What a difference a year makes.
At this time last year, Desert EDGE was called the Desert Discovery Center and its future looked cloudy ... the new SUSD Superintendent Denise Birdwell was still on her best behavior and hadn't begun her reign of terror ... and Mayor Jim Lane, who had just been elected to his third term, was clean-shaven.
Now the once potent grassroots campaign to prevent Desert EDGE has lost its pizazz. Dr. Birdwell and SUSD administrators are under investigation by the State Attorney General's Office. And Mayor Lane has grown a beard that evokes former Mayor Herb Drinkwater.
The year begins with those opposing Desert EDGE making a "Hail Mary" effort to put the project on November's General Election ballot. They need more than 30,000 valid voter signatures and they only have six months to gather them. No longer the issue du jour, Desert EDGE is expected to be nudged out of newspaper headlines by the continuing charges of corruption in the school district.
According to attorney Susan Segal, who conducted the internal investigation initiated by SUSD, her probe failed to find any wrongdoing by school district employees connected with the hiring of a construction company to rebuild several elementary schools. Later this month Segal is scheduled to announce if the school district and one of it vendors, PGPC, a private consulting firm, had a conflict of interest.
The timing of the opinion from the Attorney General's Office about SUSD business practices should be coming soon.
No matter what the further findings are, the controversy is sure to persist throughout the year and eventually be an issue in the November school board race for the two open seats. If board members Kim Hartmann or Pam Kirby run for re-election, the issue will undoubtedly be their Achilles' heel. That will increase the opportunity for challenger Mike Peabody, president of the Scottsdale Parent Council and SUSD watchdog, to replace one of them.
In the meantime ... three groups are looking forward to hitting the "refresh" button in 2018.
After creating a public relations nightmare with the "non-firing" of Neale Perl, Scottsdale Arts anticipates naming a new CEO next month. Hopefully, it will finally be someone with community connections who understands the lay of the land. Scottsdale Coalition of Today and Tomorrow (SCOTT) has been hibernating since the group was launched last fall. If the group can get all of its sponsors on the same page, it will have a chance to begin having an influence on issues in 2018. And, last but not least, Businesses United for Scottsdale Schools (BUSS) will use the new year to reinvent itself - which could help shore up the crumbling credibility of the school district.
The November election will reignite political animosity and touch off a new wave of the tribalism that has plagued the city in the recent past.
City Manager Jim Thompson will be urging the City Council to call for a bond election in November. After a year on the job, Thompson has determined that the city can't continue to rob from Peter to pay Paul to fund the repair and replacement of deteriorating infrastructure. In order to avoid past mistakes that have been the demise of other bond measures, this year's probable bond package must have the unanimous support of the City Council if it stands any chance of succeeding.
Kathy Littlefield, Linda Milhaven and David Smith are running for re-election to fill three seats on the Council. Three candidates have already announced their intentions to challenge the incumbents. Councilman Smith appears to be the most vulnerable of the incumbents, while Bill Crawford will be the most competitive of the existing challengers.
Even though the controversy consuming the school district is expected to continue, there's also the strong possibility that the SUSD Governing Board will place at least one measure on the November ballot - which would further complicate the passage of the city's bond package.
In short: This fall the political environment could be combustible.
Happy New Year!
What a difference a year makes.