the beginning of the event to speak to his constituents, noting he believes in the Town of Paradise Valley and its history.

“It’s really an honor to stand before you as your candidate for the next mayor of Paradise Valley,” Mr. Bien-Willner said. “I’m thrilled to continue serving the town I love and to do it on your behalf.”

Mr. Bien-Willner says he believes in the town’s future and its residents.

“Most of all, I believe in you, the town’s residents,and everything you can add to these 16 or so square miles of Paradise that we call home,” he said.

“It’s no secret I’ve fought hard for our town and I’ll continue to do so.”

Top priorities for Mr. Bien-Willner as mayor include: maintaining quality of life, ensuring police and fire service is effective, open limited government and working with people throughout the community.

“I will also ask the council, the incoming council, to focus on the service levels we provide to residents without needlessly growing government, which includes keeping a continued focus on responsiveness, accountability and high performance from the town’s volunteers and employees,” Mr. Bien-Willner said.

Mr. Bien-Willner says hopefully the town’s issue of cell phone coverage will be resolved in an acceptable fashion as a new committee has been enlisted.

“I’m happy to announce the town has officially launched an effort directed to the cell carriers and other industry partners at large that explains our coverage problems, urges them to bring specific ideas and plans to solve the problem,” Mr. Bien-Willner said.

A recap of the night’s question and answer forum is below featuring a handful of top questions.

Town of Paradise Valley residents at the candidate debate on Aug. 2. (Photo courtesy of Matt Young Photography)

Q: It was reported the Ritz-Carlton Paradise Valley Resort would be open by late 2018. Are you concerned by the progress made at this site, and how important is a successful luxury resort to the town?

Ms. Andeen: “No I’m not surprised by the complexity of the project that they’re behind schedule. It was voted in by a narrow vote, it was approved, and we need to get behind them and support them. I commit to you, that if they come back to the town council, and I’m elected, and they have another consideration, I will do what’s in the best interest of the town.”

Mr. Dembow: “As Ronald Regan said, ‘trust but verify.’ The first [Special Use Permit] that I was totally in support of, had a hotel first and the density was about 1.1 million square feet. The second SUP that was passed didn’t have resort first, it went to 1.8 million square feet, I thought it was just a bad deal. I voted against it, but now that it’s here we have to support it. I’m enormously concerned that the hotel is not built. If you take a look at what’s going on there, everything going on is residential, and I don’t see a single thing about the resort going on.”

James Anton (Photo courtesy of: Matt Young Photography)

Mr. Anton: “I attended one of the town council meetings and got up and spoke that my big concern was the density of that project. I opposed it as it was presented, but as Ellen and Paul have already said, it did pass with a (4-3) vote. So, now the job is not to look back, we got to look forward. We’ve got to get it done. It’s the crown jewel property of Paradise Valley. My biggest concern is when those houses go up, and they come for their certificate of occupancy, if the resort isn’t far enough along — we’re going to have a lot of unhappy people in this town saying ‘well I built my house, I paid for my house, and you’re telling me I can’t get in it.’ That’s probably one of my biggest concerns.”

Ms. Thomasson: “Delays in real estate are never good; time is money. So as the delays move forward, the cost pressure on making that development financially liable is going to increase. Cost pressures could result in Five Star coming back to the town, asking for concessions. I think for all of us to have our eyes open and to be concerned is to be plain wise. A couple of things make me pretty comfortable with the eventual outcome of the development, however, I know that $10 million has already been invested in infrastructure, garage, below ground things that many of us can’t see. Secondly, strategic, if you look at Marriott Hotels’ strategy, and Ritz-Carlton’s strategy they have a very strong interest in making this property work and go forward. Thirdly, the development agreement was pretty well-written, there are a number of provisions in there that are very favorable for the town.”

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

Ellen Andeen (Photo courtesy of: Matt Young Photography)

Ms. Andeen: “I believe limited government really focuses on fiscal responsibility, I’ll be honest I’m tough on spending. With my finance background, I’m not cheap but I’m tough. I believe that limited government, really, we’re a town based on volunteers, that’s how we’re able to not charge a property tax. The transparency portal we have with the town is amazing — it’s helping with a lot of the research. I encourage everyone to go on and take a look at what’s going on in our town; you can watch the town council meetings. The things I think shouldn’t be posted are what’s protected by law. Coming from my public safety background, anything that protects the rights of the victim should not be published at all.”

Mr. Dembow: “Most bad government has come out of too much government. As Ronald Reagan said, ‘I hope I’ve once again reminded the people that man is not free unless government is limited.’ I look at everything as whether we should be involved or not. There are always people who want to pressure you to get involved, to be able to solve something for them personally, but the law of unintended consequences will be a real problem for everybody. I try to find the best balance of limited government and that means all things that we do are transparent — I mean completely transparent. I think real open and transparent government, everyone knows what’s going on, what it’s going to cost, and there’s no back-door deals.”

Mr. Anton: “When it comes to transparency my time on the Planning Commission, I’ve learned so much. All of the meetings that we have, all that town council has — they’re all available online. The only things people really aren’t made aware of is if there’s a private matter that possibly deals with an employer or something like that, but as far as big issues that are out there — probably the only disappointment at this time is I do think we have some citizens right now with the Doubletree Ranch Road (project) that feel like this might have gotten past them. For the most part, I think the town does a wonderful job of being transparent. Limited government, Paul has always said it better than anybody. We need to do everything we can to stay out of people’s lives unless it’s necessary.

Ms. Thomasson: “One of the great parts about running for office is you get to have fabulous meetings and coffee with interesting people. I had a lovely coffee with a former mayor, and he said something that really struck me: ‘Governments just grow, if you leave them alone they just grow so you have to keep an eye on not letting it just grow.’ I really appreciated that, so I will keep that in mind before we add people or dollars to what we do, we need to be sure we have a really good reason. Transparency, how can you argue with transparency? We have done an amazing job of putting all of our agendas and documents online, but I think we have a gap. I’d like to build on the success and suggest that we add a volunteer committee. It’s something I’d like to explore, that would be a community communications committee. Because we have a gap between the documents available online and what happens in our front yard everyday.

Q: Please explain the Doubletree expansion and the Visually Significant Corridor on Tatum and Lincoln?

Ms. Andeen: “I look at things from a financial perspective and the Doubletree project stuck out to me on the 2018 budget because of the size of the expenditure. The Visually Significant Corridor, I look at that from a public safety prospective — we’re looking at building something that encourages people to hang out at a major thoroughfare intersection. The chief of police publishes something on our website every month — in his one that was dated April 2018, it said 80 percent of traffic accidents occur at that intersection.

Paul Dembow (Photo courtesy of: Matt Young Photography)

Mr. Dembow: “I was a ‘no’ vote on Doubletree … That road is in perfect condition, so assuming that you want to tell the neighbors that want to live on that road, you really don’t care that you’re taking away their front yard, I do think the new design looks better. The time to do that would be in nine years from now, you take that money and then look at it and have a lot more community outreach. When it’s done you might not please everybody, but you’re not taking $3.5 million bucks and blowing it on a perfectly good road when there’s no need to do it. As far as the Visually Significant Corridors, I think we can do a lot of things that beautify the town and add value to everybody’s lots, but I don’t think anybody should hang out at Lincoln and Tatum.”

Mr. Anton: “I am on the Planning Commission, we did work on the Visually Significant Corridors. A lot of people think of it as just the intersection of Tatum and Lincoln, basically that is a pie in the sky plan. Let’s say a monument needs to go up of Sandra Day O’Connor, family wants to put one up and where would it go? There’s a place all picked out for that. The real thing the Visually Significant Corridors does is that it’s not about that intersection, it’s about when one of our churches or schools comes and says ‘we’ll be redoing our property.’ We now have a guide of how the landscaping we’d like it to look on that property. We’ll start to have a cohesive look of our landscaping. It’s a plan so that we have a consistent from stem-to-stem when you drive through out town; it’s a plan, we’re not going to spend any money, it’s a volunteer thing. It’s actually a great plan but it’s terribly, terribly misunderstood.”

Ms. Thomasson: “Jim you said something about Visually Significant Corridor in your newspaper article that I really liked — Visually Significant Corridors is a plan and there’s a lot of work that went into it and a lot of great guidelines — what you said you liked in it was the landscaping guidelines. Having just went through that in my own home, I couldn’t agree with you more. So a lot of work was done, and it’s a lot of very useful and productive work so it’s great to have plans. I think what we could have done better with that plan is have more citizen involvement sooner and earlier throughout the process. So again, planning is good and I think we need to be strategic on our citizen input. I would say the same thing about the Doubletree project, I think it will beautify our town — but it’s not my street, I don’t live there. To Paul’s point, before we go ripping up perfectly good streets, and spending money that we might be able to spend more wisely elsewhere we need to stop and backup a little bit, get more citizen input. So great direction, strategically good implementation, slow down a little bit, listen a little more.

Q: Please explain why you support or do not support retirement communities in our town? Such as independent senior living and Continuing Care Residential Communities (CCRCs)?

Anna Thomasson (Photo courtesy of: Matt Young Photography)

Ms. Thomasson: I’ll be honest and tell you I have not given thought to the issue of having extended care communities in our town. I have heard from one or two residents that they are concerned about not wanting those. We can’t forget we are a town of residents, and a residential community. Before we start adding more sober-living homes, more Air B’n’Bs, more senior homes, more hotels and resorts, we need to think very, very carefully about it, and make sure that’s what our residents and town homeowners want.

Mr. Anton: I don’t know anybody who wants it. We’re all going to grow old, we’re all going to need a place to go. You see Dan Schweiker, who cuts back and lives in Scottsdale now — he still attends our Men’s Breakfast and is a part of the community. The character of this town was built on the one house per acre, yes we have exceptions to that. We go to Scottsdale and Phoenix for our groceries, we go for everything else, when the time comes that we’re no longer able to be in our homes those care centers are not something that anybody I’ve talked to wants. We’re all going to need one someday, there are beautiful places to go nearby in Scottsdale, but most residents are telling me they don’t want that in our town.

Mr. Dembow: I don’t think there’s any place for them in our town. I’ve heard that from our residents so strongly that I just don’t support it period.

Ms. Andeen: Yes I concur with Paul. I don’t support residential elder care homes in our community. My father just passed away at the age of 89, and he was opposed to these types of facilities. When these kind of projects are presented to me, I look at it from a business model perspective — who’s going to be their customers, who are going to be the supplies? There’s going to be a lot of cars. What are the alternatives? Those are the things I looked at — not just that we’re going to have seniors in an elder care facility, but who is going to be coming and going? I know the home that my father was in, we had hospice, we had the morgue and mortuary. We had all sorts of things that I really don’t want to have in Paradise Valley.

News Services Editor Melissa Fittro can be reached by e-mail at mfittro@newszap.com or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MelissaFittro

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